Coffee roasting and other gourmet hobbies

March 18, 2009 - 8:14 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Business, Food, Israeliness 

Coffee cupHyper-specialized gourmet-themed hobbies are getting really big in Israel. It’s no longer enough to just be a “foodie.” I have a friend who has made really good beer, and I’ve met several people who have been involved in one way or another in boutique wine-making. Homemade-style chocolate boutiques are springing up everywhere now. Olive pressing (for olive oil) and curing is emblematic of the region’s symbology, with many of my peers debating various methods of cracking and spicing the fruit.

And then there’s coffee. Israel is one of the few countries that has actually survived an attempted Starbucks infiltration – and has responded by exporting our own espresso bar chain to the USA. The Eretz Nehederet sketch comedy TV show once spoofed newfound Israeli coffee snobbery with a poignant vignette (viewable here with English subtitles)

When I visited Vietnam a few years ago, I had the opportunity to enjoy “weasel coffee” (if you need to ask, click here), so I probably out-snob any of the local coffee snobs – without taking myself as seriously, of course. I buy cans of ground beans at Café Joe, after all.

But check this guy out. He takes coffee snobbery to a new level. Dima Ingret, a 36-year-old high tech worker who lives in metro-Tel Aviv, apparently likes to roast his own exotic beans, which he orders on eBay when he travels abroad on business. But more and more of these varieties are apparently appearing in Israeli stores, making things easier for Ingret and his fellow enthusiasts.

According to the piece in Haaretz which profiles Ingret, as well as Shaul Rubin, CEO of coffee and coffee accessory importer Amigo, the Israeli coffee aficionado scene has clearly reached a turning point:

Israelis have jazzed up their hobby with shiny machines and home roasters to such an extent that the hard-core members of the coffee clubs are invited to the launchings of designer machines (bothersome events that were reserved until now only for top-of-the-line machines). The coffee market in Israel has turned into an experts’ market….

Maybe we would’ve been better off had Starbucks succeeded here.

Image by jevnin from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

On Chaim Laroz and mastering the bass

March 16, 2009 - 7:33 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: General, Music, Pop Culture, Profiles 

Chaim LarozPerhaps taking some cues from Yossi Fine on how to turn one’s self from a local bass session player into an international bass master, Chaim Laroz has been continually reinventing himself over the course of recent years.

An accomplished session man, producer, touring band member, composer and solo band leader, Laroz rose the ranks of Israeli bassists starting in the Nineties, when he collaborated extensively with the likes of Assaf Amdursky and Berry Sakharof. He also served as a member of Ra’ash, an alternative guitar rock act which released three influential albums throughout that decade.

Laroz helped Karni Postel rise to the brink of her mainstream pop successes of today when they formed the Bikini duo, with Postel handling vocals and Laroz handling almost all of the rest of the sound (including bass, samplers, oud and percussion parts).

Laroz branched still farther outward when he remixed a single for the Pet Shop Boys, arranged soundtracks for the celebrated Batsheva dance ensemble and formed a seminal groovetronica project called EQs, which essentially sent him off into the world of dancehall, dub and funk, where he primarily exists today.

In 2004 and 2005, Laroz spent some time living and gigging in Australia, but he came back to Israel. The unfortunately titled Laroz is a Rose album, his solo debut, came out ten years ago, and Laroz has been involved mostly with his career as a solo artist based in Israel ever since. His latest studio solo effort, 2006′s Soundsystem, includes guest spots from real-deal Jamaicans like Trevor Sax and Fitta Warri.

However, he’s still garnering attention internationally. In November, Philadelphia-based music blog Mad Decent called him “a true pioneer in the Israeli Reggae & Electronica scene” and linked to several downloadable and streaming Laroz remixes (Noiz in Zion also offered a remix recently). And locally he’s been active as well, touring sporadically in recent months and leading a bass master workshop in Tel Aviv this month.

Beijing gets an Israeli tourist office

March 13, 2009 - 9:09 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Business, General, History and Culture, Politics, Travel 

The Beijing skylineIsraeli-style Falafel can be found in far-reaching places like Amsterdam and Mumbai, but that doesn’t mean that everyone the world over who’s enjoying a taste of Israel is interested in coming on over to check out the real thing.

And with the standard mechanisms for finding visitors to Israel running into trouble thanks to the global economic slowdown (foreign tourist hotel occupancy down by 13% during the final quarter of 2008, according to Haaretz), the Tourism Ministry is aggressively going after new sectors.

Last week, the Tourism Ministry opened its 15th office currently in operation outside of Israel, this time in Beijing (pictured). The office augments an active Israeli embassy in Beijing, which already serves as an active center for outreach to the Chinese, largely by co-sponsoring cultural events. But the Tourism Ministry outpost should have plenty to do as well, with projects including compiling and publishing tourism guidebooks to Israel in Chinese, assisting the Israeli private sector with marketing packages to Chinese audiences, liaising with Chinese wholesalers interested in selling Israel trips, and arranging introductory visits for Chinese tourism industry leaders and media types.

On the occasion of the opening, Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila released a statement:

“During the last decade, China’s outgoing tourist market has demonstrated rapid growth and it is still considered to have significant growth potential. The Tourism Ministry has made plans to realize this potential once the global economic crisis has passed and global tourism industry has recovered – both in terms of marketing and in the removal of obstacles, receiving tourists and welcoming them in Israel.”

It’s all part of the new tourism partnership between China and Israel, formalized this past fall. As I wrote back then….

Officials at the Israeli Ministry of Tourism ought to be drooling over this potential, given that the Chinese populace is currently estimated to be numbered at well over 1.3 individuals. So far, 2008 has shown a 45% increase in Chinese tourist arrivals here, and Israeli officials are aiming for a grand total of 15,000 Chinese visitors by the end of December.

It’s estimated that about 50 million Chinese tour in Israel’s neck of the woods, but very few of these actually make it to Israel. “We need to prepare to absorb some of that,” Israeli Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila announced at a press conference in China in early September.

The potential is being sought after further here in Israel as well, with last week also marking the launch of a Chinese-language course for Israeli tour guides, with 40 participants studying cultural idiosyncrasies and various dialects for over five months.

Image courtesy Jonas in China from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Israeli model Esti Ginzburg shot in New York

March 12, 2009 - 3:45 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Pop Culture 

Esti GinsburgBar Refaeli seems to be getting some positive attention headed Israel’s way, thanks to her recent appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and other correlating accomplishments, as I enumerated earlier this month:

Bar is going to save Israel from a water crisis. Bar ate at these three Tel Aviv restaurants (I’ve eaten at all three as well). Bar wins a Women’s World Style Award. Bar appears on Ellen Degeneres. Bar’s body appears on the fuselage of a 737 jet. Bar eats a hamburger (this is news apparently). Bar shuts down the New York Stock Exchange. And my personal favorite, Leo (that kid from Growing Pains) must convert to Judaism in order to marry Bar.

I’m not the only one getting sick of her hotness. The Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) is apparently wondering about Refaeli’s contributions to the greater good of womankind.

Basically, the gist is, can’t there be another Israeli hottie about whom we can get excited? And the answer is decidedly yes. Meet Esti Ginzburg, a Tel Aviv teen who also featured prominently in the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, for which she was photographed in Naples.

She’s come a long way since her first modeling gig, for the Tnuva dairy farms, at age eight. Two years ago, she replaced Yael Bar Zohar as the face of Fox clothing, and she hasn’t looked back since. Ginzburg went on to become an international talent, representing brands like FCUK, Pull & Bear, Castro, Tommy Hilfiger. She also recently featured in promotional materials associated with the H&M clothing store’s Winter 08-09 line (pictured). She’s also been on the cover of the French version of Elle magazine four times.

Ginzburg was recently announced as joining the stable of Victoria’s Secret models on the Israeli website for the E! entertainment industry news channel (story in Hebrew). Apparently a shoot is already underway in New York, where Ginzburg is celebrating her 19th birthday. Mazal tov.

My first Adloyada

March 12, 2009 - 10:32 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Holidays 

Modiin AdloyadaEarlier in the week I attended my local Purim Parade (Adloyada – See Rachel’s always excellent and entertaining Nostalgia Sunday piece here). I don’t like parades. Never got them and standing on the side of the road, often in extreme weather, as sub-mediocre bands and masses of children waving walk by isn’t exactly how I like to spend my mornings. Yes, I’m a cynic. Have been for quite some time now. But I am willing to concede that witnessing life through my young daughter’s eyes is starting to lift the veil a bit and is having, ahem, a somewhat profound effect on me.

As we approached the crowd my daughter, dressed as a bumblebee, grew visibly excited with a highly curious “I don’t know what’s going on here” look. My city’s parade is not a glamorous affair. Most of the marchers are from local schools, clubs and sports teams. This didn’t stop her from demonstrating her excitement. “Boys!” she exclaimed as a group of young basketball players ran by dribbling. “Dancing!” she screamed as one of the local dance troupes pranced along as she did a little spin of her own. “Mah Zeh! (Hebrew for “what’s that?”) she asked as a guy dressed in a horrible Shrek costume with his underwear hanging out walked bye.

The Democratic School of Modi’in marched in Gilad Shalit t-shirts and carried banners promoting awareness that even on this happy and celebratory day, Shilat is still in captivity. Thankfully, my little bumblebee didn’t ask about them, because honestly, I wouldn’t know what to say.

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