A Long Mochaccino Fredo Grande, Please

The accelerated evolution we have undergone, from drinking instant powdered coffee to drinking gourmet coffee-to-go from a paper cup, has left its mark on the streets of Israeli cities, where dozens of branches of coffee chains can be seen. Our coffee lexicon has swelled from a single phrase - instant powdered coffee - to dozens of terms and names and various variations of the drink.

According to Business Data Israel (BDI) statistics, the sales turnover in coffee shops in 2005 amounted to NIS 1.9 billion - a 5 percent increase over 2004. BDI attribute this increase to, among other factors, the increased competition in the field as a result of the swift development of coffee-shop chains. The survey also points to a drastic increase in the number of branches of the chains over the past few years, at the expense of private cafes whose numbers have dropped.

The data also shows that 81 percent of the population visit cafes and 51 percent go to them on a regular basis, every week. Some 84 percent spend time in the cafes as a form of recreation, and 1-2 percent go with the express purpose of drinking coffee. The survey reveals that the average customer spends NIS 30 in the cafe.

Our relationship with the coffee shop we have chosen is expected to be short and effective, especially when it comes to coffee-to-go, which is most common in the morning when we are dying for a good cup of coffee on our way to work. When we order coffee in this way, we expect it to be fresh and aromatic, and to be served in a cup that can withstand all the shaking on our journey; we also expect the croissant to remain crisp and warm even after a good few minutes in its wrapping, and that all will come with polite and efficient service. The question then is, in which chain should we therefore invest our NIS 30?

In order to resolve the dilemma, TheMarker examined where it is most tasty and pleasant to buy latte, or espresso, and a pastry for the road. We examined eight branches of large coffee chains all of which are in the vicinity of Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv.

The examination revealed that Arcaffe led the list, according to almost all the criteria, and offered the best mix of good products and effective, swift and polite service. Second place went to the Espresso Bar branch whose service was somewhat unsophisticated but which had goods of surprisingly high quality. Last place went to Cafe Hillel, with its problematic combination of poor service and products of inferior quality.

The examination also revealed that there is a fairly large gap in waiting time. The shortest wait was at Cup O'Joe - 2.58 minutes; while the longest was at Aroma - 7.49 minutes. The examination was carried out in the late morning and early afternoon hours, but the area is a very lively one at all hours.

ARCAFFE (17 Ha'arba'a St.)

The service was courteous, professional and effective. Waiting time: 3.10 minutes.

The espresso was good, aromatic and strong. The latte was too hot, with incorrect proportions of coffee, milk and foam. The experts say the ratio should be one-third each, but Arcafe's latte had too little foam. The croissant was hot, but the chocolate inside had not melted at all.

Bottom line: Courteous, correct and friendly service, but a little bit of slipping up in the small details.

EXPRESSO BAR (84 Ibn Gvirol St.)

The service was not so professional, but the staff was eager to please; at the same time, it is not clear where one orders and where one pays, a rather critical matter when it comes to coffee-to-go. Nevertheless, the waiting time was short (3 minutes) and the cute barista (coffee maker) offered an extra espresso instead of the one cup, in case it got cold en route, and charged for a short espresso. The croissant is attractively and well wrapped. The espresso is good and has a kind of thin layer of cream that proves the quality and freshness of the coffee, and its flavor and aroma are good. The temperature of the latte is exactly as it should be with the right ratio of cream, milk and coffee. On the other hand, the croissant was cold; its taste was satisfactory but the chocolate inside was full of lumps.

Bottom line: Tasty coffee, well wrapped croissant, could add a little touch to the service.

COFFEE BEAN & TEA LEAF (73 Ibn Gvirol St.)

A lot of effort was put into the coffee container and croissant wrapping: The coffee cup was in a convenient holder and the croissant in a handy bag. What was missing in particular was a special cup for espresso. The croissant was wrapped in excellent fashion, with aluminum foil inside to keep in the warmth. However, that same wrapping caused the croissant to get soft after a short while. The coffee's taste was satisfactory but its aroma was somewhat deficient. Waiting time was 4.30 minutes.

Bottom line: Has the advantages of an experienced and efficient factory together with extremely courteous staff, quiet, polite and friendly service, and very well packaged goods.

CUP O'JOE (88 Hahashmonaim St.)

Courteous service. Waiting time: 2.58 minutes. The latte was very weak and the taste of the coffee could hardly be detected. The espresso was strong and good and came in a suitable cup. The croissant was not tasty - hot outside and cold inside and the chocolate filling seemed lumpy and of inferior quality.

Bottom line: This was the quickest service. It wouldn't hurt to improve the latte a little.

ILAN'S (90 Ibn Gvirol St.)

Friendly but amateur and not very efficient service. Waiting time: 4 minutes. The package itself was good with holes in the bag that allowed the croissant to give off steam. The espresso had cream, but its taste and aroma were somewhat wanting. The latte was served too hot and with too little foam, and the taste of the coffee could not be felt. The croissant made with butter was excellent but not warm, unfortunately.

Bottom line: Has the potential to be friendly and serve as a neighborhood cafe, if you are not bothered by small details.

CAFENETO (95 Ibn Gvirol St.)

Impatient and impolite service. Waiting time: 7 minutes. The bag with croissants meant for four, had only one napkin. Inside the bag, popsicle sticks took the place of teaspoons for mixing the coffee. The croissant, which was of inferior quality, was served cold and was not tasty; it contained a cold chocolate lump instead of melted chocolate. The espresso was satisfactory in taste and aroma, the cream was nice but the taste a little acidic. The latte had the right mix of foam, milk and coffee and the taste of the coffee was clearly felt.

Bottom line: Good coffee; everything else - less so.

AROMA (12 Carlebach St.)

Not very courteous service; they clearly cannot handle the pressure. The waiting time was the longest of all: 7.49 minutes. The coffee is served with a treat - small helpings of tasty wrapped chocolate. However, the latte is tasteless and the ratios of foam, milk and coffee are inexact, with too little coffee. The croissant was fresh and hot, but the wrapping (non-absorbent wax paper) drew moisture. The espresso was fair.

Bottom line: A coffee factory with attention to minute detail, but with coffee that is only mediocre and very impolite service.

CAFE HILLEL (Ibn Gvirol at Arlozoroff Street)

Service that is impatient and impolite. The counter was dirty and the cashiers were unable to deal with the pressure of three people waiting in line. Waiting time: 5.27 minutes. The milk in the latte did not smell fresh; and the drink was too hot, had no foam and you could not taste the coffee. The espresso had the taste of stale ground coffee beans. The croissant came with fig jam and was hot and fresh, but not tasty. The wrapping was satisfactory but did not contain disposable teaspoons and napkins, which one has to take from a container.

Bottom line: The service is not at all courteous and the goods were not tasty.