A surprising experience in Tel Aviv

Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll do an intro post for this blog later but I’m going to start with a quick review because the coffee forums I normally use are down and this seemed like an opportune time to kick this blog wide open.

As recommended by @garydyke1, I decided to break my self imposed embargo on coffee while I’m in Israel and track down “Xoho”, a reputable venue for “the best yer gonnae get in Israel“.

See the thing about Israel is that it has a great coffee culture, Tel Aviv especially is known for this but from all reports it seems though in the *speciality* scene there is only one real green importer and most of these beans aren’t roasted amazingly well and even the ones that are are subjected to fairly mundane practises for converting them into coffee. As one local said to me “Tel Aviv is about 10 years behind in the specialty coffee scene”

Fair enough – most cities are a good five years behind and most coffee shops are at least a year behind and sometimes you have to just enjoy what is there at face value (there are usually a couple of gems hidden away somewhere) and it seems that with this recommendation we might just have one here..

Xoho (5/10 for coffee, 9/10 for overall experience)

So, Xoho – down a fairly inconspicuous street about ten minutes from my hotel (talk about providence) I found a brightly coloured exterior which stood out amongst the mostly residential properties in the area. There was a tonne of outdoor seating which I’d have usually taken up except that I wanted to get a feel for for the “vibe” and that meant an inside stay. It was 7:30am and already well into the 30C temperature zone so a spot of AC was welcome anyway.

The outside of Xoho

Walking in I was struck by the cheerful and colourful decorations, a rainbow flag hanging in the window, murals along the wall, gaudy paper mache models hanging about the place and potted plants suspended from the ceiling amidts various light fittings. The tables and chairs fell into this general theme of heterogeneity – none of them seeming to match. Loud afrobeat playing in tbe backgound added to the pleasant assult to the senses and I decided that this was definitely my kinda place.

Boo.

Colours

I grabbed a tiny table in the centre of all of the action so I could see everything going on around me, taking a vantage point over the coffee station, the kitchen and the rest of the clientele – mostly young pretty women (makes a difference from the beardy weirdies in our coffee shops eh?).

I recognised the coffee as being from “Mae”, which as previous stated is “probably some of the best you’re going to get” and knew at least the beans were going to be good relative to the local (mostly Italian) standard.

I steeled myself for my first human interaction of the day, anxious to get an English menu for a change and knowing that I needed to say enough to let them know that’s what I wanted without starting a whole conversation before I was capable of much more than grunting. Thankfully I needn’t have worried as English seemed the default language in here and the menu arrived at the table as soon as I sat down along with a welcome carafe of water.

Before making a coffee order I scanned the bar for an equipment check, I spied a mazzer and a machine I couldn’t quite place, especially being decorated bright orange in a manner that @jeebsy would probably find quite pleasing. I went with a small cappa as flat white wasn’t on the list and there didn’t seem to be any filter options available (not uncommon in Israel). I don’t usually order espresso unless I see good gear and there is a really strong chance that I’ll get something I’ll enjoy. From watching this being made and not seeing anything being measured and noting the voluminous low TDS shot I decide I made a good call.

It comes out with half a rosetta on it (which is still 100% more rosetta than I can manage) and it’s far better than I expected, slightly gritty foam as if the milk had been re-heated (boo) but not otherwise offensive. It tastes like a good standard strong coffee – sweet milk and bold espresso usually works well so long as the milk is done to a reasonable standard and the coffee isn’t burned to a cinder by a mad italian fanboy – this certainly holds true here.

Half a rosetta

By this point I’ve seen a few spros go out and I’m glad I’ve not ordered one yet – they’re served with a side of fizzy tonic water which I’m totally into but milk is clearly the better option here. I’m enjoying the fairly classic cappa so I’ll not be a chin stroking joy thief about it – it’s a good effort and definitely above the general standard you’d expect.

I’ve also ordered a breakfast burrito which arrives shortly after the cappa – it looks very fine indeed and the foamy egg, beans, crispy lettuce and other various healthy things contrast pleasantly with the sour cream and salsa. This adds perspective to the experience as this is clearly a food oriented coffee shop and they’ve spent some time thinking about the presentation and what they’re wanting to serve people.

A burrito – yum!

This isn’t a specialty coffee place though, and while it sets itself apart with a great experience, the decor and not using burned italian beans (they even have a booze selection which if I wasn’t going to a wedding later I’d have availed myself of) I’m wondering why the hell Gary would recommend such a place for coffee…

It’s at this point I notice there is a blackboard behind where a recently departed customer was sat with

“Visit our brew shop, two doors up”

Written on it. Hello there? What’s this? A plot twist? This calls for further investigation..

==

The Brew shop (10/10 everywhere)
—–

This shop sits in stark contrast to the main xoho outlet, clean lines and quiet outdoor seating and the interior is clean and uncluttered. There is a brew bar with a friendly looking lady stood behind it, a record player spinning in the corner and a small dog quietly observing what is otherwise an empty (but cosy) shop.

I see bags of The Barn on all sides, James Hoffman’s book of coffee and a ditting sat on the backbar, what I’m thinking just comes out of my mouth “Oh, this looks ths business”. I guessed that this barista was the “Gemma” of which Gary spoke so I asked if she was indeed Gemma and that got us chatting right away.

Seems she used to work at Notes in London (mostly on the brew bar having come from a tea background) and we shared some of the same thoughts on espresso – chiefly that it’s just too difficult and that well prepared filter coffee is usually a safer bet. We had a really good chat about the (lack of good) coffee in Israel and what her goals for the shop were. After a few years of working for Xoho this seemed to be “Show the locals that filter coffee doesn’t have to be watery tasteless crap” and “expose them to some fruity naturals”. Apparently there have been a few people walk out when they find out that there is no espresso on the menu but that’s very much to their loss! No milk, no sugar – just good coffee, there is something about a good brew bar that makes me smile sometimes.

There is a Has Bean order coming in shortly (It’ll be just like being at home!). Good timing on all counts, they only opened last week and the fruity naturals from Has Bean are probably not going to be common occurrence – apparently the shipping adds quite a hefty price per kilo to the price!

I could taste well extracted coffee as I tucked into both the Kaiguri AB and the Suke Quto. The flavour was slightly harsh which led me to ask about the water supply (I guessed hard water and wasn’t wrong) – she’s getting an assessment done in the next week so she can make some informed decisions about her recipes (Did I mention she knows her stuff?!)

I totally dug this place and were I not on a self imposed coffee embargo I’d be in here every day (I might still pop in for some mint tea and to get some work done). I hope she does really well and helps speciality coffee come to Tel Aviv proper style. I can’t wait to visit later in the week and hopefully get some Has Bean made for me in Israel for both novelty value and to compare against my own home efforts.

I left with a loyalty card although it’s unlikely I’ll fill it I’ll definitely keep it as a souvenir and should I return to Tel Aviv in the next few years (It is likely given how many people I seem to know over here) I’ll be taking it with me to a shop that will hopefully still be going strong.

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