Monday, February 15, 2010

How Do You Get Your Caffeine ?

My motorcycle repair shop is in Brooklyn's Chinatown. My mechanic goes out of his way to save parts whenever possible. That's enough to keep me coming back.

It's very enjoyable shopping in Brooklyn's Chinatown. I picked up a pound of loose jasmine tea for five dollars. It is green tea mixed with jasmine blossoms.It came in a tin with a plastic plug to keep the leaves fresh.

There are two ways I like to drink tea. One is to drink it loose. You pour boiling water over the leaves and let it steep for one to five minutes. The leaves settle to the bottom of the cup. It's the same idea as Turkish coffee, in which the coffee grounds settle in the pot in which the coffee is prepared. The problem with the loose leaf method is that tea can get unpalatably bitter if the leaves are left in too long. I find that adding milk and drinking the tea and drinking it right away keeps it from getting too bitter.

As an alternative to loose leaf tea, I picked up a three piece tea cup in Chinatown. In addition to the cup, it comes with a smaller ceramic cup with holes in it that fits inside the tea cup. In this cup you are supposed to put a small amount of tea leaves. Then there is a lid that you put on the cup and the tea basket that seals the steam in. You leave the lid on your tea for no more than five minutes. Then you take the top off, remove the basket with the tea leaves and add sweetener and milk, if that is your preference. The cup cost me $3.75. I do not like drinking tea with tea bags. It's just not the same as the basket and the loose leaf ways of drinking tea

There is another tea that is sold loose in Chinatown. It is called Imperial Gunpowder tea. It has a smoky flavour that makes the smoky image evoked by gunpowder appropriate to describing the tea's flavour. It comes in cube shaped boxes that are somewhat flimsy. The graphics look like 1970's communist Chinese retro. For a guy like me who is suspicious of slick Madison Avenue packaging, the homey simple style of the packaging graphics is reassuring. You can buy a kilogram of Imperial Gunpowder tea for a few dollars in Chinatown, which is much less than in non Chinese neighbourhoods.

What is amazing about Imperial Gunpowder tea is that it has a smoky flavour to it. There is a markedly different quality to the caffeine lift you get from it and from the jasmine tea. There is little doubt in my mind that there are ingredients other than caffeine that give coffee and tea their kick.

This brings me to the subject of Turkish coffee, also known as Greek coffee. The first thing you need is the correct fineness. Turkish coffee is brewed with coffee beans that are ground to the fineness of dust. It is even finer than espresso ground coffee. The easiest way to get that type of coffee is to buy it ready ground. If you have your supermarket grind your coffee, you can ask them to grind for Turkish coffee.. You can also pick up a grinder for about fifteen bucks and grind your own coffee beans.

The next thing you need is a Turkish coffee pot, (pictured above). You could get away with using a tiny sauce pan, but it's a bit harder to make good coffee with it. You fill the Turkish coffee pot with water and bring it to a full boil. Then you take away the pot from the stove, and spoon in the Turkish ground coffee. You pass the pot over the flame on the stove, keeping the water bubbling with the ground coffee gradually submerging in the little pot. You can not leave it on the stove. You have to stand there and pass the pot in and out of the flame on the stove. You want the coffee to bubble without overflowing. When the coffee is frothy like a good cup of espresso, you can put it down on a seving plate and pour it into tiny Turkish coffee cups. Wait a minute or so before drinking to let the grounds settle. If you drink the coffee too quickly, your throat will feel like it was paved over with mud. Leave the last muddy sip in the cup. In Israel, this type of coffee has spread beyond its original base of Arabs and Jews from Arab countries. The slang term for it is "cafe bootz" (mud coffee).

After picking up my motorcycle in Chinatown, my "buzz du jour" is Chinese green tea. I always like to have music to go with my caffeine buzz. Chinese pop music is very catchy. I like shopping in the stores that play it.The only reason I didn't get any music this time around is because I was in a hurry. My total lack of familiarity with the Chinese writing system makes it very hard to shop for Chinese music. I have on occasion gone into a store and hummed a song that I was looking for. In a well stocked record store, this works very well, although my children find it a bit embarrassing.

There is one more beverage with caffeine that is virtually unknown in the US, known as yerba mate. (pronounced "mahtay" I will address that at greater length in another article.

I am fortunate to have found an honest motorcycle mechanic who does not overcharge for unnecessary work. I feel doubly fortunate that he is in Chinatown. Getting my motorcycle fixed, listening to Chinese pop music and stocking up on Chinese tea and vegetables is a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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