In Which a Hip Spin on Chai is Sweetly Refreshing…

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Tea?  Yes, please.

I’m a chai fangirl: there is just something so soothing about this classic Indian beverage.  Maybe it’s because it involves milky tea which I love; or maybe it’s the combination of spices in each teashop’s chai masala that does the trick.  Maybe it’s both, but regardless thereof, chai is one of my favourite drinks but it is so hard to come by in this part of the world.

Many coffee bar chains have it – CBTL’s version is deliciously reminiscent of spice cake batter – but most versions are best when served hot.  Until recently, I had yet to taste a decent iced version of chai.  Well, at least until I ordered the one at Sweetea’s.

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Sweet, milky, frothy, and cold

Sweetea’s by da.u.de is the brainchild of Filipina tea master Renee Sebastian.  The governing impetus behind the original teashop and its food hall spin-off involves educating local palates that there is more to tea than the dinky wee bags sold in supermarkets and grocery stores.  Sweetea’s, in particular, offers a delicious range of iced teas at fairly reasonable prices – a touch higher than more commercial franchises, but definitely of a higher calibre and exceptional quality.

Sweetea’s streetside masala chai (Php 190.00 for regular; Php 220.00 for large) is my go-to drink.  Made with da.u.de’s Icy Spicy herb-and-spice tea blend, it makes for a very compelling sipper.  You get a nostril-tickling hint of black pepper that is absent from many commercial chai blends and one that puts this version on the proper side of authentic.  There is also a faintly floral-fruity hint of orange zest, but this one tastes properly of cardamom (green and black) which gives it a very pleasant spicy-nutty flavour.  Blended with the proper proportions of milk and brewed tea and not too sweet, this tea holds perfectly well as the melting ice does little to dilute its lovely flavour.  Definitely something I’d order again.

Sweetea’s by da.u.de: The Food Hall @ SM Megamall Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, EDSA, Mandaluyong

In Which We Have an Evening with a Mixologist…

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Swiss mixologist Tasha Lu and three signature cocktails

“Do you drink gin?” my colleague asked on a Tuesday afternoon just as things were winding down for the day.

“Sure I do,” I replied.  Truth be told: gin is something like a personal introduction to alcohol for me.  I remember stealing sips of my dad’s or my paternal grandfather’s gin and tonic when I was very young.  But there’s a family joke that, to quieten my kicking in my mother’s womb, my mom had to down a G&T to shut me up…so I guess you could say gin and I go a way back – a long way back, actually.

When I was in college, I’d volunteer to sample gin cocktails whipped up by the HRM upperclassmen who were like big brothers to me.  Whenever they were prepping for an exam in bartending (yes, there is a university class for bartending!), the way they muttered the names of each cocktail was like listening to a litany of sublime – and somewhat forbidden – delights: gimlets, martinis, Singapore slings, lime rickeys, Negronis…  Unfortunately, by the time all my on-campus big brothers graduated, their successors – my batchmates and those a year or so behind me – were mad about mixing gin with instant grapefruit drink powder to make the infamous pseudo-cocktail gin pomelo.  Needless to say that I washed my hands of the lot.

But back to the present: aforementioned colleague invited me to come along for a mixology event for Hendrick’s Gin at the Makati Shangri-La featuring mixologist Tasha Lu, the product’s brand ambassador for the Asian region.  This fun, fabulous femme regaled us and everyone at the bar with three amazing cocktails.

Hendrick’s, before I go on, is a gin with a twist.  Aside from the traditional mix of juniper and other botanicals, this particular distillate features Bulgarian roses and English cucumber to add a deliciously floral nuance with a fresh bite.  As a result, this is a gin that lends itself to getting mixed with both strong and subtle flavours to add an innovative punch to traditional cocktails.

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Gin Garden

First up: the fresh-tasting gin garden.  This cocktail features Hendrick’s gin shaken with fresh pineapple juice, torn cilantro [green coriander], lime juice, egg white, and a dash of cracked black pepper.  It is a bright, refreshing drink: sweet but not cloyingly so, sharp without ripping a hole down your throat.  The addition of black pepper at the end brings out the floral character of the base alcohol and adds a spicy, exotic aroma.

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Fairy Tale

The fairy tale is a very girly concoction that will probably go well with ladies who sip Cosmopolitans.  It’s a bright pink drink that combines the gin with a roasted juniper infusion and a poached rhubarb shrub; a dash of simple syrup adds a tad more sweetness and a rose petal is used as a garnish.

It’s a touch too sweet for me; personally, the simple syrup is overkill on my tastebuds.  But I can see this cocktail’s appeal for those who don’t care much for the taste of gin.  Nevertheless, it’s quite tasty and dangerously easy to drink…if you have a killer sweet tooth.

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Ultimate Negroni #2

But Lu’s ultimate Negroni #2 was, hands-down, my favourite drink of the night.  This bittersweet sipper features Hendrick’s gin and a host of bitter and sweet mix-ins.  Along with the bitter Campari and sweet red vermouth that make up the traditional Negroni with the gin, Lu tossed in splashes of Aperol, an Italian aperitif made with bitter orange and rhubarb, as well as that infamous amaro Fernet-Branca.  Served over ice, this spin on the Negroni gives drinkers an additional dash of drama by appearing with a torched and glowing stick of cinnamon lightly resting on the rim of the glass as a stirrer.

Perfectly balanced, I consider this a great drink with which to unwind with friends at the end of the day.

I guess, for all intents and purposes, I’ll always be a gin girl.

In Which a Drink at the Airport was Refreshingly Gingery…

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Ooh, that looks interesting…

The weather continues blisteringly hot and the heat index has been hitting record highs of late – devastatingly record highs, if I may add, alas.

It’s times like these when I wish that Cebu would send over one of their best refreshment chains up north to us in Manila.  Seriously, I’d do anything to have a Tubo Cane Juice kiosk somewhere within walking distance right now!

As its name suggests, TCJ’s stock in trade is sugarcane juice (Tag.: katas ng tubo).  Sugarcane stalks are run through a mechanized press that crushes the sweet juice out of the hard, fibrous sticks.  This liquid is a pale amber in color, surprisingly mild with regard to its sweetness considering what is produced when it gets reduced by heat into the familiar crystalline granules we use for cooking, baking, and sweetening our morning cup of caffeine.  Each cup is pressed to order, thus ensuring the pristine quality of the end product.  Poured over crushed ice as is, sugarcane juice is a delicious, revivifying drink with which to cool down.

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Ginger-Mansi

But TCJ isn’t content with slaking the southern crowd’s thirst with plain sugarcane juice; oh, no, sir!  To add value in terms of both taste and nutritional value, TCJ blends freshly-pressed cane juice with equally-fresh, equally just-squeezed juices to create a delicious line of refreshments.  While I could have opted for a right-in-season mango infusion or sipped a superfood mix featuring milky-white and tangy guyabano (soursop), I needed something to soothe a throat that was threatening to ache along with a serious dose of Vitamin C.  For that, I had to order the Ginger-Mansi.

Here, fresh root ginger is run through the same crush-and-extract procedure as the sugarcane.  The resulting ginger presse is sharply aromatic, hinting at just how potent and pungent it will be if sampled straight.  This is mixed with fresh cane juice and a good squeeze of fresh kalamansi lime, poured over ice (a large will set you back P 90.00 – not a bad deal as Manila juice bars tend to be a bit more expensive), and handed to you with a typically cheerful Cebuano smile by the staff at the counter.

To describe it is to say that it is, pretty much, a still [non-carbonated] version of  ginger ale: bright and spicy, just fiery enough to wake up your tastebuds, just sweet enough to stave off the burn.  The citrus tang of the lime cuts through and each sip is a soothing, harmonious blend.

Now, there are sugarcane juice kiosks here in Manila.  However, these are few, tend to be far between, and rarely feature other flavors.  Which begs this question from me: when does Manila get a TCJ franchise…or do I have to take another trip to the Queen City of the South for a sugarcane and ginger fix?

Tubo Cane Juice – Departures Lounge, Mactan Cebu International Airport, Pusok, Cebu

In Which a Refreshing Drink Can Help Ward Off Colds (and Other Nasty Infections)…

Sweet and Spicy

Sweet and Spicy

Practically everyone here in my neck of the woods has been coughing or sneezing of late.  The weather is strange: blisteringly hot at noon, bone-chillingly cold at night.  Pollution is at an all-time high, especially on traffic-strapped streets in the big city.  Throw in long hours languishing in the said traffic in a bus packed like sardines with people of varying states of health, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Keeping this state of things in mind, there is a need to amp up the Vitamin C in one’s system to scare off any bacteria or viruses nasty enough to try and take up residence in one’s body.  Oranges, in particular, are plentiful at the moment and are one of the most delicious ways by which to give your immunity a boost.  From domestically-grown green dalandans and their bigger cousins the sintunes to sweetly juicy ponkan mandarins and clementines to the hard-to-peel but honeyed Valencias, they are quite a healthy treat.

Dive into blue

Dive into blue

Ginger is another good, natural restorative and preventive.  Typically prescribed for sore throats, ginger also works wonders for upset stomachs and jumpy nerves.  Likewise, throw in a superfood like acai berries into the mix and you have something that can certainly keep even the most virulent infections at bay.

One tip, though: don’t use standard commercial ginger ale in this.  A pure infusion of ginger or, as in this case, a ginger, lemon, and honey blend can give you more of the health-giving benefits.  Most commercial ginger sodas are, alas, nigh on useless as they are mostly 60 – 70% sugar than actual ginger extract.

Ginger Blue

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons acai or acai-blueberry concentrate
  • 1 slice lemon
  • juice from 1 ponkan mandarin or clementine
  • 3/4 cup ginger infusion or Ginger Soother from The Ginger People
  • ice

In a large mug, pour in the water and muddle the lemon slice to release the juice.  Mix in the acai concentrate and the mandarin juice; stir till well-combined.  Add 3 – 4 ice cubes and top up with the ginger infusion.  Mix well; serve immediately.

Serves 1.

In Which a Seasonal Beverage Was a Serious Disappointment…

Sad and definitely not worth it

Sad and definitely not worth it

You, dear reader, are looking at what has got to be one of the most depressing Christmas beverages ever produced by a chain of coffee bars.

This is from Starbucks‘ 2015 Holiday Menu: an Italian Pannettone Frappucino.  In essence, it is supposed to be a liquefied, drinkable, coffee-infused version of pannettone: that sweet, golden yeast bread studded with fruit and nuts that graces the Yuletide table in that part of the world.  The reality, however, is absolutely horrid.

Either in Frappucino or latte form, it just doesn’t work.  The first sip carries a disturbingly yeasty aftertaste; quite palatable, to be honest.  However, as you sip further down the drink and the taste of fruit and nut kick in, the aftertaste becomes strangely salty for some reason and unpleasant.  Definitely not an experience I am keen on repeating.

I ordered this drink fancying that it would be close enough in flavour to the much-missed gingerbread latte; sadly not.  If you’re collecting stickers for a planner from Starbucks, skip this and go for the toffee nut latte – which is probably the most palatable seasonal drink currently on the menu.