Summer, on ice
Here are some of the most delicious iced-drinks expected to brighten Israel's summer nights, and cool down its sizzling summer days.
Four drinks in chilled glasses sit on the table, waiting to be tasted, each with a wide straw in it. Amir Itzkovitz, the marketing manager of Aroma Israel, surveys the glasses bearing the cafe chain's summer stars - a real cash cow Israelis were already imbibing during the February heat waves. Each month since those heat waves appeared, 300,000 such beverages have been sold all over Israel.
With summer upon us, we gathered at an Aroma branch for a brainstorming session on cool drinks with Chef Avi Steinitz and emerged with the following results: Ice Yogurt with Fruit, Ice Coffee, Diet Ice Coffee and the leading iced beverage of the year at Aroma locations - Ice Lemon Mint, created and developed by the Tzemach junction franchisee, Meni Moshe. The mint leaves, incidentally, are ground on the spot and poured into a mixture prepared every hour.
It seems the winning formula draws exhausted Israelis, fighting the heat and humidity, to the cafes they frequent year-round. There are months and days when you simply have to drop the wine and olive oil tastings, the barista competitions, the rare kinds of espresso. Give the Israeli customers different flavors of ice and you've got it made.
The method used to prepare these iced drinks vary slightly from chain to chain, and from one chef to another, but it is generally based on fruit puree or liquid coffee concentrate mixed with ice and poured into a slush machine. This base is often mixed with other ingredients such as fruit, cookies or chocolate. During the freezing process, the mixture loses some of its sweetness and so sugar water is then added.
'The crowd likes surprises'
Aroma Israel's drinks demonstrate Israelis' fondness for iced beverages. The four drinks mentioned, which received high marks during the taste test, are only a sampling of the plethora of iced beverages Israelis sip, in assorted flavors and with various extras.
Ofer Gevirtzman, the marketing manager of Cafe Joe, reports that frozen drinks sell in their stores during the winter as well. "There are some very hot days during the Israeli winter, and there are also customers who drink iced beverages even when it's raining outside," he explains. The chain's most popular iced drinks (around 100,000 servings sold per month ) are Iced Coffee, which is poured into a slush machine until it hardens, and the dietetic version of that, made using less sugar and low-fat milk. There is also the Frozen Virgin Joe, made with fruit puree concentrate and water, and then frozen in a slush machine, which comes in strawberry, banana and coconut flavors.
The chain also came up with two new summer beverages, which did well in taste tests conducted among employees and their friends, and indicate Cafe Joe's target audience and its preferences.
"The crowds like surprises," notes Gevirtzman as he describes the "Clockwork Orange" - a combination of fresh-squeezed orange juice, ice and vanilla ice cream, topped with strips of rind and whipped cream. And if this drink sounds appealing to you, consider the Ice Choco Cookie drink made with vanilla ice cream, ice and Hershey's syrup, and topped with brownie chunks, whipped cream and more chocolate. A calorie-loaded treat, it's already been well-received by regular customers.
An alcoholic twist
Some establishments are looking to offer customers iced fruit drinks with a twist, like Yariv Melili, the owner of the Thai House restaurant in Tel Aviv. Melili imports herbs from Thailand, which helps distinguish his iced beverages from others.
"In the winter I also make iced drinks, but not as slush - it's a softer version," he says. "In the summer, there is a demand for something cooler. We puree fresh fruit in a blender with sugar water and ice. We also have shakes that we add coconut milk to, and sometimes rum for a nice alcoholic twist."
The Asian drinks at Thai House come in watermelon and mango flavors, and soon there will also be one based on bai toey (pandanus ) leaves, which grow in Thailand and have a unique aroma. The leaves break down into thin strands in the drink and tint it green. Melili plans to serve this flavor using a combination of ice, sugar water and coconut milk.
At Loveat outlets, Iced drinks made with organic fruit or pesticide-free coffee beans are served, with no sugar added. According to owner Tal Bondstein, "As early as April, there was already demand for frozen drinks, and during the heat of last week, demand was three times as high."
A frozen gamble
So is it possible to prepare iced drinks without a slush machine? Nurit Raveh, the owner of the Espresso Bar chain, acknowledges that this entails quite a bit of work. A coffee granita, for example, is made the same way it's done in Italy: coffee is steeped in water without sugar, frozen in a block, the ice block is scraped into a cup and served with sugar water on the side.
During the summer, the Espresso chain sells around 18,000 cups of frozen drinks, 75 percent of them coffee-based. The most popular among them is Ice Cappuccino, made with coffee, milk and Irish Cream in a slush machine. This year the chain is also selling Ice Lemonana (lemon and mint leaves ), with or without arrack.
"Last year, our Ice Passion Fruit was a hit," says Raveh. "This year we're betting on Ice Yogurt with or without fruit. During the February heat wave, our customers wanted iced coffee. We weren't prepared, but we hustled and made more and more of them."