Word of the Day / Nescafe

It's no coincidence that the Israeli term for instant coffee, a hybrid of a brand name and the Italian term for java, actually translates to 'miracle coffee.' It's a miracle.

Risa Nesselroth
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

You may think it's a miracle that it started out as actual coffee beans, but you have to admit that the adoption of "Nescafe" as the generic term for instant coffee, while common to many countries, is particularly felicitous here.

That's because the name, a compound of "Nestle," the company that developed the first commercially successful water-soluble coffee powder, and cafe, the Italian word for coffee, translates to "miracle coffee" in Hebrew. The equivalent would be to discover, for instance, that there is a language in which velcro (conceived as a combination of the French words for velvet and hook), actually means "reusable sticky stuff."

In Israel, by the way, Velcro, or "hook and loop fastener" as the product should be called when made by any other company, is commonly called "scotch," a reference not to whisky made in Scotland, and not to transparent adhesive tape, either generically or because it's the original 3M Scotch Tape, but rather to yet another trademark-turned-generic-name, in this case 3M's loop-surfaced Scotch-Brite scouring pad.

But I digress. When Israelis say "nescafe" they are usually referring to Elite brand kafeh namess (dissolving or soluble coffee), which as Jeremy Benstein pointed out in a recent article  is the correct Hebrew term for instant coffee. This fine, tawny powder in the familiar red-and-brown tin is such an essential item for so many Israelis it's a wonder there's no law requiring its inclusion in kitchen in the country.

Don't even try telling a brand loyalist that what they are drinking is far inferior even to other instant coffees, including Elite's own lines of "modern" freeze-dried varieties, and that the taste and smell of Elite Namess bears only a slight familial resemblance to coffee.

In most places even the best instant coffee is considered a quick and dirty substitute for the real dripped, brewed or steam-forced thing and hasn't been on a restaurant menu since brewed decaf made instant Sanka obsolete a few decades ago. In Israel, however, "nes" or the extra-fancy "nes al halav," prepared with hot or steamed milk rather than water, can be found at the most hipster of cafes.

Shoshana Kordova will resume enlightening and entertaining Word of the Day readers on October 9.

Nescafe.Credit: Yuval Tebol