Coffee is such a huge part of life in Israel that it deserves its’ own post. Israelis (more so the men than the women) drink coffee and smoke cigarettes all day. From what I saw, it is not uncommon to smoke 4 packs of cigarettes a day, and every smoke gets accompanied by coffee. The reason Israelis do this is because they love to make friends. They chat together, listen to songs together, and talk about their families together. I never, ever saw a group of Israelis sitting at a table with each person minding their own business and focused on their own cellphone, like Americans do. Whenever an Israeli turns on a cellphone, it is to share something. “Look at this, my brother.” Because Israelis are so social and like to drink coffee together, Israeli coffee has a culture of its’ own. There are ways to make it, ways to drink it, and it tastes delicious. A good cup of coffee can almost replace dessert for me. Almost.
First, the coffee itself. The best and most common coffee in Israel is called kafe shachor.
To make it, the grounds are placed in your glass and then you pour bubbling, boiling water right on top. Stir and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Letting the coffee sit allows the grounds to settle to the bottom of your glass. If you are impatient, you will end up eating the grounds and they are somewhat gritty, although eating the grounds is definitely a quick way to get extremely caffeinated! Kafe shachor is made one glass at a time and allows the coffee drinkers to talk and visit while it is brewing. There is no such thing as “brewing a pot” of kafe shachor. Coffee is an opportunity to relax and visit, and not a mass-produced, American-fast get-it-done cultural degradation. No, in Israel, we do not rush our coffee.
Next, the glass itself. Israelis take their coffee in small glass cups that must be see-thru, completely transparent, like this cup I bought at IKEA:
The reason has to do with kosher food. The minhag of Israel is Sephardi and they do not designate clear glass as either basari or chalavi. In Israel, a crystal-clear, glass cup that you can see thru can be used for hot coffee with milk, washed, and then used for hot chicken soup. If you go to Mahane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem (the outdoor market), you will see all kinds of clear glass for sale because of this minhag. This custom was probably my single most favorite thing about living in Israel. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to live a kosher life with Sephardi minhagim instead of Ashkenazi minhagim. Ladies, marry Sephardim!
So far, we have a culture that enjoys hanging out with coffee and cigarettes, kafe shachor that is brewed right in your cup, and cute glass mugs that allow you to see when the grounds have settled. Next, we have coffee spices. Yum! Israeli coffee is often flavored with cardamon, which comes as a seed, like this:
All you do is drop a few seeds into your glass. You don’t have to grind it or anything. Just don’t eat the cardamon seeds whole while they are floating in your coffee because it is too much. Cardamon spice brings the coffee alive. It tastes amazing. You can also buy pre-packaged coffee spice mixes, either at the grocery store or from the spice merchants that have shops in every village. Israelis like to get their spices fresh, raw, and in the natural form. Here is a coffee spice mix that I enjoy:
According to the label, it contains: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and love!
Next, the language of coffee. In Hebrew, people “do coffee” as in “They are doing coffee, let’s join them.” (Boi, hem osim kafe.) Drinking coffee is a fun, community activity and nobody would do it by themselves unless it was the first cup of the day and you lived alone. When I say “I want to do coffee.” (Ani rotzah laasot kafe.), it means that I want to sit down with friends and visit, which is very different from saying that I am thirsty or I need caffeine. Coffee in Israel is about making friends. In fact, when I first arrived in Israel as an immigrant, I did not realize that “Make coffee with me” was a very polite invitation for making the beast with two backs. I disappointed several men with my naiveté when I actually drank coffee with them instead of making out!
Lastly, I had the great blessing to work at the Elite Kafe factory in Safed as a temporary worker. The wife of one of the janitors died in a car crash, so he took 30 days off work to mourn as is the norm in Jewish society. I filled in for him for 30 days and then he came back to his job, with no worries whatsoever that he would be fired or replaced permanently. That would be unacceptable in Israeli society and companies do not operate that way. So I got to temp at the coffee factory. We had literally 18 kinds of coffee in our breakroom and an Italian-bistro-style cappuccino maker. Plus, we got to take a dozen coffee breaks a day! Okay, I am exaggerating a little, but I drank so much coffee while I worked, that I still had energy after 8 hours of mopping the factory and bathrooms. Even though we had a lovely cafeteria, all of the workers took their coffee outdoors at a wooden picnic table because what is “doing coffee” without smoking cigarettes? Israelis love the outdoors and being outdoors. The young men who worked at the factory were so sweet to me and sincerely wanted to help me to practice speaking Hebrew. They were very patient as I tried to express myself and fit in to the group. I love my Israelis and I enjoyed my time at the coffee factory. Everything is better in Israel, including doing coffee.
“Memories of Israel: Doing Coffee.” is copyright © 2015 by 18mitzvot. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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