Visiting Israel as a child, I remember only two kinds of coffee – botz (Turkish coffee) or a local brand of instant coffee called Elite. The former is a very strong, dark brew, made by repeatedly boiling coffee grounds (often with a lot of sugar) before pouring out into small cups and leaving to settle. The sludgy grounds at the bottom of the cup gave the drink its name – botz means ‘mud’ in Hebrew.
Elite instant coffee was introduced in the 1950s and quickly gained popularity as it was seen as exotic and sophisticated! It was also readily available and much easier to prepare than Turkish coffee. The Elite company really had the Israeli coffee market sewn up though, as they manufactured (and continue to manufacture) both the instant brew and the dark ground coffee used in the preparation of botz.
Coffee shops have been around for decades in Israel, but while they were always great places to get amazing cakes, freshly made salads and delicious pastries, the drinks weren’t usually the main attractions. My friend Caren asserts that when she first moved to Israel from America, ordering a ‘cappuccino’ would get you a cup of instant coffee with whipped cream on top!
Traditional Israeli coffee shops were places to sit for hours, reading, playing board games (often backgammon) or discussing politics. However, in the last 20 or so years Israel’s cafe culture has changed and developed, both in terms of menu, and also atmosphere. The great food, heated discussions and comfortable seating remain, but Israelis have also developed a taste for new kinds of espresso-based coffee drinks, including the home-grown cafe hafuch.
Cafe hafuch translates literally as ‘upside down coffee’, and I must admit that for a while I wondered what was upside down about it! It turns out that it’s all in the way it’s made. This cup of milky coffee differs from other similar drinks in that the hot milk goes into the cup first, and the espresso is added second. In most other milky coffees – lattes and cappuccinos for instance – the coffee goes into the cup first and the milk is added to it.
Ideally, the coffee is floated onto the surface of the hot milk, to create a layered effect in the cup. Cafe hafuch is then usually topped with foamed milk, to enhance the presentation.
Interestingly, while Israel now boasts a number of great, indigenous coffee chains, plus hundreds (and probably thousands) of fantastic independent coffee shops, Starbucks never got off the ground there. They had six locations in Tel Aviv between 2001-2003, but apparently couldn’t make them profitable. They may not know much about coffee, but those Israelis certainly know what they like!
- 1 shot freshly-made hot espresso coffee
- 250ml (1 cup) milk
- Steam the milk to heat it, without making too much foam - this can be achieved by inserting the steam wand to the bottom of the jug when steaming.
- Using a spoon to hold back the foam, pour the hot milk into a mug or cup.
- Carefully pour the espresso down the inside of the cup, so that it floats in a layer on top of the milk. (It will probably mix a little bit.)
- Carefully spoon milk foam onto the top of the coffee, and serve!
If you want a coffee with a bit more oomph, how about a Smirnoff espresso martini from Supper in the Suburbs?