The Coffee Wheel of Flavors

If you’re a girl, you probably have a ‘Wedding’ board on Pinterest. If you’re a guy, you probably have no idea what Pinterest is. And if you’re me, you have a ‘Coffeeshop’ board on Pinterest. Those of you who know me will know that I have two dream jobs. Dreams are fragile, so we shall not name them here. But after these two I have a few fun ‘Plan C’ type job ‘options’, one of which is to own a coffeeshop! I have given this a lot of thought – from the art on the walls, to the color scheme, to the sandwiches, to the baked goods (German, duh). What did I forget? The coffee! So when Gemma of the Brew Shop told me I can come to a coffee tasting lesson, I said yes on the spot.

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As I am first to the scene at 6pm on Sunday evening, I sit on the wooden bench inside and cuddle Gemma’s dog Gracie. I look around me – on my left there is a record player playing soulful coffeeshop music. On my right there is a fridge where cold brew coffee is being made over a span of 24 hours. In front of me is Gemma – dancing behind the counter and balancing filters, coffee beans, and a flavor platter of dark chocolate, cherries, tomatoes and citrus fruits.

After my fellow five students gradually trickle into the shop, Gracie (the dog) and I suddenly jerk upright. There is a new smell, and it fills this small, warm space in no time. “this is a varietal from Panama called Geisha,” we are told as the air is suffused with jasmine, lemon, and a hint of hazelnut. If that last sentence sounds like gibberish to you, you’re in good company. And yet this exercise is surprisinglythumb_IMG_0570_1024.jpg fun. We learn about the altitude beans grow on (the higher the better); the outside temperature (the lower the better), the continents and countries (they differ greatly); and THE TASTOR’s FLAVOR WHEEL, my favorite part.

My childhood memories often center around scents… on top of that, I’m a visual learner, and so the wheel of flavors diagram is a dream come true. Did you know your coffee can taste of raisins, liquorice, pomegranate, snow peas, bread, almond, or pear?

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There are a few moments in the 2-hour class where I really wish a friend were here so we could grin about all this, such as when Gemma says “this coffee tastes inoffensive,” or when I find out that my mouth has a roof (“now swirl the spoonful of coffee around up to the roof of your mouth”). Mostly though, I am thankful to have had this personal experience. Am I a natural? No. Am I a Coffee-Snob? Yes.

As I skip up the shop’s steps at the end of the session, I re-consider my “Plan C” career options. A coffeeshop is tempting for sure, but so is being the manager of Schalke 04, my football team. And knowing myself, I think it would be easier to sign good football players, than to find good coffee beans.

 

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One Day in May

 

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Y’know that one day in May when you wake up early because sun rays tickle your nose? When you ditch your jacket, head outside down Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue and stroll below the cherry trees? When you wake up your BBQ from its 8-month hibernation period? When you head down to the Charles Esplanade to cautiously dip your toes in the water?

Well, Friday, February 12th (also known as yesterday), was that day in Tel Aviv. I got home “late” from a night out, or “early” depending on how you see it. The sun was rising and so I made an impromptu detour to the beach. The sun’s early rays glistened on the boats in the harbor, a streetsweeper began his morning shift on Frishman beach, a dogwalker yawned and gave me a lazy smile. It was 7:30 AM. You could already sense it would be a warm day. I went home and collapsed on my bed…but managed to get up, shower, get dressed, leave the house by 1 PM “a few” hours later 😉

thumb_IMG_0209_1024.jpgEn route to the beach I made a pit-stop at the Brew Shop on Gordon street. I had never been inside before but was intrigued: rumour has it they sell Cold Brew Coffee here, something I miss about Boston (besides Pavement Coffeehouse of course, my quasi living room). Gemma from Manchester, a happy barista in her mid-twenties, told me about the Ethiopian and Kenyan beans they use and poured me two Coldbrew shots from beautiful glass bottles. She also invited me to a coffee roasting and tasting workshop on Sunday evening: see you there!

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thumb_IMG_0238_1024.jpgAnd so I wandered towards the beach, Cold Brew in hand. I had spicy shakshuka with my feet in the fine sand. I skyped my mum and my dog Beau. I joined a few guys who juggled a football in the air. Mostly, I took it all in – a mum cradling her young son; a surfer running into the sea; a sailboat spinning over (I’ve been there); a few French friends joking about Paris winters.

When I left the beach, the same time that the sun fell into the ocean just before 6PM, I saw a young man in a green sweater and a green bowtie dancing wildly. Why is this noteworthy? Because his VIP audience member was an old lady with big, white curls, and a gentle face. She sat in one of those red wheelchair scooters and she watched the dancer as happily as can be. Many stopped to watch the man dance, but just as many were simply moved by this old lady’s joy. Only in Tel Aviv!

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“Serendipity” (noun)

Serendipity: noun

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

“a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

synonyms: (happy) chance, (happy) accident, fluke

 

How better to end a mild winter evening than with hot Shakshuka in central Tel Aviv? This sumptuous breakfast dish makes for a great dinner, and so I happily dipped challah bread in the steaming hot saucepan of tomatoey goodness. In the meantime, I watched life go by on Ibn Gabirol, one of Tel Aviv busiest streets. But when a large procession of people danced by the restaurant’s windows, accompanied by a party bus that boasted neon lights and blasted loud music, even the Tel Aviv locals in the restaurant spun their heads around with intrigue. Curiosity got the better of me; I hastily paid my dinner and ran out of the restaurant to pursue this congregation. Who were they, what were they celebrating, and why did they do so on a public street in the middle of the city?

My initial instinct was that this was a Jewish wedding. There were people of all ages but some wore more traditional religious clothing and black hats, and two men were carrying large silver goblet-like objects. But when I couldn’t spot the happy couple, I decided to ask a security guy in a yellow vest what was going on. He told me that this group of people were carrying the Torah from a bar on Dizengoff to the synagogue. “Wait, back up!” is what you’re probably thinking just about now. Well, I felt the same way, and so I went around the group asking more people more questions. Here’s what I found: the group had started as just a handful of people. Two hours ago, they met outside the bar on Dizengoff street where there was a horrific shooting in early January. Dizengoff is to Tel Aviv what King’s Road is to London, or the Theater district to Boston – an area rife with bars, clubs, and young people. It is not known to be a dangerous area; rather it is one of the most desirable places to live. But while the shooting must have left many Israelis scar(r)ed, these people had made a beautiful decision: they would commemorate the young victims of the shooting with a Torah, and in the process, would celebrate life by dancing from the bar to the synagogue in an ever-growing mass of people.

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To you, this probably sounds bizarre and surreal, maybe distasteful. To me, this was a profoundly moving event that I feel very lucky to have been a part of. Whether English-speaking or not, everyone present tried to include me. An Israeli Arab (who was by far the best dancer) grabbed my hand and pulled me into the middle of it all; the rabbi present eagerly shook my hand and thanked me for being there, before leading the group in chanting a prayer; and a French Jew who had made Aliyah four years ago told me he had turned down a private dinner with a senior Likud politician, just to be here.

For me, this evening was sheer serendipity. By pure luck, I saw something raw – figments of the national psyche out in the open: Israelis’ mourning for their dead compatriots, Israelis’ resilience, and their unshakable will to live their lives in spite of terrorism.

Two days later, I found myself at the very bar where the senseless shooting occurred. Why? Because a mere ten days after the shooting, the bar’s owners had invited all of Tel Aviv to a massive street feast to celebrate life.

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