Stroll around the picturesque little villages in the Heartland of Legends, follow the winding cobbled streets and breathe the scent of blooming flowers hanging on the balconies. When you reach the central square of the village, the aroma of freshly ground coffee amplifies the atmosphere. Follow the wafting scent and it will lead you into a Kafeneio, the traditional Cyprus coffee shop.
Kafeneio is a way of living and a big part of Cyprus daily life. It is the meeting place of people of all ages, a place for a game of Tavli (backgammon) or Pilota (a game of cards), a place for debates and heated conversations about the news of the day and a stopover for travelers on the way to their destination.
Do not feel hesitant to walk in and ask for guidance. After all no one knows better the surroundings than the locals. Hospitality is particularly important to them so it will give them great joy to have guests in their village and they will be eager to help you in any way they can. They will start a conversation with you and they will ask you about your background, your profession, your family and much more and if you care to sit and chat the conversation will eventually come to current affairs and international politics.
Have a sit and order a sketo, glyki or metrio (plain, sweet or medium) coffee and ask kafetzis (the traditional barista) to make it “Meraklitiko parakalo”, which means “please make it with extra attention and care”. Take a closer look at him while preparing the coffee. It is a ritual lost in the labyrinths of tradition. Kafetzis takes tzisves, a small, long-handled metal pan and add in it coffee powder and water. He then places tzisves on the outzaki (traditional coffee machine – it is a small tray filled with heated sand). The coffee comes to a boil forming kaimaki on top (a creamy froth). Kaimaki starts to rise from the sides of the tzisves until it reaches the center. Kafetzis removes it from the heat and serves the coffee in a small cup with its saucer and the necessary glass of water. He will bring it to your table in a tin tray. Cyprus coffee is still adored for its room-filling aroma and old fashioned, strong flavor.
Accompany your coffee with a traditional Machalepi pudding (corn flour pudding with rose water), or Glyko tou koutaliou (traditional sweets preserved in syrup). The Karydaki (walnut) is “the crème de la crème” of a big variety of fruits and vegetables preserved in syrup, served in a tiny sized plate escorted with a glass of cold water.
Cool your thirst with a glass of Soumada (almond drink) or Airani, a cold drink made of yoghurt with the addition of cold water, salt and mint. Or maybe have a homemade lemonade, usually prepared by someone’s Giagia (grandmother) with great love and pride for her guests using freshly cut lemons from her own lemon tree.
While basking in the sun or enjoying the cool afternoon breeze, usually under vine covered pergola (a Kafeneio trademark), you might hear a click-clack noise next to you. It is a group of people competing each other over a game of Pilota (a game of cards), whereas on your other side you might see a grandfather trying to teach his grandson the tricks of “Tavli” (backgammon). Incidentally, it is customary to put a bet on the table, before the game begins. The player that loses the game has to pay for the coffee or other treats. Several other people might gather around to carefully watch the game and give advice, joking with each other and getting all worked up with the outcome of the game. If you approach them too, someone will undertake the task of explaining the rules of the game and its philosophy.
Another man might be absorbed in his newspaper, reading the news of the day. Some people still prefer the traditional way to the internet or holding a small radio against his ear, listening to music or to the live broadcasting of a football match. If a lachiopolis (lottery man) comes in to sell you a xisto (scratch card), give it a try and who knows lady luck might just smile at you!
After a long day at work or in the fields, Kafeneio is the right hideaway to meet friends and relax. And for the villagers, relaxing means needing four chairs to do so; one to sit on, a second to outstretch one’s legs, a third one to rest one’s arms and a fourth to place the tray with the coffee on. If you happen to be in Ora village, in the mountainous region of Larnaka district, do not be surprised if you see someone is sprawling out on 7 chairs. The residents of this village in the old times liked to use seven chairs in the coffee shops, that’s why they have the nickname “eftatsaerites” (efta=seven, tsaera=chair)
Kafeneio is a warm and welcoming place and the villages along the Heartland of Legends route offer you this unforgettable experience. Grab the opportunity to mix with the locals and let them narrate you stories and legends of their village.