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

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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 Liquid Refreshment, The Grocery Shop-a-holic

In Which There is Chocolate Milk – for Grownups…

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Anyone up for chocolate milk?

A few months ago, a friend who relocated to New Zealand made the whole boiling lot of us green with envy when she posted pictures of herself drinking Whittaker’s Chocolate Milk.  “The nectar of the gods,” she called it.  “Pure, glorious gluttony in a bottle.”

“We need to get our grubby little paws on that stuff,” I declared to another chocoholic friend.

“But how?” she exclaimed back.  “I don’t think anyone imports the stuff to the Philippines!”

Well, there you go.  But, hey: all good things come to those who wait.  Sure enough, even if the folks at Whittaker’s still haven’t caught on to the massive craving for chocolate milk in this part of the world, someone else managed to beat them to the punch: Cocio.

Cocio is a Danish dairy brand that does chocolate milk in two ways: classic and dark.  A company that believes in the purity and quality of their ingredients, they make it a point to state rather succinctly that all you get in the bottle is cocoa, milk, and sugar – and believe me when I say that is is never as sweet as the more popular commercial brands here in the Philippines.

This is anything but your average, garden variety “chocolate” milk.  Think of a just-made ganache, only thinner, drinkable but every bit as rich as the kind you use for fondue or for frosting decadent chocolate cakes.  The dark variant, in particular, has the wonted bittersweetness of very good chocolate; a 60% or 65% cocoa solids mix, I daresay.  Frankly speaking, it tastes like proper chocolate truffles: a hint of smokiness overlaying the interplay of bitter and sweet.  Oh, so good…

At P 75.00 per bottle, though, it isn’t exactly something you’d drink everyday even for the sake of all that calcium in the fresh Danish milk.  (And, oh,  the calories; goodbye, waistline!)  But it’s the sort of thing you need for cheering up and indulging yourself: a taste of childhood all grown up.  😉

Posted in Drinkables, Holiday Cuisine, Liquid Refreshment

In Which There are Pick-Me-Ups Against Holiday Stress…

Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding
Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding

There are big events to handle at the office, gifts to buy and gifts to bake, people to coordinate with, meet-ups to schedule or cancel depending on the situation.  The last few days before the Holidays are a mad, mad time – especially for those of us in the advertising industry.  There are numerous events to handle for clients: end-of-year sales runs/mini-concerts, ads to place before the country shuts down for two weeks of Yuletide cheer, last-minute arrangements and contract renewals.  Believe me when I say that it would be so very easy to buckle under the pressure and burn out.

Thank goodness, therefore, for both coffee and tea breaks.  Sometimes, all you need is a wee cuppa tea or joe to stiffen up your spine for just a little longer; other times, only something massive, iced, and calorific will do.  For that, Serenitea is a good stand-by.  The mango jasmine milk tea with its rather floral flavour is one such sipper.  The blossomy notes of the jasmine black tea are played up beautifully by the addition of lightly sweetened mango compote.  Add generous dollops of custard pudding and you, dear reader, are all set for a slurp-filled break.

Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner
Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner

If you’re hankering for something more substantial with a slightly savoury edge, Hollys Coffee offers its sea-salt mocha.  You get a distinctively chocolatey drink made with good espresso and a shot of Belgian chocolate ganachecreamy-rich, duskily bittersweet, and so moreish.  The sprinkle of sea salt makes the flavours of both chocolate and coffee pop.  Order it hot to enjoy the full benefit of its invigorating smoothness.

So, what do you readers sip or nosh on to stave off the stress?  😉

Posted in Liquid Refreshment, PotPourri, Sweets for the Sweet, The Grocery Shop-a-holic

In Which One’s Hot Chocolate has a Hint of Spice…

Hot chocolate and cinnamon
Hot chocolate and cinnamon

As I am writing today’s post, Typhoon Ruby (International Code Name: Hagupit) is raging throughout the Visayas and even we in Manila have not been spared.  Public storm signal #1 was raised over the National Capital Region last night at 11 PM – and stronger signals remain hoisted over much of the Central Philippines, including the provinces of Samar and Leyte, both of which were ravaged by the devastating Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan last year.

The best course of action is to stay indoors at this point in time and keep one’s self posted with regard to news updates on the radio or on television (if, of course, the power holds out).

Hot chocolate, in my personal opinion, is one of the best ways by which bad news can be made a little easier to deal with.  If you’ve the time to spare or if you’re calmer than most people, you’d make it from scratch: whisking together milk, dark chocolate, and spices over medium heat till that subtle alchemy transforms those ingredients into a soothing drink.  But, if you’re too wired to do any work in the kitchen at the risk of burning yourself – or your house! – then instant mixes are fine.

Goya, that old local stalwart, has the Everyday brand of hot chocolate mixes.  There’s plain hot chocolate, chocolate with marshmallows, and the double chocolate with cinnamon.

If this doesn't hit the spot, nothing will.
If this doesn’t hit the spot, nothing will.

It’s surprisingly rich for an instant mix: dark, smoky, a slightly bitter edge softened somewhat by the nip of cinnamon added to it.  Cold weather comfort, indeed.

In the meantime, we huddle before our televisions or tablets, radios or laptops, and pray that the storm gives up and finally lets our people go.

Posted in Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Well-read Foodie

In Which There is a Different Sort of Citrus Beverage from a Jam Jar…

Yuja-cha
Yuja-cha

Yes, I know it looks rather like marmalade – specifically one made with bitter-tart Seville oranges – but here’s the kicker: this stuff is actually a fruit tea!  It’s a mad notion, I know, but this 600-gram jam jar contains enough citron tea to stave off colds and soothe sore throats for the coming cold season.

This is yuja-cha.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a type of Korean marmalade specifically created not for slathering on bread or scones but more for dissolving in hot water to make a warming, soothing, rejuvenating drink in chilly weather.  It is part of a long Oriental tradition of steeping preserved fruit, flowers, and herbs in hot water to make beverages that are both refreshing and healthful.

To be quite specific about it, yuja-cha is the name given to the prepared drink.  The marmalade itself is referred to as yujacheong or yuzu (citron) paste.  Yujacheong is prepared by first washing bright yellow (ripe or slightly underripe) citrons in salt water, then drying them up.  The dried citrons are, then, finely sliced and marinated in dark honey or a heavy sugar syrup for a few days until the paste is ready to use.

One takes a heaping tablespoon of yujacheong and dissolves it in a mug of hot water.  The fragrant steam helps to clear congested sinuses, the honey calms down ragingly sore throats, and the tangy citron provides plenty of vitamin C to stave off nasty viruses.

Saveur Magazine featured yujacha in its 2014 Saveur 100 list of the best things to eat, drink, and read, citing it for its lovely citrus taste and warming qualities.  Interestingly, it also works well when prepared like lemonade: a tablespoon dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water and topped up with chilled water – still or sparkling – over ice works wonders on hot days.

If you’re lucky enough to grab a jar of yujacheong (and if you live or work in the Bonifacio Global City, the many Oriental groceries keep it in stock for P 280.00 per 600-gram jar), you might also try my spin on the classic Dark and Stormy cocktail as a refreshing sipper with plenty of sassy, bittersweet, tart bite.

Seoul Stormcloud

  • 1 generous tablespoon yujacheong
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 shot dark rum
  • ginger ale
  • ice

Dissolve the yujacheong in hot water; allow to steep for a few minutes.  Add the rum and pour over ice in a tall glass; top up with the ginger ale.  Muddle with a swizzle stick; serve immediately.

Serves 1.