Posts filed under coffee

Caffeine can be dangerous!

Filed in Food & Drink, General, HealthTags: , , ,

This article (referred by this article) claims that caffeine is not dangerous for people with heart arrhythmias. People (including teenagers) have died from drinking too much caffeine; their hearts stopped beating; and I know for a fact that some people are very sensitive to caffeine.

There's a very careful selection of words used in the review; "most patients", "caffeine in moderate doses", "well tolerated"; words that some call 'fat' words, allowing for a large range of interpretation.

The review concludes that "there is therefore no reason to restrict ingestion of caffeine".

Curious that one of the reviewers of the data was a paid consultant for Red Bull.

I wouldn't want to be the reviewers' lawyer.

P.S. Caffeinated drinks include coffee, many softdrinks, energy drinks, chocolate and tea; and yes, that includes Chinese tea.

Attention all Vancouverites

Filed in GeneralTags: ,

Unless you haven't heard yet, I'm going to be one of the MC's at this year's Miss Asia Vancouver Pageant. That means that I'll finally get to visit Vancouver (and Canada for that matter).

I'd like to meet any of you who have time but I'll be busy. The only practical time I can do this will be on Thursday night, December 18. What I'd like to do is meet everyone at a coffee shop with great coffee and fabulous cakes (because fabulous cakes are not so easy to come by in Hong Kong). Please suggest a place or two. We'll all decide on a place and time to meet.

Take care.

Caffeine free, for now

Filed in Entertainment Ind., EventsTags: , ,

I have been caffeine free for almost five days; no coffee, tea or caffeine-spiked softdrinks. The reason? I have a special performance tonight, a short one, but special nonetheless. It involves singing and Cantonese but it's definitely not what you would expect ;-)

If you want to catch my performance, watch tonight's China National Day show before the fireworks display.

The Problem with Starbucks

Filed in Food & Drink, GeneralTags: , , , , ,

Starbucks' stock (SBUX) is collapsing, and I think I know why. People are drinking less Starbucks.

Gregory at Starbucks in Farmers Market

Me at the Starbucks restaurant in Farmers Market, taken while studying at the Lee Strasberg Institute in 2004.

I drank Starbucks coffee for many years, especially during my years of burnout depression from 2000 to 2003 when I spent just about every morning in the Telford Gardens Starbucks café drinking coffee and reading the 東方日報 or 蘋果日報 newspapers. Before Starbucks came on to the Hong Kong scene, it was almost impossible to sit down, relax and have a decent cup of coffee in a café. Rents were too high, and coffee was not a common beverage (we're not talking about Cantonese-style coffee sold in the Chinese cafés here), so coffee cafés were not a viable business. The only choices for coffee lovers were the expensive high society Cova cafés or the Japanese styled high-turnover Pokka restaurants; not a great choice.

Starbucks changed that. They provided us with cafés where we could enjoy a decent cup of coffee for a reasonable price in a relatively quiet and relaxing place where we wouldn't be pressured to finish our coffee and leave as soon as possible to make room for the next customer, and Starbucks made coffee popular. In a self propagating development, Starbucks made coffee cafés viable.

Starbucks' success paved the way for other cafés. Here in Hong Kong, we now have several coffee café chains to choose from including Pacific Coffee, LGB, Habitū and UCC, and for that, coffee drinkers are grateful, but Starbucks now has a dilemma on its hands. While new café chains were popping up around it, Starbucks didn't make any changes to meet the competition. We drank coffee at Starbucks because it was decent coffee at a decent price, a quality and price that were not offered at other cafés. That's no longer true.

Reasons to drink at other cafés:

LGB's Tart and Macaroons

LGB's tarts are excellent companions to their coffee and mochas. The macaroons are however a little too expensive for my tastes.

The cappuccinos are great at similar prices to Starbucks. Their chocolate-based drinks including mochas use delicious France-imported cocoa-based chocolate syrups (with both light and dark selections) and are out of this world while Starbucks continues to use taste-insulting concentrated sugar syrups. LGB's tarts and French food are also very tasty.

Again, the cappuccinos are far better than Starbucks' cappuccinos at similar prices. The food is also superior to Starbucks' food though not quite as good as the food at LGB.

The coffee is great although slightly more expensive than Starbucks' coffee, but Cova has a unique advantage. Their range of baked-in-house French-styled cakes and biscuits are absolutely delectable. It is a rare moment when you do not see people lined up outside their restaurants waiting for their turn to attack the cake buffet.

Cova's cake selection

Queues are a regular occurrence at Cova restaurants all over Hong Kong because of their cake selection.

Some of the problems that Starbucks needs to examine:

They don't have good black or straight coffee!!! Typically, a Starbucks long black coffee is made by pouring one or two shots into a cup and filling the cup with hot water; yuk! In Australia, Starbucks has a better method of making long black coffees but Starbucks Hong Kong dissuades their barristers from using this method; essentially involving 23-second shots; because it requires more time to make.

Smelly! When I visited the Starbucks stores in L.A. in 2006, I was intrigued that the stores were so smelly, damp, dingy and generally very low grade. How can American people put up with that? Also a major problem in L.A. was the speed of the employees and their demeanor. While the barristers in Hong Kong's Starbucks stores are usually cheerful and quick (although over-worked and under a lot of pressure from management), the barristers in L.A. were rather sad and as slow as cattle meandering through a field of oats. Almost every morning and night in the Sherman Oaks Starbucks store, people had to wait in line for twenty to thirty minutes to get their coffee. That's absolutely unacceptable, especially if the product is mediocre.

Howard Schultz has returned to Starbucks to help turn it around. It'll be interesting to see what he does, but I'd start with a few simple things.

Find out why other restaurants are making better coffee and improve Starbucks coffee. Use better ingredients. Use less sugar and corn syrup in the syrups.

Improve the café environment. The cafés should be relaxed, comfortable and clean. No strange smells. No dampness.

Close a few cafés (in the U.S.A.) There are too many too close together. If you want to make the coffee more readily available, open Starbucks counters (such as the Starbucks MTR Kwun Tong counter here in Hong Kong) rather than full scale cafés. A majority of Starbucks customers buy take away so too many cafés are a waste of space and rent.

I've basically stopped going to Starbucks. Given the choice, I'll get my coffee at LGB or Habitū. Or I'll just make my own ;-)

Indonesia 2005 Day 2

Filed in Indonesia (2005), TravelTags: , , , , ,

(day 2 of my short trip to Indonesia in September, 2005)

(continued from "Indonesia 2005 Day 1")

The bathroom was simple and very different to anything I'd seen before. A square room, tiled on all sides and on the floor. The front half of the small room; barely larger than a closet; was bare with buckets on the floor to one side and a drain hole on the other side. The left side of the back half of the room was the toilet, one of those squatting toilets commonly used throughout China. On the right side was a square water well, a brick and tile container of water, roughly three feet high.

There was no running water in the bathroom. Ipah purchased her water; used both for cooking and bathing; from a nearby public bathroom. Before I arrived, she had to carry the water from the bathroom to her home by bucket; two trips every day. During my stay with her, she purchased a hose and laid the hose down between her home and the public bathroom. Future refills would simply require connecting the hose to the public bathroom's water tap, filling up her well, and then paying the bathroom owner. It's entirely possible that this hose arrangement was only temporary, to be used while I and her other family guests were in town for the wedding. We'd obviously use a lot more water than just Ipah, her mother and her son.

That's not to say that I used a lot of water. On the contrary, I tried to use as little as possible within reason. The bathing ritual went something like this. Use the small bucket in the water well to gather water and douse it over yourself while squatting on the floor until every part of your body was wet (squatting so that the water doesn't splash all over the walls and the clothes hanging from them). Then use soap to wash yourself. Finally, use the bucket again to douse more water and wash the soap off. If we were to use this method here in Hong Kong in today's cold weather (it's barely 10 °C today), I'm sure I'd freeze. Fortunately, it's rarely cold in Indonesia so this wasn't a problem for them.

Food on wheels

(This photo shows significant motion blur but I wanted to show it to you anyway.)

I saw a lot of people riding bicycles with big boxes on the back of the bicycle filled with fresh vegetables. I asked our helper about them.

These energetic people get up extremely early in the morning; some as early as 2am (that's morning time? to most of us in Hong Kong, that's late evening); to go to the larger markets to purchase vegetables and other Indonesian favourite foods. They then pedal their way to specific areas and sell the food to anyone who wants to buy it. Similar to the people here in Hong Kong who walk through outer villages with a trolley announcing loudly "buy tv's, buy air conditioners", these people also announce their presence so that the locals know they're there. They typically finish work by midday.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Ipah didn't need hot water to bathe although her mother and many of her neighbours did. There was no running water and no water heater in her home so hot water was provided by heating water on the kerosine stove. This was also true for the neighbours.

I thought this style of bathroom was only used in the country towns but soon realised my error when we visited some of Ipah's friends in Bali. Even in this comparatively modern part of the country, the bathrooms were the same although they had running water and didn't need to carry the water in from somewhere else.

Completely off subject, electric lighting in every area of Indonesia that I went to was very subdued. In most homes, light bulbs were only twenty to forty watts and very few lights were ever turned on at any one time. Electricity is not cheap so keeping the lights as dim as possible to save electricity was absolutely imperative.

Behind the canal, on the edge of town

Down near the canals, the housing was very different, but the people appeared to be just as happy and content as any other people in the town.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Breakfast at Ipah's home introduced me to Indonesia's version of coffee. There are no coffee machines so forget about cappuccinos and the like. Indonesian ground coffee; not freeze dried like the coffee purchased in supermarkets in Hong Kong; was placed in a glass with a huge serving of sugar; at least three teaspoons. Boiling water was then poured over the coffee and the coffee was left to stand for a few minutes while the larger coffee grains sedimented to the bottom of the glass. It was definitely different to the coffee I'm accustomed to at home, but it wasn't bad although I did ask Ipah to reduce the amount of sugar used. It was far too sweet for me.

Perhaps because I was there, or perhaps because of the preparations needed for the imminent wedding, I didn't get to eat a lot of typical home cooked food. On the occasions that I did get to eat their food, it was spicy hot; which I like; and usually made with beef. We ate with our hands although forks and spoons were available if I wanted to use them. Eating was a matter of using your fingers to roll up the rice into small balls and then popping the balls into your mouth.

On the second day of my stay at Ipah's home, I was up at around 6am. Everybody else had already been up and about for at least an hour. Ipah's son was getting ready to go to school and her mother was sitting outside the front door watching the daily traffic of people walk by.

I decided to take a walk. Not long after beginning my walk, I discovered that I had an escort. Ipah's fiancé was following me, always five to seven steps behind me. It felt strange to have him walking behind me so I slowed until he caught up and we walked pretty much together for the rest of the way.

I later determined that Ipah's family was concerned for my safety in this small town. They were quite sure that a foreigner with no understanding of the local language would quickly find himself in a situation where the locals would be sandbagging or blackmailing him. I found this hard to believe but they absolutely insisted that I always had an escort whenever I went out.

Walking around before 7am, the town was already up and going. Students were going to school; many of them on bicycles, some of them in motorised taxi buses. Roughly half of the female students had head coverings. Some of the stores were already open and many people were either working or on their way to work. I repeat. This was before 7am!

Later that day, I went for another walk, this time with Ipah. We went in a different direction, walking first through an upper class part of town; just two blocks away from her home; and then through a lower class part of town down by the canals. It was a very nice walk, and it was interesting to see how the people lived. In this small town, most of the people knew each other so we constantly ran into people that knew Ipah. Interestingly, Ipah was often asked if I was her husband. I thought that was amusing but apparently, it's not unusual for the local girls to marry foreign men although judging from the number of foreigners I saw in the town; i.e., none; most of them move to another part of the country once they're married.

School's out

Children skipping home from school.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

It's a shame. In every country of the world, people; especially young people; are gravitating towards the cities where they believe that everything will be better. Life will be easier. They'll have nicer things, nicer homes, better jobs and nicer friends. It's part of today's materialistic world and a result of the commercial society's marketing campaign. You're not 'in' unless you have the latest and greatest. (Apparently, according to a recent article in the South China Morning Post, the average Hong Kong person upgrades their mobile phone every year.) With the advent of television, pushing this ideal into the countryside is unfortunately easy and most people fall prey to the lure of its false realities.

Personally, I'd prefer the simpler life.

Photo Album: Photographs from my second day in Indonesia