York Coffee Emporium Goes to Israel!

As you may have picked up from our Twitter or Facebook accounts, we recently took a sojourn to Tel Aviv, Israel, to visit Coffee Tech Engineering, the very company who made our precious coffee roaster.

The purpose of the visit was twofold - to meet the owner of the business, Ram Evgi, and visit the factory, and also to discuss being his UK "face" of coffee roaster sales over here.

Our visit was not without controversy - our families and friends were worried about us visiting a country known for its political instability at the best of times, and with the uprisings in the Arab countries surrounding Israel they feared the trouble could spread across the borders. However, Israel is currently reasonably stable (especially in the hip area of Tel Aviv), and there were no indications that any of the issues relating to the Arab countries were applicable to Israel. So, we packed up our (hand luggage - checking a bag is expensive!) and headed off!

Upon landing, we were instantly greeted with by a customs official. All paperwork for the visit was in order, and I duly presented all to him, albeit slightly nervously. (Customs officials inspire complete terror into me, for no logical reason - even when I am re-entering the UK. I always feel like I'm trying so hard not to look guilty that I instead end up looking like I have explosives in my Mulberry.) The official read over my letter and details, then stamped our passports. Finally as we turned to leave he cracked a huge smile and said "Buy Israeli coffee!" and sported a huge thumbs up!

This is the best description I can give of the immediate sense of warmth and friendliness you feel upon visiting Israel. Contrary to the perception we have of Israel from our media, I can only say that during our whole visit we felt welcomed, relaxed and utterly safe, from walking round the Tel Aviv streets at 3,00am after a particularly enjoyable evening drinking in the local bars, to browsing the flea markets of Jaffa, the old town just south of Tel Aviv.

The inhabitants, mostly Jewish people from around the world who have settled under the Aliyah law, or second/third generation new Israelis, have an attitude which is refreshingly unique to the Western traveller. The attitudes we encountered all over Tel Aviv were of a friendly, overtly helpful and even slightly submissive peoples, eager to dispel the rumours of Israel being a no-go zone. Those we spoke to at length were keen to find out what our interpretation of Israel was, and whether we liked it, were afraid to come, etc, etc.

Whether this was because it was Tel Aviv, a modern city with a diverse and modern population, not Jerusalem, I am unsure. However, I am not wanting to inspire a political debate with this blog, these are simply my personal observations of the peoples we met. Who knows, maybe I just have an agreeable face.

Either way, we felt comfortable in Tel Aviv very quickly, and were excited to see Ram the next day. Accommodation had been organized by Coffee Tech for us in a functional and ideally located hotel, right between the sea and the busy nightlife stretch, and as the factory was about 40 miles outside the city, in Moshov Mazliach, a quiet, picturesque village, we were collected the next morning by an employee. Apologies for the bad picture quality, my Blackberry camera is not the best!

As soon as we arrived at the factory, our education began. Ram's passion and knowledge of both coffee and engineering was apparent immediately (something my fiancée, also an engineer, found fascinating!), and upon his factory tour you immediately found yourself understanding how he built this business from scratch over a decade ago, to become one of the world's most important manufacturers of shop roasters.

Whilst I do not intend to bore my readers with too much technical speak, I will briefly explain what makes his electric shop roasters and his commercial line of roasters different to others:

Solar 2kg Shop Roaster

The Solar (shop roaster) was designed from the ground up; i.e. it was designed for a shop environment, not a manufacturing facility. This means issues of running cost, space, ease of use, programmability and smoke were all taken into account upon the design.

The Solar has four heating systems; conduction, convection, infrared and "thermosiphonic" (which ensures the even distribution of the other three heat sources). The roaster is powered using three infrared heating elements, which Ram was in the process of redesigning to prevent burnout, a common problem with electric roasters.

SOLAR coffee roaster

These heating method ensure the beans are roasted evenly and the heat distribution is concentrated and efficient, allowing for flexibility with roast profiles.

SOLAR IMAGE 2

It is relatively service free, meaning after some simple cleaning it requires very little attention after roasting, perfect for the busy shopkeeper.

Whilst the smoke is minimal from the machine subject to the correct installation, Ram has also developed the "Avirnaki", (meaning smoke free, in Hebrew), a machine on which the roaster stands and is connected to, to draw the smoke out of the chamber and into the carbon filter system within. This additional system means you do not need to vent the machine upwards, ideal if your shop area has strict laws on the exhaust of fumes.

SOLAR IMAGE 3

Ghibli 15 kilo Commercial Roaster

We were also shown and had a roasting session on the next size up roaster, the Ghibli 15. The Ghibli roasts up to 15kilo of coffee, and is a standalone monster! Running off gas, this roaster is more traditional in its heating function, yet still advanced in its design.

GHIBLI IMAGE 1

Instead of a simple gas flame and a spinning chamber in which the beans are exposed to whatever heat they can access, the chamber of the Ghibli is designed from a ceramic, studded outer surface, allowing for thermodynamic heat transfer and optimal heat distribution. The drum is a complicated surface of bumps and troughs allowing for maximum movement of the beans whilst the drum is turning, to ensure an even roast with maximum thermosiphonic movement.

Cooling is done outside of the drum, to allow back to back roasting, making this brute capable of roasting 60kilos of coffee per hour.

The Ghibli is available with afterburner and destoner, and also available in a 45kilo and 90kilo size (below) for the mega roaster.

GHIBLI IMAGE 2

Conclusion

Our two days in the Coffee Tech factory was by far the best way I ever could have learnt more about roasters, and indeed coffee in general. During my visit I was lucky to meet many other fascinating people all working in the coffee industry, including a "master roaster" for the largest café chain in Israel, the European director of a major espresso machine brand, as well as all the workers and engineers in the Coffee Tech factory, and owners of local businesses in Tel Aviv. Everyone, from the shop floor to the directors were friendly, welcoming and generous to the extreme - both in their sharing of their knowledge and time but, more crucially, in the bar!!

However, we cannot of course forget our hosts, Ram and Iris Evgi, two of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Indeed, upon our departure, both hugged warmly us and said, "You have family here in Tel Aviv now". And you know what? I think we do.

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