Best Beverages for Beating the Tel Aviv 'Winter'

It may not be minus 20 Celsius degrees, but that's no excuse for turning down these tantalizing drinks.

The storm a few weeks back had some of us Tel Avivans heading straight for our down comforters, and mugs of tea, cider, hot chocolate and mulled wine, not necessarily in that order. After all, one can take only so much soup before one gets a hankering for drinks that feature cinnamon, nutmeg, apples, citrus, chocolate — and yes, a bit of alcohol. We found all that right in our own figurative backyard, so here’s our list of Tel Aviv’s best wintertime drinks. Curl up with a warm blanket and enjoy.

In December 2010, chef and baker Gidon Ben Ezra opened Sugar Daddy, a small place with a few seats where he sold cookies that he baked himself and coffee by the cup. Regulars began asking for (and receiving) food that was less sweet and more filling. That was when Sugar Daddy became Sugar Cafe, something between a cafe and a neighborhood bistro. All the dishes are prepared on the premises from high-quality ingredients — and that includes the hot chocolate for connoisseurs.

It’s a tough choice: delicate pralines, or homemade marshmallows? Perhaps cinnamon for some added kick, or a hot chili finish? The right answer is “all of the above.” The combination of pralines mixed with a bit of milk, together with lots of cinnamon and the chili twist at the end, is just what we need on a chilly day.

Price: NIS 14

As long as you’re here: Don’t pass up the range of cookies and dark chocolates. You really must take some to enjoy back home.

Sugar Cafe 8 Ibn Gabirol St., Tel Aviv

Every self-respecting outdoor market should have a proper stall for fresh-squeezed juice. It’s only right. The Carmel market has Mitzi, which opened last summer, but there’s plenty to enjoy there in the winter, too.

We recommend their hot apple cider. While most places in Tel Aviv offer cider made from concentrate, Mitzi has the real thing, and you can taste the difference. They slow-simmer tart, green apples with cinnamon for a refreshing drink that’s in a class by itself. It’s tough to choose between the hot cider and a pot of their freshly brewed herb tea, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

Price: NIS 10

As long as you’re here: Try the tea. Fresh ginger, cinnamon and cardamom at the laughably low price of NIS 8 for a giant mug.

Mitzi Carmel market, Tel Aviv

Slightly more than 22 years ago, Nily Meron opened a tiny place in Jerusalem devoted to just one thing: Belgian waffles. It has gone through a few incarnations since then, finally ending up in Tel Aviv. But no worries: the place is still small, and the magic of “a warm, cozy nook in Belgium” is still very much alive. The addictive aroma of the waffles, together with the variety of creative toppings, greets you as you approach. Here’s some good news: a second branch is soon to open in Ramat Hasharon.

We recommend the Kahlua hot chocolate. If the last time you drank hot chocolate was in grade school, you must try this one. If you thought Belgian waffles were sweet enough that there was no need to have hot chocolate too — and with a splash of alcohol on top of that — think again. Nily Meron prepares the hot chocolate with meticulous care, combining just the right amount of dark chocolate with a measured amount of milk and a few classified ingredients, with the secret in the whipping. The resulting hot chocolate is incredible — and definitely not for the kiddies.

Price: NIS 21

As long as you’re here: Waffles, waffles and more waffles. We’d move in here for good if we could.

Babette’s Feast 8 Hafetz Haim St., Tel Aviv

Just over two years ago, Meir Adoni opened Mizlala as the informal iteration of his Catit fine-dining establishment — and it was a hit from the start. The concept, like the food, the atmosphere and the people, is eclectic and uplifting, and several of the dishes quickly earned a place in Tel Aviv’s culinary pantheon. Mizlala’s secret is in its bar, where mixologist Ran Koren creates complex cocktails with care.

We recommend the Gluhwein (“glow-wine,” named for the hot irons once used in the mulling process). Quite a few people will spend the day skiing just to sip hot wine in front of the fireplace afterward. But if you live in snowless Tel Aviv and a ski trip is not within your budget, we suggest reserving a seat at Mizlala’s bar and letting the Gluhwein do its work.

On the surface, Gluhwein is warmed wine with spices, but actually it is one of the hottest and most put-together drinks you’ll find. Using an old family recipe from Germany, Koren adds a modern adaptation that combines Shiraz and Merlot wines. The Shiraz adds a fruity flavor, while the Merlot imparts a velvety texture. A long, slow simmer brings out the flavors of all the spices — cardamom, cinnamon, camomile, anise, cloves and even silan (date syrup, also called date molasses). Add a few segments of dried mandarin orange, figs and stewed apricots and you get the perfect drink.

Price: NIS 36

As long as you’re here: Adoni’s bouillabaisse will complete the wintertime atmosphere with a culinary side trip to France.

Mizlala 57 Nahalat Binyamin St., Tel Aviv

“Mediterranean” has become a generic label for a restaurant whose owners do not know how to describe it. Bertie stands out by defining itself as “Levantine.” What does that mean? It means a menu that isn’t afraid to draw from Egyptian, Turkish and Syrian cuisine, with the personal touch of chefs Or Barry and Roi Antebi. That’s true of the cocktails as well.

We recommend the sahleb cocktail. How many surprises can one get in one small glass? Quite a few, it turns out. It starts off in the traditional way, with cornstarch, sugar and milk. Then, mixologist Yuval Sofer adds coconut milk and rose water. The alcoholic aspect comes from a blended Scotch whiskey that is balanced and not overly smoky, thus sweeter. Topped with a mixture of white coffee with cardamom, baharat spice mixture and cinnamon, the result is an alcoholic sahleb that is thick, hot, moderately sweet, profound and put together with care. Don’t miss it.

The price: NIS 45

As long as you’re here: Balance out the sahleb cocktail with a charcoal-warmed, beet-infused margarita.

Bertie 88 King George St., Tel Aviv

Hot sangria at Bicicletta Almost every place offers hot sangria, and each one is sure that theirs is the best. Well, allow us to state (after an extended tasting tour) that Bicicletta’s sangria is one of the best in Tel Aviv. This is due to the red wine, orange liqueur, splash of apple juice, raisins, almonds, star anise and cinnamon, pleasingly warm with a twist of alcohol. A tip: If you go as a couple, order the pitcher (NIS 28 for a glass; NIS 90 for a pitcher).

Bicicletta 29 Nahalat Binyamin St., Tel Aviv.

Sahleb at Abulafia — Quite a few people had their first sahleb at Abulafia’s bakery in Jaffa. After all, it’s not really winter until you’ve sat down with a cup of thick sahleb topped with cinnamon. We’re glad to tell you that Abulafia’s still offers one of the best sahlebs in Tel Aviv (NIS 12 for a large mug), despite the touristy nature of the area. Peel away the layers of nostalgia for a moment and get a great drink with extras such as dried banana, raisins and kicky cinnamon.

Abulafia Bakery 7 Yefet St., Jaffa

Mocha at Loveat  While this small cafe chain offers quite a few wintertime drinks, their mocha is outstanding in its combination of flavors. The only drawback is the high price.

Loveat Organic Coffee Break Click here for locations (in Hebrew).

Kukushka in Acre One of the nicest places to open in Acre in the past year, a happy combination of snack bar and tapas bar. There is no better place to stop off for a bite in the Old City. We recommend sitting at the bar and ordering tea, which comes in a samovar. Yes, you read that right. If that doesn’t take you back home, what will?

Kukushka — The Turkish Bazaar in the Old City of Acre

Grand Cafe, Jerusalem When it’s cold outside in Jerusalem, there’s hardly anything better than warming up with a hot drink in a cafe. So how about an espresso with Lotus caramelized biscuit spread (NIS 24)? This is one of the most outstanding drinks we’ve come across, which keeps the sharpness of the espresso despite the sweetness around it. If that is not enough for you, try the praline alfajores — two shortbread-like cookies enclosing a cream made with praline, warm milk, Dulce de leche and a dash of coconut (NIS 26). A wintertime pleasure.

Grand Cafe 70 Bethlehem Rd., Jerusalem

Max Brenner — Foodies and snobs are invited to stop reading now. Everyone else can stick around, since we don’t know many people who can say no to a cup of hot chocolate from Max Brenner, served in their famous Hug Mug. If you, like us, are a chocolate lover with an open mind, ask for the hot chocolate with peanut butter (NIS 23). Even before you pick up the mug, you’ll be captivated by the aroma of the peanut butter. The drink is so thick it is almost creamy, and a rich dark brown. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Max Brenner — Click here for locations.

Rotem Maimon