* Few Greeks forgo their coffee even in tough times
* Greeks split heading into fateful referendum
By Lefteris Karagiannopoulos
ATHENS, July 4 They might be living through one
of the worst economic crises of modern times, but for Greeks
coffee remains an indispensable fuel for thought on the eve of a
referendum that may decide their future in Europe.
Hit by falling pensions and wages, higher taxes and soaring
unemployment, Greeks of all walks of life have cut back on
But few of them appear ready to forgo their trademark iced
coffee, freddo or frappe, which can cost anywhere between 2 and
4.5 euros ($5) in downtown Athens, often more than the average
coffee in Britain. Cafes of Athens remain packed, disguising the
turmoil convulsing Greek society.
"Greeks are ready to cut anything else, but not their
coffee. Customer traffic is stable," said Kleanthis Kanellos,
34-year-old manager of the packed Old Flo cafe in a working
class district of Athens.
Greeks' love affair with coffee goes back a long time. So
much did they miss their traditional cup of coffee during the
Nazi German occupation in World War Two, Greeks turned to
grinding and boiling chickpeas and seeds as a substitute.
Iced coffees now dominate sales, but there may yet be a
return to the traditional Greek coffee, cheaper than most at up
to 2 euros.
Five days of shuttered banks and rationed cash withdrawals
have further curtailed spending, and the prospect of full-scale
financial collapse after Sunday's ballot means many Greeks don't
know how much cash they will have in their pockets come Monday.
"I don't believe that Greece will quit the euro. If that
happens though, imported coffee like Espresso will definitely
become more expensive to get, so our prices will go up," said
the manager of Old Flo cafe.
"The purchasing power of our customers will also go down.
Maybe they'll change their habits and return to traditional
Greek coffee and frappe."
Opinion polls show Greeks almost evenly split between
accepting and rejecting the tough terms set by creditors keeping
the country afloat, in a referendum to be held on Sunday.
European leaders say a 'No' vote will propel Greece from
Europe's single currency, and spell even greater hardship for
the country. The left-wing Greek government says they are
bluffing, and that rejection will mean fresh negotiations and a
"From what I overhear in the cafe, Greece can't continue on
this path of austerity," said Kanellos.
At least 10 percent of Greeks remain undecided, according to
the polls, and some were deliberating over coffee.
"Of course we decide over coffee!" said 45-year-old hotel
worker Markos Efthimopoulos. "How can I take a decision on such
an important matter without chatting with my friend here, over a
nice cold frappe? That's what we've always done."
Seventy-six-year-old Christina Zoidou agreed: "You found the
perfect example of a person who can't take a decision without
considering it over coffee."
($1 = 0.8999 euros)
(Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Clelia Oziel)