BOOK REVIEW: Darjeeling by Jeff Koehler

Darjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest TeaDarjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

As Bordeaux or Tokaj are to wine, Darjeeling is to tea, producing a quality beverage considered by many to be the best in the world. However, this isn’t merely the story of how this region of northern Bengal (or, alternatively, Gorkhaland) came to produce a unique kind of tea that would be sought-after around the world. It’s also a story of empire and how Britain’s insatiable demand for tea drove major developments in geopolitics. It’s yet further the story of recent troubled times of Darjeeling tea, from labor shortages to environmental degradation, and what tea estates have done to adapt – from management / organization changes to organic production techniques.

Lessons in the history and geography of tea may seem niche and uninteresting, but the story of tea is actually quite fascinating, involving Opium Wars, the Black Hole of Calcutta, and an industry shakeup resulting from India’s independence.

I found this book compelling, and thought it did a good job of zooming in and out between local and global (and past to present) to maintain the interest of a diverse readership. Whether the book is exploring attempts to transplant tea shrubs and expertise from China or the changing customer base for Darjeeling tea, it’s an engaging and thought-provoking story. If you’re interested in tea, world history, or agribusiness, you’ll likely find something in this book to hold your attention.


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Tea Master [Free Verse]

drink the wisdom --
you'll find it more in the heat
than in the liquid

subtle - 
like the flavor of tea

in drinking it 
you'll discover:

there is no tea,
but the tea --
a tea-less tea

the life in you
the life in me
melted into a mound
of unity

BOOK REVIEW: Real Food Fermentation, Revised and Expanded by Alex Lewin

Real Food Fermentation, Revised and Expanded: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home KitchenReal Food Fermentation, Revised and Expanded: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen by Alex Lewin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: December 21, 2021

This is an expanded edition of a book that explores the process of fermenting a wide range of foods and beverages, including – new to this edition – sourdough bread. It’s a great book for a neophyte such as myself as it covers all the basics without getting too arcane (though it does include natto and some other regional foods that may not be widely familiar.) The book provides step-by-step instructions for making sauerkrauts (and variations such as Kimchi,) yoghurt & kefir, fermented fruit condiments, beverages (alcoholic and non-,) bases / starters (e.g. vinegar,) and sourdough products (including, but not limited to, bread.) It describes some of the challenges one may run up against as well as showing what equipment one will need. It also proposes some of the ways a curious person might experiment with variations.

Color photos are used to clarify the production processes as well as to show appetizing finished products that will whet one’s appetite.

If one is looking to get into a narrow domain of fermentation, e.g. making beer or other alcoholic beverages, one may want to look elsewhere for a more specialized and in-depth guide (of which there are many.) However, this book may introduce one to ideas for brewing adventures one wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

This book is an awesome choice for someone looking to get into or to expand their food fermentation activities. It’s well-organized, beautifully presented, and – as I mentioned – not overwhelming. With the mounting evidence of the benefits of fermented foods, this is a great guide to learn more about how one can best begin producing such foods at home.


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POEM: Kool-Aid Gets A Bad Rap

I’m told The Kool-Aid Man was seen busting through this wall moments before my arrival, but I can neither confirm nor deny it.

They say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

It’s because the 919 people at Jonestown who did so died of cyanide poisoning.

Except they didn’t.

Well, they definitely died, but they didn’t drink Kool-Aid.

They drank “Flavor Aid.”

You see, Jim Jones has been accused of many things,

but not being frugal in the conduct of mass murder isn’t one of them.

Why use the name-brand when everyone is going to keel over by cup’s end?

Now, Ken Kesey did use genuine Kool-Aid in his acid tests —

dubbed “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests” by Tom Wolfe —

because he knew the people he was feeding LSD would live,

if, perhaps, zoinked out of their ever-loving Fahrvergnügen,

and he wanted them to have a quality simulated fruit flavor experience.

I’ve been told many times not to drink the Kool-Aid,

but I can’t say that I’ve been given Kool-Aid with anything in it —

well, other than water, a crap-ton of sugar, and whatever Kool-Aid is made of —

which I assume is similar to the non-liquid ingredients in spray paint.

[And no fatalities have ever been proven in building collapses involving The Kool-Aid Man.]

BOOK REVIEW: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great DrinksThe Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book is about how plants are used in the making of alcoholic beverages from vegetative matter that serves as the primary ingredient in fermentation to obscure herbs and berries used to lend subtle flavoring. The book covers a lot of ground, being at once a guide to the chemistry of fermentation and distillation, a mixologist’s recipe book, and a guide to growing the plants used to make booze.

I will admit, if I weren’t such a neophyte to both subjects at hand – botany and alcoholic beverages – I probably wouldn’t have rated this book so highly. For me, almost every page offered new fun facts about alcoholic beverages, some of which I’ve consumed and many of which I never have. So if you have a high degree of understanding about one or both of these subjects, you may not find the book as intensely satisfying. Also, at times the book comes off a bit pretentiously – hardcore drunks probably don’t want to be shackled with so many rules for optimal alcoholic consumption (e.g. what type of glass they should drink a given drink from, etc.), but hardcore drunks are probably not a huge readership demographic. (It should also be noted that the reader gets some knowledge to fight pretentiousness as well, such as against gin drinkers who say they would never drink vodka when, in fact, they are drinking juniper berry-flavored vodka.)

The book consists of three parts. The first part describes fermentation and distillation and then offers two sub-parts dealing with the most everyday bases for alcoholic drinks (e.g. corn, grapes, potato, and wheat) as well as some of the more obscure and unusual objects of fermentation, respectively.

The second part delves into the plants that are added for flavoring or the like, and these are organized by: 1.) herbs and spices, 2.) flowers, 3.) trees, 4.) fruit, and 5.) nuts and seeds.

The final part gives some guidance on how some of these plants can be grown. It should be noted that this section is a bit thinner because a lot of information on growing the plants is covered in side-bars in the earlier sections and also this isn’t the book’s main thrust. The third part is similarly divided up between herbs, flowers, trees, berries & vines, and fruits & vegetables.

There are quite a few graphics, mostly in the form of line drawings, throughout the book – some are purely aesthetic and others are informative (e.g. drawings of plants.) There is also a recommended reading section that proposes further books to expand one’s understanding at the nexus of booze and plants. The book presents a lot of material in text boxes that set the information aside. These boxes include recipes, but also insights into how to best grow these plants with particularly emphasis given to how the process is optimized for those growing for beverage production (e.g. sometimes the optimal variety isn’t the most common variety.)

I enjoyed this book. It was readable, full of fun bits of information, and written in a light-hearted style. If you’re looking for a book on plants and alcoholic beverages, this is a good starting point. It doesn’t get too deep in the weeds but yet offers some obscure but amusing factoids.

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POEM: Tea

 

Flat-topped tea shrubs

round over the contours

of ancient, eroded mountains

worn into low-lying lumps.


The army green plants

sport tight crew cuts–

the recently plucked.


The lime green plants

are slightly shaggy–

pickers will soon visit.


Tips will be tossed

over the shoulder

into conic, woven baskets.


Leaves to be dried in hot boxes

fired by crackling wood.


Crushed.


Bagged.


Steeped in boiling water.

Fusing into you.

DAILY PHOTO: Egg Coffee, Hanoi

Taken in Hanoi in December of 2015

 

 

Egg coffee is a Hanoi staple. It’s made with egg yolk, condensed milk, and sugar so it’s not exactly low-cal, but it tastes delightful. The scuttlebutt is that it was invented when milk was in short supply during the war. The beverage is said to have been invented at Giang Cafe, but I couldn’t say for certain that it’s the same Giang Cafe we were at (shown above.) However, the place did have the feel of a local institution. Imagine people huddled around tiny tables on stools, the floor coated with sunflower seed shells, and nary an empty stool in the multi-floored establishment.

DAILY PHOTO: Tea for Market

Taken on May 24, 2015 at the Glenloch tea factory in Katukithula, Sri Lanka

Taken on May 24, 2015 at the Glenloch tea factory in Katukithula, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is loaded with tea factories that can be visited for free [except what you may spend at the factory’s gift shop or restaurant.] If you’re interesting in how your food and beverages get to look like they do, these are nice places to see how this:

IMG_0620_cropped

 

gets turned into this:
IMG_0768Most of the tea that is produced on the Glenloch tea factory isn’t sold under the Glenloch brand. Instead, about 75% gets sent to Colombo, where it is auctioned off on a market to the highest bidder. That’s when it comes to be the tea you recognize from brands on your local shelf, e.g. Lipton. The bags above are the product that will be shipped to market.

 

DAILY PHOTO: The Grind Room

Taken in March of 2014 in Madikeri.

Taken in March of 2014 in Madikeri.

It may not look like much, but this is the Best Smelling Room… Ever! These machines are located at the Golden Mist Coffee Plantation near Madikeri. Here they roast and grind coffee.