Cafes are extremely popular in Israel, practically on every corner, because Israel has a definite coffee culture. Most, if not all cafes, are dairy and some even serve alcoholic beverages.

Coffee in Israel has a history. In pre-state Palestine, heads of the underground units used to meet at the famed Ben Yehudah Atara Café in Jerusalem (opened in 1938) to plan strategies, share information and drink the strong, thick blend of Turkish coffee known as botz – “mud” in Hebrew. The owner’s son moved it to Rehavia and, sadly, it closed in 2001.

Bringing back memories of Bedouin over camp fires and army experiences, Turkish coffee is prepared in a “finjan” (a handled coffee pot, often of brass) on a low flame, by bringing water to a boil, adding three teaspoons sugar and then three tablespoons coffee plus a cardamom pod (hel in Arabic) per cup. This is brought to a boil several times (we used to do it three times), letting it rest in between, and then served it in small demitasse cups.

What do you say when you want a cup of coffee? Café afukh means upside down coffee. Café afukh is the same as cappuccino. Steamed milk is first poured into a coffee mug or glass or ceramic coffee cup, then espresso is poured gently afterwards. It often has a beautiful design on top.

German Jews who came in large numbers in the 1930s brought the concept of a small amount of coffee with a lot of milk, otherwise known as café au lait. Espresso or espresso ragil is a short Italian-style espresso. A long espresso or espresso arokh is a regular espresso. A double espresso or espresso kaful is a double regular espresso.

Americano is espresso with hot water. For a nice coffee with milk, ask for Nescafe, or instant coffee.
Ice café has two meanings in Israel. One is what we might call slush or crushed ice with coffee or coffee flavoring added; the other is actual coffee with ice cubes added. There is also a thick, milkshake-like iced coffee called barad.

Whatever coffee you drink, be sure and enjoy it in leisurely style at an outdoor café–and people watch!

  • photo by Barry A. Kaplan