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Coffee, Wisdom And The Meaning Of Life

Greek coffee has long played an important role in the Mediterranean diet. And now it turns out those tiny cups of silty joe are also full of antioxidants that contribute to good health and longevity.

But it’s not just what’s in the coffee that keeps all those elderly Hellenes alive; it’s the lessons they’ve learned from the rituals of making and serving the brew. Whether you’re Greek or not, you too can benefit from The Greek Coffee Rules of Life.

Rule #1: Everything In Moderation
Cups of Greek coffee are very small — smaller than a single espresso — and about half the cup is composed of finely-powdered coffee grounds. There’s a great temptation to drink as much as you can. But woe to you if you try to have that one extra sip. Because your reward for trying to have too much is a mouthful of what feels and tastes like dirt. Lesson learned: Don’t be greedy.

Rule #2: Let Tempers Flare
To make Greek coffee, you fill a tiny pot with water, spoon the grounds into it with the sugar you prefer, and then set it to boil. You let the brew boil up into large, angry bubbles. And then you remove the pot from the heat and let it simmer down. You do this twice more before you pour the coffee into the cup. Lesson: Things come out best when you allow some controlled explosions.

Rule #3: Small Is Beautiful
Greek coffee teaches us that the length of the visit is inversely proportional to the size of the cup. In the afternoons, it’s traditional for Greeks to visit each other for coffee and syrupy fruit preserves. Everything is small, from the coffee cup, to the cut-glass plate, to the spoon you try not to drop. But the conversation goes on and on, and nobody checks email. Lesson learned: A little goes a long way.

Rule #4: Life Is Simple
When you finish your coffee, one of those long-living elderly Greek women will proceed to read your grounds. I’ve had my grounds read many times, and it all comes down to the same four things. You’re going to get some money. You’re going on a trip. You’re going to be cured/come down with something. You’re going to die.

The old ladies don’t really like to use that last prediction. But we can consider it the zen-like acceptance that we are mortal. There lies the final lesson. If you have your health — and money for a cruise to the Greek isles where everyone lives, well, not forever, but for a very long time, then you have everything.

Especially if you have a tiny cup of thick Greek coffee.


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This program aired on May 27, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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