Posted in Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment

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

Posted in Drinkables, Uncategorized

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.

Posted in A Whole Lotta Spice!, Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment, Midge on the Road, The Flavors of Asia, The Pinoy Food Route, Uncategorized

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

Posted in Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment, The Grocery Shop-a-holic

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.

Posted in Drinkables, Holiday Cuisine

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.

Posted in Drinkables, Sweets for the Sweet

In Which One’s Milkshake Tastes of Autumn…

Here's the menu...
Here’s the menu…

In the West, there is an elusive beverage known simply as a pumpkin spice latte.  Said to be a harbinger of autumn in that part of the world, it is a melange of espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice, a sweetly fragrant blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  However, there is – to the knowledge of those in the know, really – absolutely no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte.  What a travesty!  What a sodding, crashing bore!

Now, really: I love dishes made with pumpkin, either sweet or savoury.  There is nothing more comforting than coming home on a rainy evening and sitting down to ginataang kalabasa (kabocha pumpkin cooked with sweet onions, garlic, and salt-dried fish) over a steaming plate of rice.  Pumpkin bread, on the other hand, is so much more satisfying than banana bread, especially when heaped over with crunchy peanut butter whilst still hot from the oven.  So, I went meh at the notion of a pumpkin spice latte.  I did not, though, turn my nose up at the pumpkin spice milkshake they have over at Milk Box, a new breakfast/dessert spot in Alabang.

There we go.
There we go.

Milk Box is brought to the public by the same team behind the popular third-wave coffee bar Yardstick over in Makati.  It’s small southern outpost serves its signature coffee blend as well as a few other coffee-based beverages.  But its primary stock in trade is waffles and wonuts (well, waffles deep-fried like donuts till magnificently crunchy all over), as well as what they call Cwazy Shakes.

These are not garden-variety milkshakes; no, these take after the recent trend from Australia for insanely decadent, seriously over-the-top milkshakes topped with whipped cream, sweet syrups, and bits and bobs of cake, pie, or what not.  Also, these are insanely thick and bewilderingly rich (hence the name) made as they are with ice cream custom-blended by Fruits in Ice Cream for Milk Box.

Pretzels, waffles, chocolate syrup, and cream...
Pretzels, waffles, chocolate syrup, and cream…

The pumpkin spice Cwazy Shake was what I opted for, seeing it was Hallowe’en when I paid Milk Box a visit.  (So seasonally appropriate!)  This rather baroque confection features FIC’s pumpkin spice ice cream which is really made with pumpkin (thus the colour and the sweetly vegetal shreds of sweetened gourd scattered throughout the golden mixture) and a proprietary spice mix that calls to mind autumnal pies and similar desserts.

The massive mug is served atop a wooden board and comes garnished with a generous dollop of whipped cream, rather sloppy (in an appealingly aesthetic manner) splodges of chocolate syrup, a crunchy waffle wedge, chocolate-coated pretzel rods, and a generous scattering of crispy wonut crumbs.

You may have, at this point, noticed that there is a spoon beside the mug.  Now, you will wonder why this particular drink needs a spoon when there’s a large straw stuck into the middle of it.  Well, here’s why…

See how THICK this beast is?!?
See how THICK this beast is?!?

It’s quite thick, so you need the spoon to scoop up the shake and eat it the way you would a soft-serve sundae.  As far as pumpkin-flavoured desserts go, this is the real deal and is certainly a better buy than the sadly misnamed and totally pumpkin-free cups of overpriced coffee being flogged by certain commercial coffee chains.  Trust me: if you want a real pumpkin spice treat, this is the proper way to go.

There are other flavours available, of course, but this first taste of what Milk Box can offer has lingered with me.  I look forward to having another one quite soon.

Milk Box by Yardstick: Ground Floor (New Wing) – Alabang Town Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Drinkables, Restaurant Hopping

In Which Brunch Had a Neighbourly Spin…

Not quite your usual coffee joint
Not quite your usual coffee joint

It’s been ages since I’ve hung out in Makati – months, as a matter of fact.  Relocating to the Bonifacio Global City has opened up a lot of new culinary experiences, but I’ve missed the place where I started my career in advertising, where I spent the bulk of my career.  Since I was out running an errand for the office in Legaspi Village this morning, it gave me the opportunity to grab a bite at one of the new third-wave cafes that have sprung up in the area.  And I was not disappointed.

Brunch anyone?
Brunch anyone?

Local Edition is one such cafe.  Small, homey yet hip, it is representative of the newer sort of coffee bar: definitely no part of any chains, foreign or local; emphasis on fresh brews for both coffee and tea; both drinks and dishes are prepared just as you order them (no stale meals here!); and a focus on local purveyors.  And believe me when I say it’s all good.

The breakfast bagel (P 215.00) is one example.  You get a just-prepped chive omelet and a slice of ham tucked into a nice, chewy flour bagel.  Properly toasted and dressed with a tangy mayonnaise, it makes for a filling brunch.  And the addition of fresh orange and apple slices adds a healthy touch.

A flat white is always a lovely thing...
A flat white is always a lovely thing…

But the real treat here is the coffee.  A freshly-brewed flat white (P 155.00 for a large) is just the thing you need to get some energy.  Made with Local Edition’s signature Perea Brew blend, it is just strong enough to wake you up but not so strong as to get you all wired.  The bitterness and acidity are balanced just so and the addition of milk makes this creamy, smooth, and just faintly sweet…just the way I like my coffee.

Now, really, I wish they’d open a branch in my neck of the woods, but that would take away much of this coffee bar’s charm.  That said, I’ll be happy to pop in again…well, soon as I find myself running another office errand in Makati!

Local Edition Coffee and Tea: 116 Perea St., Legaspi Village, Makati