Coffee changed the world, at least in the world of beverages. This black liquid has traveled a geographical, historical and sociological journey that includes slavery, politics and both great and small social upheavals.
There is a Turkish saying: “People desire neither coffee nor coffeehouse but friendship, and coffee’s just an excuse.” How many times have you wanted to meet up with friends and suggested a meet “over coffee”? But besides politics, religion, money, and friendship, coffee is a drink which, in recent years, in Israel and around the world, has enjoyed a revolution of sorts, and earned its place as a drink of connoisseurs. Coffee machines are ubiquitous in homes, coffee grinders fill the air with scents unknown in the past, and coffee’s taste has been changed beyond recognition.
One of the places that has initiated a love of coffee for many people is “Coffee Market” in the heart of Machane Yehuda market. This is the story of two brothers and their great love of coffee.
Twenty years ago, Barak Lev-Ran began his great love affair with coffee, recruiting his brother, Itay. At the time they were playing music at weddings. Pursuing their new love, they crossed borders and relocated to New York, establishing a small roasting factory selling coffee wholesale to companies and learning the secrets of coffee. Several years later, they returned to Jerusalem and established a small coffee store with a different concept - a small place attracting households and private individuals. The store was opened on Yanai Street in downtown Jerusalem and 5 years ago moved to the heart of the culinary scene of Machane Yehuda Market.
At Coffee Market you can find coffee beans from Costa Rica, India, Guatemala, Brazil (the largest producer of coffee in the world!), Kenya, Papua New Guinea, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ethiopia and more. Similar to other fields, the production of coffee requires a skilled labor force, and knowledge is often passed down through the generations. The work on coffee plantations is strenuous and done by hand, and workers spend their entire lives immersed in their trade. From the beginning, Coffee Market has worked with the World Trade Organization which supervises employment conditions, a more ethical choice, providing higher quality coffee as well. Coffee is traded on the commodities exchange, and therefore is impacted, for example, by ecological tragedies resulting in a direct influence on price. Unbeknownst to the buyer, changes in coffee pricing exist all the time. The beans arrive green, and in the heart of the market, they are roasted and ground to produce coffee tailored to the needs and tastes of each customer.
Roasting is a special skill, learned through trial and error - roast, taste and learn until you succeed and achieve the desired taste. There are industrial machines where roasting is automatic, but at Coffee Market they roast by hand and watch over the beans “as if they were babies”. As part of the process, beans are sometimes burned intentionally, for the sole purpose of learning the possible limits. Roasting is important to find the ideal taste the coffee bean can give, but methods of grinding and preparation are important as well. The same coffee that is ground differently can achieve unique tastes. “Mud” or Turkish coffee, for instance, relies on its own method of preparation to seal the taste; 2 cups of Turkish coffee with differing amounts of water yield different tastes. The range of possibilities is almost infinite.
Itay believes that in recent years, Israelis have learned to drink coffee anew. If once the most popular coffee was essentially “mud” drunk black, or instant coffee “in the teachers’ room”, today there are requests for fresh coffee. We are in the midst of a culinary change in many fields, driving the increase of awareness of the quality of the ingredients and the processes of production. Therefore, similar to the changes in demand in the world of cheeses, ice cream, chocolate, wine or beer, so too in the world of coffee, we can see a culinary revolution.
This culinary development can be partially explained through an increase in tourism. With Israelis traveling internationally and more tourists coming to Israel there is a possibility for specialty markets and the influence of media with a global reach through the internet, television, print media, and reality shows also influences consumption.
In the past, green coffee was not available but it is today and a growing sensitivity to tastes has also developed with unique combinations of beans and different levels of roasting. Coffee Market prepares blends from different coffee beans, creating a range of possibilities and flavors. One of their blends is the Jerusalem Roaster - a house mixture which initially was roasted on olive branches, and continues to develop over the years. Itay says that most Israelis love coffee that is not sour and is balanced. There are those who can rightly be called “experts” who love special types like sour and bitter. Besides the different blends, there are a variety of types of coffee influenced by the method of preparation and amount of water and milk, such as cappuccino, latte, macchiato, cortado, espresso, affogato, con panna, cold brew, Turkish coffee with or without cardoman, and more.
So it is possible to sit over a cup of coffee and learn the story of Jerusalem – whether from the Ottoman coffeehouses in the Old City, the European coffeehouses in the developing center city or the coffeehouses in the lively culinary scene of Machane Yehuda market. In this instance, it is completely appropriate to lift your coffee cup and call out together “L’chaim! To life!”
(Translation: Leiah Jaffe)