Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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United States two years later. Israelis come to a café to sit around and chat for hours, and the Starbucks-preferred takeaway model was all wrong. The American company was unwilling to compro- mise with a people who demanded assimilation, not to mention a bit of humility. Israel's three main coffee chains, Aroma, Arcaffe, and Ilan's, had years to shape the cultural mold for what the coffee experience for Is- raelis became during those formative years in the mid 1990s through the early 2000s. The chains set that tone and Israelis have seemed fairly happy to stay put in this second-wave coffee mindset—that is, at least, until recently. In early 2013, there was a brief window through which specialty coffee could have fi nally had the opportunity to thrive locally. In that moment, in a fi ght between quality and quantity, the latter won over the hearts of Israelis whose fi nancial prior- ities had them fl ocking toward the cheapest cup of coffee possible. The coffee chain Cofi x had recently opened its doors, introducing for the fi rst time a small cup of coffee for 5 NIS, or $1.40 USD, providing a much-needed economic stabilization to the ever-rising cost of basic "luxury" items in Israel. The unintended result of 5 NIS coffee was a powerful trans- formation for how much the Israeli consumer would be willing to pay for coffee, quality or not, in the foreseeable future. "We are far behind Europe, the U.S., and Australia, and it's a sad truth to face. We have a lot [to] learn from them and about coffee in general," says local barista Yuval Neiman. Israelis are accustomed to a specifi c taste from their coffee and it's not easy to get them out of their comfort zone. "Paying more is a huge obstacle," Yuval continues. "This type of coffee is something exclusive and not ev- eryone can afford it." With that 5 NIS cup of coffee, the damage was done: Any movement toward specialty coffee penetrating the mar- ket locally would be shelved for many years, while a propensity for low-cost coffee reigned over the land. FACING DIFFICULT TRUTHS As with everything else within Israel's borders, the local coffee community is a battlefield of politics, upheaval, and—on the rare occasion—minimal progress forward. Israel did send competitors to the World Barista Championship in 2011 and 2012, thanks to a local professional organization that held sanctioned Israeli Barista Championships. Sadly, internal politics such as quibbling over logo size de- stroyed what had the potential to become a substantial professional coffee community. The experience left such a bad taste in or- ganizers' and enthusiasts' mouths, in fact, that Israel wouldn't see further efforts to organize a new community-based project within the scene for many years. In fact, conversations only just resumed on the topic in the early months of 2018; there is once again interest in organizing an Israeli chap- ter within the Specialty Coffee Association. It's important to understand that historically, coffee in Israel has been fi rst and foremost a highly competitive business that places little value on building up the community. Gathering for latte art throwdowns or other events that inspire baristas to take pride in their work are efforts that the larger local companies do not see value in. Sharing information and resources with one another was always seen as a weakness rather than as a strength, and so the idea of building community wasn't realistic during the early 2000s. Happily, that seems to be changing, but very, very slowly. Here's a perfect example: In 2017, my colleague Shaun Spruch and I decided to put on Israel's first AeroPress Championship. The 33

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