The Kaimakkamis Coffee Shop opened in 1942 in the port town of Limassol, Cyprus. Kaimakkamis means “governor,” a word that not describes not only a person who presides over town government, but also the light foam that sits on top of, and presides over, a small cup of properly made Turkish coffee.
70 years later the coffee shop changed hands, although Mr. Kaimakkamis’s son-in-law still stops by to check on things with the new owner: well-known double-bass player Irinaeos Koullouras, a professionally trained jazz musician who had lived abroad performing in New York and around Europe for many years. After Irenaeos (aka Ron Cool, as he’s known among his friends) returned home to Cyprus, he bought the shop for steady income and to preserve a dying tradition.
Kaimakkamis sits in the heart of the quiet Saripolou square, where retired locals gather to read the paper and swap stories. “They like blondes,” Irenaeos jokes as customers come to buy packages of coffee ground from the pale blonde beans which, he tells me, come from Brazil and roasted locally using Kaimakkamis’ family recipe.
It’s not an easy business. The larger, trendier coffee shops get more foot traffic and attract the younger crowd. Irenaeos doesn’t serve pastries, offer free wi-fi, or even have air conditioning; instead, he’ll make you a superb cup of traditional Turkish coffee for one Euro using a cezve (a small copper pot) and a propane burner, and bring it to your table with a smile.
I’m not sure how I discovered the Kaimakkamis coffee shop; it’s unsearchable on Google maps (see “getting there” below). But once I experienced Irenaeos’ hospitality and top-notch coffee, it became my daily ritual. I joined in with a couple other English-speaking regulars to discuss travel, the Cyprus way of life, or a current event like the stray Syrian missile that hit just north of Nicosia while I was there.
On days when I was the only customer, I’d sit with Mr. Cool at one of the two little tables in front of the shop and talk about life and work. As a US citizen who’s accustomed to the American Hustle, I saw plenty of ways that he could boost his business. But Irenaeos has his priorities: coming home early to spend time with his family… being able to enjoy coffee and read the paper with his regulars in the morning… staying true to his music by separating it from his coffee business instead of performing to draw more crowds.
It was a good reminder that quality of life is underrated; it must be chosen, again and again, even when money gets tight. When I see Irenaeos relaxing with his coffee, a journal and the newspaper in the mornings, leaping to his feet to serve the occasional customer, it’s easy to forget that he really does hustle; he’s also still actively performing music all over the island and occasionally in Greece, and he’s got a family. But he’s the governor of his own life, maintaining balance on his own terms.
You can find the Kaimakkamis coffee shop here, or by searching Google for Famagusta restaurant next door (Famagusta is highly recommended for an authentic, casual Cypriot lunch outside). Look for the round white sign with red Greek letters. Be sure to check out what’s playing around Cyprus; you just might get a chance to hear Ron Cool’s jazz trio while you’re there.