When you are sitting on the Mediterranean sea side in the late afternoon with a beautiful view of white washed houses as the temperature lowers from the sweltering peak of the afternoon, it is hard for me to resist joining the many Greeks enjoying various coffee drinks on the comfortable patio furniture at one of the many cafés. I’ve lost myself a few times in this romance, and enjoyed cold frappes or cappuccino freddos. Yes these bitter sugar desserts are far removed from what a coffee snob calls coffee, but exotic places make me lose my head sometimes.
Knowing this weakness, I decided on my recent trip to Greece to find some real coffee in Greece. Not an easy task in a land filled with instant coffee Nescafe for frappes and a multitude of commercial Greek and Italian coffee roasters churning out unmemorable bitter or boring coffees. Fortunately about a year ago, I noticed that one of the 6 finalists at the World Barista Championships was from a roaster in Athens, Taf Coffee. A bit of emailing around and I found out how small the coffee world was as Canadian roasters Social and Java Blend both know Yiannis from Taf and have shared auction coffee lots with him. I emailed Yiannis beforehand, but ironically he was on vacation in Canada at the time when I was in Athens, but he assured me that I was in good hands. He was definitely right.
As a specialty roaster, Taf has it’s roasting facilities in Athen’s outskirts, but the operations also include a cafe which is located in the downtown core near Omonia Square. Given the political unrest in Greece, I managed to time my visit before any protests, so that no coffee geeks were hurt during this review. The café is located right beside a typical Athenian cafe serving Italian style mediocre coffee. Both have well shaded patios, but when you enter the shop you realize you have found specialty coffee flourishing in Greece.
As I quickly surveyed the shop when I walked in, I knew I was in a shop that focused on coffee. The coffee menu board highlighted three espresso choices and a separate pour over bar. For espresso, a Nuovo Simonelli Aurelia WBC edition is paired with three Anfim Super Caimanos. More impressive, I found the expertise and friendliness of the baristas who were going to pull me coffees and lattes: Stefanos Domatiotis was finished 6th at the 2010 World Barista Championships and Christos Loukakis had just recently returned from Maastricht winning the 2011 World Latte Art Championship. During a lot of friendly talk, I kept on finding out what a small world specialty coffee is, as Stefanos mentioned some of the Canadians that he had met including Vince Piccolo from 49th Parallel Roasters and Anthony Benda from Café Myriade.
Now onto the important stuff, the espresso was one of the more memorable shots that I’ve had this year pulled by Stefanos. This was the first coffee that I’ve had pulled by a WBC finalist, so I was even more curious on the preparation. After having seen it, I am actually left without much to comment about except to envy the experience and simplicity. No tinkering or measuring, just fluidity of precise and simple preparation that looked very easy because of the well adjusted equipment and experience. After being an 11 time Hellenic Champion, he can gauge the flow and timing simply through observation of his trained eye.
Secondly onto the espressos which I tried this day. I left the espresso up to Stefanos who suggested that I try the two blends since the third single origin espresso was not in the sweet spt. So I had the Estate Blend which was a classic chocolate based blend with some subtle woody notes and very creamy rich body with slight cherry notes with mild acidity.
The highlight, however, was the Rosebud blend which began with a floral honey nose mixed with some stone fruit notes. Nice frontal berry acidity begun the shot followed by sweet juicy stone fruits and apricot notes on a light caramel background. Comparatively lighter body was in good balance, but the highlight was a sweet, long after taste that left you craving for more. This was a shot to remember.
World class credentials and reputation aside, Taf Café was a huge treat for me to visit. While delivering a memorable shot, I had the pleasure of meeting very friendly and approachable baristas at the top of the European specialty coffee. For any coffee lover, this is a must visit spot in Europe. Maybe a new ocean side location might be an improvement although it might distract from what the main attraction: the coffee.
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