While Israeli winters tend to be mild (40-60 degrees F), locals — spoilt from months of sunshine — suffer through the season, wrapped up in padded coats, a hot drink permanently in gloved hands. But I am not talking about just your average Swiss Miss hot cocoa packets. These five beverages keep them toasty as they huddle in cafes with fogged windows, or under blankets at home when a whiff of snow shuts down all public transport. Fragrant with spice, they’ll warm you from the inside out.
Beloved throughout the Middle East, Israelis rely on this thick, creamy drink to keep them cozy through winter. Traditionally, it is made from ground orchid bulbs (said to cure coughs and colds, and act as an aphrodisiac — fun!) and milk, often flavored with rose water or orange blossom, and topped with nuts, dried fruit, and cinnamon. These days, many versions are thickened with cornstarch, and Israelis have gotten creative with the toppings, which include vanilla, caramel, banana, to name a few.
You can find instant sahlab mix at any Israeli supermarket, so be sure to stock up next time you visit. Or just head to Jaffa’s iconic Abouelafia Bakery for a ladleful of sahlab served straight from the samovar, dusted with cinnamon. Try Sonya Sanford’s recipe for sahlav.
2. Coffee With Hawaij
There are two versions of the Yemenite spice blend hawaij: a savory mix (for soup) and a sweet mix (for coffee). The coffee blend is like a less basic, super fragrant, punchy pumpkin spice mix. It has ginger and cardamom, and often cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It is typically mixed into a strong brew of black coffee (or just sprinkled straight on top), but works really well in hot cocoa, too.
3. Aroma-Style Hot Chocolate
Hot cocoa is rarely bad but Aroma Espresso Bar — Israel’s largest coffee chain — have made it spectacular. Their version involves actual milk chocolate praline (candy!) at the bottom of the mug with steamed milk poured over, topped with cocoa powder. It’s easy to recreate at home — just choose your favorite chocolate candy to stir in. You could use leftover Halloween candy or even Hanukkah gelt. Ridiculously decadent.
4. Mint Tea
Often, what Israelis call “tea” is actually an infusion (i.e. without any tea leaves). Tea is drunk year-round, but are especially beloved in winter. And mint tea — water with fresh spearmint leaves called “nana” — is the most popular; at once both warming and refreshing. You can adapt your tea to your taste, or what you have growing on your mirpeset (balcony); ginger, lemon, lemon verbena, and herbs are popular additions. Sweeten with a drizzle of honey or silan (date syrup).
5. Hot Cider
More often than not, Israeli hot cider is actually just hot apple juice with a cinnamon stick and maybe a couple of cloves. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in comforting sweetness. If you’re looking for the real deal, the Tura Winery and Kibbutz Elrom in the Golan Heights began to dabble in the cider business in the recent years, with some delicious results.