Visit many Israeli high-tech companies and you’ll end up doing a double-take. It can look more like a training school for coffee-shop baristas, with the CEO grinding beans and the chief programmer working the espresso machine.
Q. David, you work in the coffee industry. Tell us what happened.
A. Israel’s flourishing technology led to mergers between companies here and international corporations, plus opportunities to work abroad. This, combined with our love of holidaying, exposed young Israelis to truly great Java in coffee capitals like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. And, as tends to happen in Israel, people came back and pushed the envelope.
Q. In what way? The amount they drink?
A. Caffeine is fuelling Israeli innovation, with today’s young Israelis drinking twice as much coffee as the older generation. But it is more than this. The world of coffee is much more than the caffeine injector of the past. They have embraced the experiential aspects of coffee, always looking for new tastes, experiences and knowledge.
Q. For today’s high-tech employees it isn’t enough to have a big coffee machine. What else do people expect?
A. Young Israelis today look to coffee for its energising effect and for the ritual and ceremonial aspects. They want a great-tasting fix before a presentation, or to sit in an office “zula” — tranquillity corner — with other team members and a great cup of coffee. The high-tech generation is looking for premium coffee at the office, and it is willing to reward the employer who provides it by delivering a solid work ethic.
Coffee is a big part of the Israeli innovation success. Many of the successful players in the high-tech scene find that serving better-tasting, quality coffees with broad appeal actually helps to improve teamwork and the workplace experience.
Q. People say they visited Israel and were impressed by the cafes. Isn’t there a long coffee history here?
A. Yes, Israel is located at the nexus of three continents, and Arab merchants would cross the Levant to bring coffee to the Ottoman empire and points west. In modern times, Israelis flocked to European-style cafes as the go-to places for culture and relaxation. For many years, these cafes attracted artists and workers alike, who came to relax and discuss the news of the day. Yet the quality of the coffee served at those cafes, and everywhere else, was an afterthought — often just milk with instant coffee.
Q. You have built a successful business by tapping into today’s connoisseur coffee culture. Your company, Kilimanjaro Coffee Israel, delivers beans roasted in small batches to customers, mostly high-tech and venture-capital companies. But what is your advice for tourists visiting Israel who want to taste the best of Israeli coffee?
A. If you order your coffee and don’t hear the sound of a grinder, turn around and walk out. It’s been pre-ground. On the other hand, if the place has a menu of different coffee beans, it’s a sign that they take their coffee seriously. The same goes if the baristas know their coffee and talk about it, like they do at Cafelix or Mae Cafe, both in Tel Aviv.