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Cretan Kafeneia (coffee houses)

The kafeneia (coffee houses) of the Cretan countryside are places of social gathering, communication and dialogue; they function according to special customary laws, serve coffee and local drinks, even simple local food. For the foreign visitor the kafeneion is a good way to get acquainted with the small rural societies of the island.


In the Cretan countryside kafeneia, in their overwhelming majority, are small or very small family-owned enterprises preserving the traditional form of organization. The owners’ motives are not strictly economic, since their income is very low, particularly in small and declining villages. Most of them are not businessmen and run their kafeneion as a pastime (to have company). They often carry out their farming occupations in the morning and open the kafeneion in the afternoon. Strangely enough even in very small villages there may operate more than one kafeneia, with very few clients. Their history is closely interwoven with the history and propagation of coffee drinking. In Crete kafeneia have existed since 17th century. Although they have common features with kafeneia of other Eastern Mediterranean areas, Cretan kafeneia are adjusted to the special cultural, architectural, customary and social characteristics of the island. Even today, they have an established typology: they are spacious rooms with the coffee-making facility always in one corner, which is a wooden counter with bottles of alcohol or other drinks on it. Small tables and chairs for the clients are placed in the remaining space. During the winter people gather around a big wood-burning stove while during the summer the tables are taken outside, in shady places, usually under trees. Apart from conversing, people in Cretan kafeneia can play board and card games and drink teas made with local herbs, or the well known tsikoudia (a distilled spirit). For the foreign visitor the kafeneion is a good way to get acquainted with the small rural societies.


They are self-managed units.


The role of the rural kafeneion is primarily social. It brings the villagers together but it also attracts strangers and tourists. It is a place of meeting and dialogue. Political conversations are prominent, and the community problems are discussed in the kafeneia. In anthropological terms, kafeneia are 'centers' of social action and places of information distribution. They are usually situated at the village center, at the square or at a central place (e.g. near the bus stop). kafeneia function according to their own unwritten laws which reflect the cultural identity of the local societies to a great extent. Those who pass the entrance become equal members of the same group. Everybody can participate in the conversation. Even paying for the drinks is entailed by customary laws. Those who are already inside the kafeneion usually pay for the drinks of those who arrive after them. Whoever enters can treat only those who arrive after him; not those who are already there. Not only friends or acquaintances are treated, but frequently foreigners and strangers, even those who visit the village for the first time. The consumption of tsikoudia (local alcohol drink) has developed a special cultural practice of offer and sharing. The farmer, who visits the kafeneion in the evening to drink together with his friends, brings his own share of products -fruit, artichokes or other vegetables, which are eaten by the whole company as accompaniments to tsikoudia.

Potential usability

kafeneia are autonomous and self-sufficient units of economic activity. However, transformation and adjustment to new consumption models has already started. Some of them, a small number for the time being, have lost their traditional form and follow urban models, having been transformed into modern cafeterias. The traditional form of the Cretan kafeneia plays a significant role in the attraction of foreign visitors, as well as in the development of alternative types of tourism. For this reason kafeneia have great possibilities for development by retaining their architectural form as well as their traditional decoration and social function. Kafeneia can function as distribution channels for the flow of tourism into non-tourist areas of the hinterland and as pivots of development for small and very small settlements. Since most of the drinks (except coffee and soft drinks) are produced by the owners themselves or other members of the local community, the increase in consumption will contribute to the development of other forms of economic activities. In Cretan kafeneia herbal teas are served made with local aromatic plants and herbs, as well as local alcoholic drinks such as wine and tsikoudia, or liqueurs made by flavouring a base alcohol. The accompaniments to the alcoholic drinks are also produced locally (fruit and vegetables).

CTRIA HCC RoT Občina Jesenice CMS PAT PRA UNSPMF Chamber of Economy of Vojvodina