Sunday, August 20, 2017

Coffee notes: Black Baza's Wanderoo (Coorg, India)

Black Baza is one of the new-ish artisanal coffee roasters in India, and the unique thing about them is they're perhaps the only coffee company in the world that has explicit conservation agreements with growers wherein they grow coffee under the shade of at least a 100 indigenous trees and 22 species of trees per acre, maintaining a shade canopy of 60-80%. That's quite something in this day and age, but for Arshiya Bose, the founder, it couldn't have been any other way. Sanctuary Asia has done a complete story on the positive impact on the environment by the plantations from where Black Baza Coffee sources its coffee  from (read here).

I've tried a couple of their coffees, and I'm a fan already. Today I'll be talking about the Wanderoo, which is an Arabica blend of beans from Kodagu (Coorg) and BR Hills in Karnataka. Up until recently, I wasn't a big fan of the coffee from the Coorg district as the ones I had weren't very smooth, and a majority of the coffee I've had from Coorg was of the Robusta kind, and not Arabica (not saying Robusta isn't good, just that it serves different purposes, not the same as Arabica). One coffee grower, a long time ago had told me the that the terrain and climate of areas like Virajpet (Veerarajendra Pete) in Coorg were much more suitable for Robusta than Arabica. However, it's nice to see that Black Baza has not only found farms that have agreed to have a positive impact on the environment by agreeing to move back to shade-grown coffee and grow 100 indigenous trees and 22 tree species per acre, but also good tasting Arabica!

Biodiversity & environment friendly coffee!
The Wanderoo coffee, a blend of Arabica from Coorg & BR Hills, Karnataka. Named after the lion-tailed macaque
Wanderoo

Wanderoo means forest-dweller, and is also the local word used to describe the Lion-Tailed Macaque, one of the indigenous species of monkeys (endangered) that's found in the forests in the Western Ghats of Southern India. The Wanderoo is an Old World monkey and spends the majority of its life in the upper canopy of trees in rainforests feeding on fruit.  The Wanderoo coffee blend from Black Baza is a blend of Arabica coffee beans from BR Hills & Kodagu.

Aroma: When freshly roasted, and then powdered, the Wanderoo gives a rich chocolate-y aroma. Considering this is a blend and not a single origin (or single estate) coffee, it would be interesting to see if subsequent batches of orders of this would give off the same aroma. Nonetheless, it's quite fantastic.

Taste: This really is a good coffee to have black. It's got good body, low acidity, no bitter after taste (or any kind of after taste). I've also had a small glass of this with a splash of milk (no sugar) and it played out quite nicely with the coffee. However, it's best to have this black. I go the French press way, and I've also experimented with a new method of extracting a little more without making the coffee bitter (using the French press itself - more of this in another post).

Overall, lovely sparkly coffee, which I'll be having a lot of in the coming days!

You can buy Black Baza coffee online here

Monday, August 14, 2017

Coffee notes: JJ Royal's Gunung Biru (East Java, Indonesia)

It's been 2 years since my last blogpost. 2 loooong years! A lot has happened during that time. I travelled quite a bit. A large part of the last 2 years was spent in Indonesia where I was working. There were a few short visits to Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Singapore as well. Work didn't allow me to continue my blog as it could have been some sort of conflict of interest and compromise the business, and to avoid any issues, I stayed away from blogging. However, I've now moved on from Zomato, and so thankfully I can tend to my blog once again.

For someone who used to write and maintain a food blog, there were a few positive developments around the areas of food and beverages. The biggest was my appreciation, learning, and deep interest in coffee. Some other learnings (if you can call it) have been around Japanese and Korean cuisine, and a large part of the learnings have been about Indonesian cuisine. And so there's a lot of catching up in terms of posts, but I thought my comeback post should be about coffee, since that's where my current focus is at. 

Coffee 

It's that magical elixir of life, which a significantly massive section of the world consumes every day, and not necessarily limited to a single cup a day. During my stint in Indonesia, I not only learnt a lot about coffee, but also learnt to appreciate having it black. A long black, or Americano, was the favorite way of consuming the coffee to appreciate the full taste and 'profile' of the coffee. I occasionally would have a cappuccino or a macchiato, but 80-85% of the times it would be a long black. And unlike Indian coffee, Indonesian coffee has several diverse varieties, given the diverse regions (topography), climate, and soil types. In India, all the coffee grown is centred around a few places in the South: Chickamagalur, Coorg, Hassan, and BR Hills in Karnataka, a few districts in the Nilgiris across Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and a sprinkling of estates in Andhra Pradesh, notably the Araku Valley - all of which have very similar climate and soil types (with some marginal differences) - the area under coffee plantation in Indonesia is several times larger that of India. Check out the images below to get an idea (note: according to the Coffee Board of India, there are new areas in the North East that have started cultivating coffee. I haven't shown that here because I haven't had been able to verify that).

Coffee growing regions across India, depicted by the coffee bean icon (not to scale). All in the South. Source
Coffee growing regions across the Indonesian archipelago, depicted by a coffee bean icon. Source

Fun fact: Coffee was introduced in Indonesia by the Dutch towards the end of the 17th century (then called the Dutch East Indies), and the Arabica coffee plants they brought over to the island of Java were from India. Yup, coffee made its way to the Indonesian archipelago from India, and today, Indonesian coffee is miles ahead of Indian coffee - export, quality, and variety - largely due to the diverse geographic regions, climate, and soil types in Indonesia.

For someone like me, who grew up  in the South - one of the most heterogenous regions of India in terms of culture, languages, geography, food, and climate (next only to the North East of India) - unlike the North, we have a strong coffee culture, along with an equally robust appreciation for tea. Yeah, we're quite moderate that way and like to please as many people as possible. South Indian filter coffee, or filter kaapi, as it's called in the South, is what we grew up on, and it's still what the vast majority consume. Milk and sugar mixed with a decoction of coffee (comprising of an 80% mix of Arabica and Robusta beans, with chicory making the remaining 20%), and 'pulled' to incorporate air into it, making it frothy. See below (check out the froth at the top):

Using a second glass to protect my fingers from the lava hot filter kaapi. And yeah, I know, cool shirt, right?
For those of you who don't know why the filter coffee blend of the South has chicory in it, it's simple - chicory is free of caffeine, incorporates the same bitter taste coffee does (in fact, slightly more), and cheaper than coffee, and while it certainly is missing coffee's delightful aroma, it contains a super awesome probiotic called inulin, which promotes digestion. Kinda makes you wonder why Baba Ramdev hasn't caught onto this yet. One theory is because that pseudo holy man isn't from the South and won't understand science that way the good people of the South do. I might just be inclined to agree with that theory wholeheartedly, based entirely on facts and not any preexisting prejudices 🙂

And so drinking a beverage that's naturally bitter wasn't unusual for me growing up, although, naturally (I guess it's natural), as a kid, I hated bitter tasting things, and so the milk and sugar in the filter coffee helped. A lot :) But I was exposed to the 'bitter' taste as something that is 'normal' and 'ok', unlike many north of the Vindhyas, whose sole reason for disliking coffee is 'chee, kadava hai' (yuck, it's bitter), or so I'm told. The words of the person who first said this to me made me realised the worlds apart we live actually live in, between Bangalore and Delhi, and those words still ring in my ears causing me to cringe like when you hear fingernails scraping across a blackboard! Well, to each his/her own 🙂

video
Me pouring my freshly brewed coffee from the French press

The Gunung Biru coffee

Anyway, now to the coffee at hand, and in my cuppa. Gunung Biru, literally, Blue Mountain in Bahasa Indonesia, is an Arabica coffee variety that grows in the eastern part of the island of Java, by the Ijen volcano. The volcanic soil is generally rich in minerals, and Indonesia's equatorial climate, and the rich volcanic soil near Ijen  results in some well nourished coffee plants.

I drink my coffee black, and I use a French Press to brew my coffee. I also grind my coffee beans just before I brew them (whenever I have beans) - pretty hipster, right? 🙂 I'll put up a separate blogpost on how and why and all other things related to brewing coffee at home.

I got this from Indonesia, and I bought the beans whole, and not the powder.
My Bodum French press, coffee grinder, and my mug. And some coffee beans scattered un-aesthetically.
Aroma: The aroma from the Gunung Biru, when brewed, is sweet, and with a slight musty-earthy aroma, almost like the air around a lake in a humid forest. A friend of mine called it ditch water-like, but I'm guessing that's what he was referring to the taste as (his opinion, not mine), and not the aroma. And just to be clear, that's not what it tastes like 🙂

Taste: Unlike some other varieties of Indonesian coffee, Gunung Biru is mildly acidic, light bodied, slightly caramel-y and nutty, and not too bitter. In fact, if someone wants to start drinking coffee black, this mild coffee may just be one of those to start off with. However, because there aren't any other strong flavors - like a chocolatey, or fruity taste, and so if your palate has been conditioned over years by a diet laced liberally with copious amounts of garam masala, and your go-to beverage on a rainy day (or most days) is adrak or masala chai... (you get the drift, right?), then you may not be able to taste the subtle flavours, and might just need something else. I'll let you know. Sometime.

A lot of the taste imparted from the coffee beans is derived from the soil it grows in. While coffee from the island of Sumatra generally is more 'flavorful' because of the other crops grown in the region (tobacco, cocoa, other tropical fruits, etc), the coffee estates near Ijen have macadamia nut trees for shade, and so the flavor profile for the coffee from around here is but naturally a little nutty.

Although I liked the Gunung Biru, it isn't my favorite. In fact, there are a few Indian varieties of coffee that are better than this. I'll be putting those up in one of my next posts. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Brasil - Houston

Although I was in Houston for only a little over 2 weeks, I did manage to have some pretty good dining experiences. Houston is surprisingly extremely underrated as a foodie city, and I hope folks around the rest of the States come to realize this. And fast! I think Houston is unfortunate that it tends to lose out to Dallas and perhaps Austin in terms of popularity, but when it comes to food, it clearly is miles ahead of both cities. One of the more popular neighborhoods in Houston is Montrose, and a really popular street called Westheimer Street cuts right through Montrose.

Brasil sits quietly at the intersection of Westheimer and Dunlavy, and when I say quietly, I mean it. Literally. They don't even have a legible sign out front, but trust me, it's there. It tries to be anonymous, but it hardly is. Although they're open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (see their menu here), I've only been here for lunch on a few occasions, but those few times created a lasting impression on me. A lovely brick interior with high ceilings keeps you sheltered from the harsh Houston sun. There's also an outdoor seating area that looks quite nice and I've seen a lot of folks sitting there even in June! The most surprising thing for me (not in a bad way) is that they don't have table service. Instead, you queue up at the counter, place your order, pay up, and collect an order number and someone brings you your order when it's ready.

Even though this place may not be know for it's burgers, I think their Poblano burger is right up there! The poblano mushroom seems to go really well with ground beef, and I'd asked for my burger to be done medium - which is was - and it was quite juicy. I actually had the juices roll down my arm to my elbow. I was in two minds, whether to try to lick it off, or collect it with a spoon at my elbow :) I chose the latter... ok, TMI! But the burger - have it, it's awesome!

Poblano Burger with fries

Poblano Burger with salad

For lunch, I ordered a combination of a quiche along with their soup of the day! This is one of the best combinations in terms of taste and satisfaction. I had the bacon and spinach quiche along with the soup of the day (can't remember whether it was a squash soup or a pumpkin soup). Both were amazing. The quiche was baked to lovely perfection where it wasn't tasting eggy and yet wasn't overdone, especially around the crust. The soup was nice and hot and had the right amount of seasoning.

Quiche

Soup and quiche

Brasil also has free WiFi, and you'll find a very diverse set of people visiting this place. From folks in business suits to teenagers, and no one feels out of place here. The staff here are extremely friendly and they're always ready to help you out in deciding what to order. If you're in the Montrose area and looking for a place to eat, Brasil has to be on your list.


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Monday, June 29, 2015

Torchy's Tacos - Houston

Torchy's Tacos is your go to place for Mexican comfort food if you're near River Oaks. They've got a pretty nice patio, and and their tacos are pretty darn awesome! What's equally awesome, and interesting, are the names of some of these tacos!

I had The Democrat (shredded beef, avocado, queso fresco, cilantro, onions), the Baja Shrimp (shrimp, cabbage slaw, pickled jalapeños, onions, queso fresco, cilantro), and the Green Chile Pork (pork carnitas, green chilies, queso fresco, cilantro, onions). The Baja shrimp isn't heavy on your stomach, and yet, it was The Democrat that won me over - in terms of flavor, and filling :)

The beef in The Democrat was seasoned well, the avocado and spices blended well, and the cilantro and onions added the 'icing' in terms of the zing it adds to the overall flavor. The green chillies in the pork are exactly what's needed - not many people know that adding green chillies to pork can add an awesome flavor profile (most stick to just black pepper and other sauces that are made from red chillies).

The only disappointing aspect was that the tacos were quite obviously not made in house, and seemed like they came out of a packet. Not the most ideal, but then again, I guess for a small-ish fast food kinda place it could suffice.

We had also ordered a portion of tortilla chips and it was pretty swell with the dip it came with. Overall, satisfaction guaranteed!

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Arbor Brewing Company - Bangalore

Wow! Life at Zomato ensures one thing - you have a lot of awesome work, you never get bored of the work you do, and well, you also don't seem to be able to make time for some of the other things you love - at least, I'm unable to, and I wouldn't want to straight away chalk it down to bad planning. It's not impossible, but I guess I've just chosen to use whatever free time I have to rest and recuperate.

A while back, I was invited over to Arbor Brewing Company to try out the range of brewed beers and some of the food they serve. The owner, Gaurav Sikka, was an excellent host, and extremely passionate about the beer brewing job. I know there's been a lot that's been spoke about Arbor on various social media platforms about the 'quality' of what it has to offer, but I think the saying 'to each his/her own' couldn't hold more true here. Sure, like at most places, there are a few things that are amiss, and there are few that'll blow your mind.

The interiors of Arbor are what you'd what a pub to look like. It's got an all wood look, and there's a long bar counter...like, really, really long! There's a section where you can see the huge vats in which the beer is brewed, and it lends a little bit of mystic charm to the whole place. I loved the wooden benches - classic! But then there were some couches and cushion-y seating arrangements that I didn't think went well with the whole look. It would have been great had everything been old school.

Ales and lagers
 Now, on to the beers. At the outset, I'm a fan of wheat beers. I used to like dark ales until I was introduced to the paler, slightly less fruity tasting Hoegaarden. And from then on, I've been hooked. The darker ales almost taste bad now :p So anyway, we were introduced to a whole different set of lagers and ales that Arbor brews - 7 to be precise on that night. Except for the Irish Stout, I didn't mind all other lagers and ales. The stout, with its pitch black coffee-like appearance and smoky flavour isn't something I can handle, and hence can't really comment on how good it was. The honey lavender ale was one of the best I had. While it didn't actually taste like honey, it did have a nice 'feel' on the palate. Apart from these, I also liked the Bangalore Bliss (wheat beer) and the Brasserie Blonde (spiced ale).

Moving on to the food, here there were some hits and quite a few misses. Now, I normally prefer a pub to have pub food, and so far, barring one or two places, I haven't come across too many places that stick to their guns and serve only pub food. Invariably, they do go down the road of having India food, especially when it comes to the main courses, and to my mind, that's just an attempt to please a small segment of the masses, who, quite honestly, wouldn't mind if dal makhani and rice weren't available. But what do I know - I'm a bloody Anglophile who loves food and don't care about others, right? Right?

Non veg platter
A non veg platter, with the usual suspects, was presented. The chicken tikka and the prawns were quite decent, not over cooked, and the brown dip given, with a sweet & sour taste to it. The wings were good - the sauce was sticky and nice, while a sprinkling of coriander gave it just a little additional flavour burst while ripping the meat off the bone. What wasn't so great were the chops and the calamari. With the chops, the flavour wasn't the best, the meat was a little tough, and overall, while I like the fact that chops are available, this one wasn't kosher. With the calamari, the pepper coating was way too inconsistent, and the calamari itself wasn't the best.

Hummus with olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes
Then came the hummus with some sun-dried tomatoes and olive tapenades. Nice, but not the creamiest hummus I've had. And I'm not even comparing it with the ones I've eaten in the Middle East.

Veg platter
Next came a platter of ghaas poos food. Needless to say, I wasn't too thrilled, but of course, I needed to stay neutral. There was a surprise in store though. The onion rings that you see in the snap above - well, those are by far the best onion rings Ive had. Ever. The least expected dish of the lot brought the biggest smile to my face. My fellow food blogger Swapna of FoodPornDiaries and FoodForSwaps had also joined me with her hubby Arvind, and together, the opinion was unanimous. The rest of the stuff on the platter were mediocre to poor. The paneer and pineapple combo just didn't work because there wasn't enough of acid from the pineapple, and not a strong enough flavour in the marinade on the paneer. The gobi manchurian was, well, an oily glob of soy sauce and cauliflower, and I've far better gobi manchurian from street vendors. The baby corn was decent, but then again, ghaas poos, so nothing great :)

Fish tacos with salsa
We were then presented with fish tacos, something that was being worked on. Well, it needed to be worked on alright! Here's the thing people need to realise with seafood, especially fish. There needs to be some form of acid or the other. Lime/lemon juice, tamarind, even kokum. And chilli. Of course, with the regular seasoning (duh!). When you're going to wrap that seafood in a pocket of dough (tacos, in this case), you need to make sure of two things: (1) any accompanying bits and pieces of anything shouldn't cover the taste of the seafood, and (2) remember all the acid + chilli? You need a little more of it.

Finally, to have something with the last round of beers, we decided to try something else, and this time, we decided to take a pick from the menu. We zeroed in on the Turkish kebabs, or so it said. Don't know how Turkish this was, but one thing was certain - this was the best dish of the night! By a long shot. The herb flavouring used, along with the seasoning, was perfect. I didn't care too much about what the dip/sauce was, because I didn't even want to try it. The meat was grilled very nicely, it wasn't allowed to become dry, the flavours blended in perfectly with the lamb, and it went really well with the beer! Game, set, match!

Overall, I think Arbor has some fantastic beer, some selective snacks that are good, and some that require quite some work to be done before they come out of the kitchen. Also, given that it seemed evident that the kitchen has  its fair share of inconsistent 'behaviour', I think it'd be best to work on a slightly smaller menu, get those dishes right, and then gradually ease more dishes into the menu. Cheers to that day!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Merry ol' London - gastronomic memoirs of a travelophile

It has been almost forever since I last visited this hitherto blank page, where once I used to visit it every 10 days. A lot of food has passed between my lips, and many a drink has splashed into the pit of my stomach since November, and sadly, not a single one of those adventures has found its way onto these pages here. Well, I think it's about time that changed.

November end (2012), I flew to London on work, to help launch Zomato in London. Post that, the last 10 days of January 2013 I flew to Doha (Qatar) - again to help launch Zomato in Doha, and in early February I was in Colombo - same reason. March set in, and I was in Manila. In between all these trips, I was in Delhi. Right now, I'm back in Bangalore, and will be here for a short while before I probably head out someplace again. Since we're gearing up for the IPL T20, I think I'll first put up a highlights package - just to set the mood, and dish out the detailed posts in the following days.

I'll start off with merry ol' London, and work my way through the winter onto the other cities and the other gastronomical delights that came up before me. Hopefully this little preview will be enough to whet your appetite for the details that will follow soon.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Delicio - Italian food festival at Bene, Sheraton

Delicio, the Italian food festival at Bene, is the result of Sheraton Bangalore bringing to town Chef Enrico Fiorentini, the Executive Chef at the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel. The food being showcased during this fest is the food from the Lombardy region of Italy.

Chef Enrico Fiorentini
Photo credit: Sheraton Bangalore

While the popular notion is that the Lombardy regions cuisine has a lot of Swiss influence, Chef Enrico has a slightly different take on it. He says that Switzerland itself doesn't have a very strong gastronomic tradition, and has taken a lot of influences from France, Germany, and Italy, and so the 'influences' in Lombardy food comes mainly from France. Chef also spoke about how being a slightly hilly, landlocked region meant that the food incorporated almost everything grown in the region. Even the famous Minestrone soup, which usually contains pasta when served in other parts of Italy, has rice in it!

Some of the starters we were served were very reflective of the philosophy of Lombardian cuisine. The use of a lot of vegetables and polenta, which is one of the most prominent starchy foods. Seafood isn't eaten much - obviously, the coast is quite far! - but the consumption of other meats is quite high, with veal and beef making up for a bulk of the proteins and pork coming in closely behind.


 


The fest at Bene will be an a la carte setup and there's a special menu apart from the regular menu at Bene. One of the starters we had, a timbale of stewed lentils and roasted pumpkin with almond velouté and a Parmesan cheese crisp was very reminiscent of a classic, 'earthy' dish. The flavours were earthy and yet light. I'm not a big fan of a strong Parmesan flavour, so I didn't like the taste of the crisp all that much, but in terms of technique, it was brilliant.

Timbale of stewed lentils and roasted pumpkin with almond cream velouté and Parmesan crisp

We then proceeded onto the next course - not the main course - called the Primi piatti di pasta, or the pasta course. As mentioned before, seafood isn't really big in the Lombardy region, but they do 'import' it from the south, and make a few dishes. The ravioli we had was custom made - stuffed with seafood instead of the usual pumpkin - and was superb. The shell wasn't too thick, and was boiled for just enough time to ensure it's firm and not pasty. The seafood inside wasn't over cooked, and the basil oil on the plate was a nice addition along with the standard balsamic vinegar artistry.

Seafood ravioli with basil oil

For the meat course, we had a butter pan fried lamb chops in a herbed polenta crumbing. The cut of lamb chops that we got was outstanding. I mean, look at the snap below (click the image for a larger, better view) and check out how much meat is present on the bone, and the portion of the bone exposed. Lovely. It was served with a pumpkin risotto. I'm not a big fan of strong cheese in a risotto, so this one didn't get a smile from me, but in terms of being cooked, it was nicely done. The lamb chops were divine. Done medium, these were stacked up proudly on a plate, with a glaze sauce. Personally, I'd have liked to have had one of the traditional beef or veal dishes, like perhaps an ossobuco, or even a rabbit dish that's there on the menu.

Butter pan fried lamb chops in a herbed polenta crumbing

Finally, for dessert, or dolci as they say in Italian, we had a combo of sorts. In the foreground and at the 12 o'clock position is a polenta and dark chocolate timbale, and on the horizontal plane is a Parmesan cheese ice cream (left) and red wine poached pear. The Parmesan ice cream was a pleasant surprise. I thought it was plain vanilla until my nose crossed over the spoon and I got a waft of the Parmesan aroma. It went well with the poached pears as it cut the acidity from the red wine and the general acidic nature of the pear fruit. The dark chocolate was rich and creamy.

Assortment of desserts

The Italian food festival at Bene is a little different in the sense that the menu is not all pastas and pizzas, and certainly not the usual flavours you get, which are typically from the southern half of Italy. However, it is quite an interesting perspective to the food from a country where we usually only get to eat the food from the lower half of the country.

                                               Delicio - Italian food festival
                                         Dates: Till the 18th of November 2012
                                         Venue: Bene, at Sheraton Bangalore
                                         Mode of dining: A la carte
 

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