Italian coffee culture comes to Jerusalem’s center

Every morning for the past seven years, Enrico Attas, a graphic and packaging designer for nearly two decades, has made himself a morning cup of mocha coffee from his own espresso machine.

ENRICO ATTAS, graphic/packaging designer and coffee lover, in Tmol Shlishom (photo credit: ANDREI VAINER)
ENRICO ATTAS, graphic/packaging designer and coffee lover, in Tmol Shlishom
(photo credit: ANDREI VAINER)
Italian-born Enrico Attas is not your average commission artist, nor does he identify professionally as one.
However, when you know you’re meant for something, you feel it deep within your soul and follow that passion without. For Attas that passion is coffee, and lots of it.
Every morning for the past seven years, Attas, a graphic and packaging designer for nearly two decades, has made himself a morning cup of mocha coffee from his own espresso machine. He then arranges an artistic set up around the cup of joe, using materials and objects he has lying around his studio, then snaps a photo of the final product.
“In the morning, I like to make a cup of coffee and take a picture of it. Just for fun, because my work is not within art, it is within graphic design,” Attas told the Magazine. “In my work, I have a lot of papers and objects lying around my studio by the end of the day, so in the morning I use these materials to make a composition.”
What initially started as a hobby soon blossomed into an opportunity. As Attas shared the artwork with friends and colleagues, over the years they encouraged him to share his pieces with the wider community – as they believe the coffee culture in Israel and the ambiance of the portraits create a promising combination for success.
Harnessing that enthusiasm, Attas has decided to display his artwork within Tmol Shlishom, the quaint coffee shop in Jerusalem’s city center – his first exhibition of the kind. The charming, beloved café-cum-cultural-institution, hidden in a back alley a short walk from the Jaffa Center light rail station, represents all that is coffee culture in Israel.
In a speakeasy fashion, you enter the café through an alley, then walk up a flight of steps into what the writer can only describe as a 20th-century Middle Eastern Starbucks, with all the Wi-Fi, java-based and dining commodities one needs in the morning, mixed in with beautifully preserved architecture that one might be used to seeing within Jerusalem’s Old City.
As you walk through the outdoor patio seating and through the hand-crafted wooden double doors into the indoor area, you are greeted with furniture that looks to have been brought back from the 1920s, true hardwood floors and the familiar hissing of the coffee and espresso machine at work. If you turn to the left, choose your seat within the open dining room, on the wall you will be drawn to the 18 portraits Attas himself hand-picked and commissioned to accompany your morning coffee experience.
In line with the growing Israeli green culture, Attas commissions all his work out of recyclable biodegradable materials. In fact, most of the materials are fashioned out of old coffee products, such as recycled grounds and beans. The portrait borders are made from old chocolate boxes – in line with the artist’s favorite daily mocha – generated out of the same type of materials, with the cardboard accentuating and surrounding the photos made from coffee beans and the photos themselves made out of recyclable materials.
“I like to use recyclable materials in my work because it is good for the environment. It’s essential, as I do not believe in waste materials,” Attas explained.
TO CHOOSE just 18 photos out of thousands of pictures compiled over seven years was very hard for Attas to do, because every cup of coffee, just like every day, is special to him. Attas thus employed the assistance of his friend Robin Terry, a fine art photographer and lecturer, to choose the photos to display within his first exhibition – which he admits took a lot of time, to not just choose the best work but to choose the work that best represents Attas and his philosophy on coffee, in order to accentuate the café setting in the best way.
“What I like about coffee?” Attas ponders. “In Italy, it is a ritual and a tradition that everything starts with coffee. Two people going to work, they start with an espresso. Two politicians or people sit down to solve a conflict, they start it with a coffee and end it with one – same goes for meetings between friends and especially dates, both academic and romantic.”
He jokingly adds, “When the mafia assassinates someone, they splash a little espresso on the person after they are done. It is ingrained within the culture. Every important decision is made over a cup of coffee.”
Displaying an Italian-Hebrew accent, Attas spoke about his journey to Israel. His first language was French, which he spoke mainly with his father, as his family originated initially from Egypt. In 1957, his family was forced to leave the northeastern African country and immigrated to Europe before he was born, eventually settling in Italy.
“I love coffee because I am Italian, I was born in Italy and lived there until I was 21 years old. I was born in Milan in 1959, and Milan is the best place for coffee, for design, for art. After serving in the Italian army, in 1981, I made aliyah and I started to study at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem; after that I returned to Italy and earned another specialization in design at the Scuola Politecnica di Design in Milan.”
In 1987, he started working in a packaging firm in Milan and fell in love with the ways you can fashion and design paper to eventually make art.
A chance encounter with a packaging company owner influenced Attas to return to Israel in 1990 and he has been fascinated with the country and region ever since. From that day, Attas has worked in his studio as a graphic designer, Web designer and of course a packaging designer – culminating in years of detailed work, countless cups of brew and thousands of compositions of such cups, which a great majority of the world deems sacred within their morning ritual.
WHILE ATTAS loves living in Israel, a culture that also holds their morning cup of hafuch in high regard, he admits it is not the same, and therefore he is trying to bring Italian coffee culture and philosophy to Israeli cafés through his artwork.
Cherishing as he does these morning rituals between friends – watching his father have a cup of coffee every morning at the local shop while reading the paper, in a country where culture is centered around espressos and cappuccinos – Attas does his best to emulate those experiences with the colleagues and friends he surrounds himself with today in Israel.
Even though most people in Israel enjoy their coffee as black as the night sky, the love for java is still there, and Attas appreciates living in an environment that holds such nostalgic rituals in formal consideration. Within that context, Attas intends to continue his work and create more such exhibitions for many more coffee shops around Israel.
As comedian Jerry Seinfeld – creator and host of the “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” Web series – noted, “Ninety-eight percent of all human endeavor is killing time. This is a great way to do it: Eating is annoying and difficult to arrange… meeting someone for coffee seems like a wonderful compact, accessible and portable social interaction.”
Attas would agree.
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