Saturday, November 15, 2014

Maca spice chocolate

OK so this is a spiced hot chocolate I ripped off from a boutique tea manufacturer. Basically, you can love chai. You can love hot chocolate. But if you put a bit of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves into your hot chocolate to try and make a spiced version, you'll be disappointed.
That's where maca comes in. Many people make claims about maca - that it's an endocrine regulator, that it's good for what ails you... I have no idea. All I know is that it has an earthy taste that marries the flavours of spices and chocolate and creates a drink that's thick without being full of cream, energising without being full of caffeine (I believe chocolate contains some caffeine, but you know what I mean), full of flavour without being full of sugar.
So my recipe is to mostly fill a jar with the best coacoa powder you can find ( I bow to the Dutch when it comes to all things chocolate), add a couple of teaspoons of maca, and then add maybe two teaspoons of cinnamon and one each of nutmeg and cloves. Then give it both a shake and a stir - shaking alone leaves you with a clump of unmixed powder in the middle of the jar - make some hot chocolate and adjust the flavours to taste.
I have a complicated rigmarole of toasting the powder in the saucepan, adding a little water and boiling it til it's thick, then adding milk (soy milk in my case), then boiling it up a couple of times until the whole drink is quite thick. I'm not sure how necessary all the steps are, so if you have any insights, please let me know. Also, too much maca = disgusting, so be wary.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Back to hipsters

So that's why I love hipsters. Not the pants. The people. 
I can sit in the south end of Smith St and not have to even try to manifest even a molecule of that factor that would allow me to pretend, even in the slightest, that I care about the outcome of sport, any sport, or reality TV, or the Royal damn Visit. 
I don't have to be in the cool group. I don't have to wear a single Label. I don't have to listen to any of the neurasthenic pap they play on the radio, or pay a single jot of attention to the asinine jumble of far right ideology they mass manufacture in the daily papers. 
The internet is my playground and Smith St is my flat and I don't have to pretend here or put on the makeup or ingest the required toxic crap here. 
No, I can go to the gallery and photograph works and publish them and not worry. It's not Grade 8 down here. 
Light, skylight, artwork. Slopes Gallery. Paradise Structures work. 

Thin screen of cellophane over old Peugeot repair shop. Paradise Structures again. 


Thirsty? Paradise Structures work from found objects. 

Katherine Botten. 

Paradise. Hmmm. 

Cool group, get f*cked. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hoji cha. Mmmm.

Ok there's another tea in the 'stuff added to balance the flavour' category and it's yummy. 

Hoji cha is the twiggy, stemmy bits and they're roasted. The tea is a medium brown. What I love about this tea is that the taste is serious. It's like Robur Green Signal and lapsang souchong and the other smoke and fire teas in that there's an element of it that says, 'look, life's here. And it's happening. And you better meet it where it is. And it will be ok.' Sort of like a wise but strict grandfather. 

I'm on the train at the moment, drinking bad but loved boutique earl grey with too much bergamot oil out of a thermos and listening to my 'most listened' playlist on my phone. The tea was given to me by a dear friend and it's getting stronger and darker and more astringent with every cup. I've brought the transit-proof melamine cup from home, featuring Winnie the Pooh. 

The wonderful thing about creating your own world on public transit, with a thermos and music, is that you don't hear the inanity of our shared world. Some of my favourite moments have been listening to my music erase a ludicrous conversation between people that I'd really rather happened in private. 

The awful thing is that I mix classical and modern music and tend to conduct in the interesting bits of the classical songs without realising I'm doing it. The other bad thing is that headphones aren't a shared experience. At the moment I'm listening to Haydn's trumpet concerto (trying but failing with the conducting thing - my thumb keeps going off). The senior woman next to me probably loves this song and would appreciate an earbud, to listen to as she's writing a list of 'in the city' tasks on her tiny notepad (she's about to have a very productive day), but it would break social convention to give her one. 
So I have to sit here listening to great music and not being able to tap along with someone else. 

It's a slightly lonely experience. 
I took these pics at Storm in a Teacup last time I was in there, drinking Hoji Cha. I said to Hannah, 'Just taking some more outrageously oversaturated photos for my Instagram,' and prowled around the shop like an intrusive tourist who doesn't know the local customs. She smiled and said , 'Go for it.'
And that is why I like hipsters. It's ok to be your own weird little animal in that pack. It's ok to be obsessed with photography, even oversaturated photography,

Or your own completely obscure musical genre that only grandparents like, or your own mix of sounds that have never experienced the Top 40, or clothes from the op shop that don't make traditional sense. And this is why I love the hipster end of Smith St, and the tea shop, and Northside Records and 3CR community radio. You can learn about tea that's made in Japan to a formula no-one here knows (it's not Lipton's, sweetie), and broadcast anything you want. 
May your day be full of deeply obscure pleasures that only you know. And may you enjoy them doubly, because you know you didn't adopt them from others but grew them yourself. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Judgement and Earl Grey

The ultimate tea shop reviewed: part 2.
One thing I would like to speak out about is the ubiquity of certain types of tea and the complete absence of others. I've already whinged comprehensively about Earl Grey blends and how the expensive brands have waaaay too much bergamot. The other thing I've been whingeing about, but not here, is that there are only five teas in most cafes. I feel entitled to whinge about it now because Hannah, the owner of the ultimate tea shop, was similarly unhappy.
There are only five teas. If you go into most cafes and order a cup of tea, your options are Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Green, Peppermint and Chamomile. If that. Seriously, where are the interesting ones there? Where is the genmai cha and the ceylon single origin and the roasted dandelion with licorice, ginger, chili and honey?
And why do frou frou little tea brands insist on putting so much bergamot in their Earl Greys? Well, I found the answer. Some answers.
This is Hannah's tea logic I'm about to repeat and I can't take credit for any of it, except the mistakes, which are mine.
Earl Grey tea originally had bergamot added to it because it was crap tea. Like a lot of things, it was developed when someone said, 'Dear God! Add something, anything!'
And they added bergamot. But the thing is, it wasn't the first time. Most tea cultures have some form of flavour balance for the stronger, earthier parts of the tea plant.
Lapsang souchong, which I've previously translated as 'crap tea for export only,' was originally smoked over pine roots because the smoke flavour was held to balance out the strong taste of the lesser bits of tea plant that made it to the bottom of the grading pile.
Genmai cha has roasted rice added similarly because in Japan, the tea part was the stems and veins and twigs of the tea bush.
And the English added bergamot to Earl Grey to balance out their tea, which may have been old or off after its long sea voyage. If you want to wiki it, it's here:
I think it's interesting that some of our favourite teas were originally made to hide or balance imperfections or to make a cheap tea taste like a more expensive one. We're all guilty of the same thing in one way or another. Working harder when the boss is looking. Making excuses. It's tempting to want to be entirely honest about everything all of the time, but I like the approach of 'balancing the strong flavours' instead of 'hiding the crapness.'
May your justifications or excuses for the stronger or earthier tones in your life be just as acceptable, when it comes down to it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

In praise of hipsters.

You may be mystified like I am about why the hipster craze caught on. Seriously? Mustard and burgundy at the same time? Anaemic young men in ankle boots? With no socks?
I've never understood it. I've tried on shapeless dresses with strange openings and closings and I've seen the blunt, short fringes and I've said to myself, 'I am unwilling to be part of this.' But. Having said this, I love the south end of Smith St. If you haven't been there, it's part of Hipster Central in Melbourne (or Malbin, in hipster-speak), which is a region defined by Smith, Brunswick, Cecil and Gertrude Streets, and Northcote. It sells vinyl records and old books and bicycles and funny shoes and there are at least twenty places that will do you a strange hairdo that only makes sense to other hipsters, and for the rich inner-urban types who take their cues from their younger, porcelain-skinned counterparts, there are expensive (breathtakingly so) homewares shops.
I didn't discuss any of this with Hannah, who owns the tea shop in the south end of Smith St, as we were sitting in her establishment, nestled in a precinct with a knitting shop and several art galleries, featuring modern pieces made out of blue concrete and bits of string (don't you just want to stand around them, holding a short mac saying 'but is it art?').
We discussed tea. Specifically, whether you can fall in love with tea without becoming an inaccessible tea wanker who can no longer buy tea at the supermarket. I now have an answer to this question: yes, you can. You can fall in love with tea and still buy it at the supermarket, and without ruining tea drinking in normal establishments forever.
You will probably just only buy certain types of tea.
Other types will make you groan and wince and go ever so slightly pale, but you can still drink them. Things to look for in good tea are, as mentioned previously in this blog, shiny leaves and no dusty or powdery appearance. We took photos.

This is tea that is shiny and not dusty or powdery. It could be the first tea that Hannah made me. The interesting thing about tea, is, well, it's the interesting thing about the world and taste and many other things. The interesting thing about clothes are that there are great clothes that look good on just about anyone. But when you get to the really expensive, top of the line clothes, you see things that look violently horrible on practically everyone, but look utterly fantastic and unique when worn by just the right person in just the right lighting.
With tea it's the same. Hannah brewed me a cup of an utterly priceless tea and the smell, well, I immediately said 'wet, woolen fifty year old jacket.' I wasn't guessing. Growing up, we had exactly that jacket, which looked like it had been felted out of camel hair, and this tea smelled just like it when it was damp. 'This is the fifth brew,' said Hannah. 'I think I can get twenty brews out of it.'
It's an oolong from the high mountains of Taiwan. Hannah doesn't know its name, or what she would charge for it. It was a gift from a friend. It's twenty years old. It was like a conversation. There were numerous flavours and aromas in it. I named them, and then forgot the names, and now all I can feel is a flat band of steel or metal running through it. 'It's like concrete,' said Hannah. And it was. It almost tasted blue. 'Can you taste it getting sweeter as you drink it?' Hannah asked. I couldn't, but could taste sweetness in the end of my cup.
'It's like beer,' said Hannah. 'When you're young, you taste beer and it's horrible. Then your palate develops around the taste, and you realise how awesome it is.' A lot of things are like that. So I've now tasted an interesting, prized tea and been surprised by it.
What I love about tea is that it's rich and serious at the same time, and I would expect a prized tea to be more of that, but instead it was different and not what I would have picked. I think I liked it more. Something that surprises you can keep on surprising you. But something predictable will eventually get tiring.