If you're going to Israel, you absolutely need to make some time to stop at a few cafés. Café culture is celebrated in the holy land, and patrons are encouraged to take their time and leisurely enjoy not only their brew, but conversations with other customers, and the constant spectacle of Israeli street life. There is a reason Tel Aviv is known as the café capital of the world!
But, if you're used to just running into a Tim Horton's and ordering a double double, you might be in for some culture shock. Ordering a cup of the good stuff is very different in Israel, and if you don't know the local lingo you're going to end up with a mystery cup of joe you probably won't like. Nobody wants that, so here is a cheat sheet on how to order the perfect cup while taking in all that the holy land has to offer.
The plain and simple
Drip fed coffee like we have in the west isn't very popular in Israel. If you go into a café and just order a "coffee” they're going to serve you "botz” or "mud.” This isn't an insult! This is the what the locals call their typical coffee, a rich black Turkish variation that is stronger and richer than what you'll likely be used to. It's brewed like an espresso, with near-boiling water forced through very potent grinds under high pressure. It might take a few sips to get used to, but give it a try. For many people, once they adjust this becomes their favourite coffee!
If you're not feeling adventurous though, there is still a way to get the coffee you're used to. Instead of asking for a "coffee,” ask for a "Nescafe.” I know, it sounds weird, but it has nothing to do with the Nestle's product we associate the name with here. Nescafe is just what baristas in Israel use to refer to the milkier, lighter coffee we enjoy in the west. Don't worry about not being able to get it the way you like it either, their cafés keep cream and sugar on hand just like anywhere else.
The most popular local flavor
Are you the type who wants to blend in as a tourist and see if you can pass as one of the locals? Then order a "hafuch.” This is the most popular non-botz coffee drink in Israel. The "upside down” is basically an Israeli macchiato, that's a cup filled about halfway with steamed milk with an espresso gently poured on top. The milk helps to take some of the bitterness down of the strong Israeli espresso while still allowing you to enjoy the rich flavour.
Want to really look like you know what you're doing? When you get a cup of botz, top it with a dusting of "hawaij.” This is a mix of cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger that will give your cup a little extra zing. A very popular, very Israeli way of enjoying a drink.
Cooling it down
Okay, so maybe a steaming cup of coffee isn't what you're looking for after walking around all day in the hot sun. No problem, Israeli cafés specialize in a variety of cold coffee drinks – but you need to know what you're ordering.
The main difference is between "ice coffee” and "cold coffee.” An ice coffee is a rich, sugary treat. Very similar to something like a frappucino here, it features crushed and blended ice mixed with coffee, flavouring, and milk. You can get it in a variety of different flavours and it's the perfect thing for a late afternoon pick me up when you need a jolt to the nerves that will go down smooth.
Cold coffee, or "café kar,” by comparison, is less complicated. This is just strong coffee poured over ice. You can get it with milk or sugar, but the typical custom is just to drink it straight. This is the drink for people who can't get the caffeine in their system fast enough – sipping down two espresso shots like a glass of water is enough to wake anyone up!
The tips above are just the basics. They're enough to make sure you get the cup you want, but the cafés of Israel have a lot more to offer! Once you've adjusted to the way things are done, experiment a little! Ask the waiter what they recommend, order what some other patron just ordered, live it up!
Café culture is one of the foundations of Israeli life. If you're in the area, make sure you don't miss the chance to experience it yourself!