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Shlomo ha-Melekh St 12

Category: Best RestaurantsTags: Cafe and Guest Reviewer

“I know it’s around here somewhere,” she insisted, becoming slightly frustrated yet trying to remain optimistic. Aware of my increasingly acute interest in the Tel Aviv coffee bar scene, my good friend was trying to lead me to a special one, kind of hard to find, that she fortuitously came across in a residential area between Dizengoff and Masryk Square.

“Are you sure?” I queried, a bit doubtfully. “These are all apartment buildings.”

“That’s what makes the place so special…you’d never expect to find a beit café here.”

Indeed, the streets we wandered were lovely and lush, one of the old garden neighborhoods of central Tel Aviv. But it certainly didn’t appear to be “zoned” for business. Most of the ground floors were completely residential.

“Here it is!” my friend exclaimed happily. And sure enough, there, on what would otherwise be the balcony of a ground-floor apartment, were coffee patrons spilling out of the indoor space, chatting amicably; others seated, typing intently on their laptops. A business sign was visible, but you had to strain a bit to read it from the street: Cafelix.

Yes, here in residential central Tel Aviv, was a member of the Cafelix small family of Tel Aviv espresso bars. Cafelix is based in Jaffa, where they maintain the most well-known of their cafe branches as well as a roastery. Their stylishly urban space in Florentin’s trendy Levinsky Market is also a delightful find.

People love Cafelix for many reasons. The proprietors consider themselves artisans in the purchasing, crafting, and roasting of their beans and blends. They care about relationships with the farmers. They are attentive to the conditions in which the coffee is grown. The coffee blends even have African and Central/South American animal names (and logos to match) like “Giraffe or “Elephant.” The labels on the bags are stamped with a picture of the animal rather than the name. How cute and creative is that?

But at Cafelix Shlomo Hamelech, you are more likely to focus on another appealing quality altogether: the relationships that form a core of loyal customers around this charming but unassuming little branch. When you walk in you notice that the place is compact and that seating is at a premium both inside and outside. There are no posh couches to laze on while you work. Some of the “chairs” are, very cleverly but not-so-luxuriously, coffee-bean barrels. But you also notice something else: a good portion of one wall, which is prime real estate in such a small establishment, is devoted to a large frame of shelves upon which dozens of cups and glasses rest, each above the owner’s name embossed in classic typeface on a on old-fashioned label. A place to leave your coffee cup at the end of the day—what could possibly make you feel more at home?

The feelings on the part of the coffee-cup owners must be mutual, because they continuously pack in and don’t seem to mind carving out a place to sit. There are hugs, smiles, handshakes, and happy greetings among patrons here, yes. But you especially notice the affectionate gestures of friendship and relaxed conversation between habitués and the baristas themselves. Here you get the sense that people come for the hugs as much as for the coffee. But more on that later.

Back to the coffee. It tastes great. Cafelix Shlomo Hamelech serves all the standard fine-espresso bar items, as well as a noticeably expansive array of brewing equipment and accessories, many of which were new to me. In fact looking at some of the strangely shaped appliances made me realize how far artisan coffee-brewing has come in just a few years. It probably wouldn’t hurt to attend a seminar on how to use some of these in-vogue devices!

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about Cafelix’s single-origin series—Guatemala, Brazil, Nicaragua, Tanzania, and Uganda—also indicated by endearing depictions of country-appropriate exotic animals. But in the end, I decided to go with one of the blends, walking out wth a bag of freshly ground “Alligator,” recommended for its dark, espresso-like flavors. (I decided I would try to get past the fairly realistic, smiling-yet-still-a-bit-ominous portrait peering at me from the bag first thing in the morning!)

Finally in the food department, this Cafelix branch offers a particularly appealing selection of freshly baked goods. We tried a generous portion of chocolate cake that we’re pretty sure was enhanced with, appropriately enough, ground coffee beans.

No wonder people flock to this hidden gem, even if they find themselves without a lot of elbow room. The quality of the coffee is high. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. It’s where your friends are. It’s where your coffee cup sits waiting for you above its own personalized label. It’s where the baristas know your favorite drink at any given time of day. It’s the place “where everybody knows your name.”

Reviewed by Alicia Gansz.

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