Category Archives: Drink

The hungry hummingbird

What would happen if we scaled up a hummingbird to human size? This is one thought, “A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast.”

The rise of cold drip coffee

A recent NYT article proclaimed that the United States is becoming a cold brew nation. I’m from New Orleans where it’s long been popular and I probably make a batch about every week and a half. So of course I’ve talked about cold drip coffee before.

The article provides a little history about cold drip coffee and its recent rise in popularity across the US. the focus of the article is about the retail business but If you like cold drip coffee and are curious, the device I use is a Toddy home brew model. Below, I’ve edited the article for length and clarity. (Cold drip is just another name for cold brew coffee.)

What’s cold brew? Essentially, it’s the method of preparation. You steep coffee grounds in room-temperature water (which isn’t “cold,” strictly speaking) for six to 20 hours (depending on the recipe) to make a concentrate that can be diluted with water and served over ice. By giving up heat, you have to add time.

What was once a regional curiosity largely limited to New Orleans and the South is now found throughout the country. The shift started about 10 years ago, when cold brew was adopted by innovative coffee shops like Blue Bottle.

Cold brew was a niche market until 2015, when Starbucks introduced the drink in a number of stores; it is now available at all of their shops. It’s a coffee with both mass-market appeal and indie credibility. Today, you can find cold brew at a coffee shop where everything is meticulously crafted by hand, and at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The drink’s range is expanding even more rapidly when you count “ready-to-drink” canned, bottled and packaged coffees. You can get that New Orleans-style iced coffee in a school-lunch-size milk carton, or that nitro cold brew in what looks like a beer can. Ready-to-drink is now appearing everywhere. As of last month, you could find bottles of Slingshot Coffee, a small-batch company in Raleigh, N.C., at nearly 250 Target stores in the South.

Cold brew is more than a slowed-down version of hot coffee; it’s a noticeably different product. Hot water will bring out the acids in coffee, a characteristic that professional tasters call “brightness.” Cold water doesn’t but still gets the full range of mouthfeel and sweetness.

And it can be served more quickly. As one shop owner said, ” From a logistical standpoint, we can get cold brew out the door in 10 seconds,If you want a coffee and you want it quick, cold brew is the answer.” Provided she made enough the night before.

Everyday system for moderate drinking

NYEBoweryThis is the second of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

This might be a good one for the New Year. Just say’n.

“The glass ceiling system” for healthy and pleasurable moderate drinking.

This isn’t intended for people who suspect they may be alcoholics. Please keep looking, but don’t look here.

Ok, so what’s the problem “the glass ceiling is trying to solve? Occasional excessive drinking.

Most of the time you’re fine, drinking like a normal person, but every once in a while you get  smashed, and could find yourself in trouble.

The obvious solution is to just stop drinking. But there’re two problems with the cold turkey strategy. One is that research shows that moderate drinking is ridiculously good for you. Moderate drinking defined as a drink or two a day, depending on how big you are. The other is that moderate drinking is a great pleasure. For moderate alcohol consumption, with its clean bill of health, the claim of pleasure is real and legitimate.

So how do you balance this if you’re given to occasional over drinking, and still want to get the health and pleasure benefits of moderate drinking? A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That’s your glass ceiling. Yes, there’s fudge room. But not so much fudge room that you’re going to wind up with problems.

Two glasses are clearly different from three. On the other hand, there is wiggle room. You could get an enormous Bavarian beer stein and fill it up with Everclear, but you can’t do it without seeming like an astonishing drunkard. You can’t hide your excess in lots of dainty little increments, and excess, when it’s out in the open like that, is shameful.

Shame has a bad rap these days, but shame can be good. Shame has been around for all of recorded history. It isn’t going anywhere. You might as well use it instead of fighting it or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s powerful. Make shame your ally and shame will keep you reasonably moderate.

OK, other ambiguities and potential loopholes…

No refills. This should go without saying, but common sense sometimes has trouble with the obvious after a couple drinks.

And no saving up. Use it or lose it. If you don’t drink for ten days that doesn’t mean you can drink 20 drinks on day 11.

Allow for the occasional 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it’s as small as they get. If you’re the kind of person that needs a system like this, you probably would have had much more otherwise. But if you find yourself doing this a lot, alarms should go off.

A word of advice to those with unsympathetic drinking buddies: don’t tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won’t notice, especially if you alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A tonic and tonic looks amazingly like a gin and tonic.

Conversely, when you’re starting out at least, I’d avoid mixed drinks that you mix yourself. The mix is camouflage. With a dash of cranberry juice you can bypass the shame of drinking a big glass of vodka. Shame is your friend.

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on  week days, 2 on weekend days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one.

You’ll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don’t view it as drunk-juice. You’ll be drinking less, so spend a little more and get the good stuff. Moderation is an opportunity for greater pleasure.

And as an additional benefit is that your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz from two drinks.

I haven’t been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my youth. Frankly, I’m amazed. 

That’s it for glass ceiling. It’s probably the simplest system I’ve discussed yet, but it changed my life.

Wine whine

grapesI’ve been exposed to the wine mystique quite a bit because I worked in fine dining. I never thought high- priced wines tasted better than moderately priced ones, and often no better than cheaper wines either. But you’re encouraged to praise the pricey stuff, like the king with no clothes kids’ story.

I felt vindicated when I read this about wine in “Gulp” by Mary Roach.

Because it’s hard for people to gauge quality by flavor, they tend to gauge by price. That’s a mistake. Langstaff (a taste expert) has evaluated wine professionally for twenty years. In her opinion, the difference between a $300 bottle of wine and one that costs $30 is largely hype. ‘Wineries selling their wines for $500 a bottle have the same problems as wineries selling their wine for $10 a bottle. You can’t make the statement that if it’s low-cost it’s not well made.’

Most of the time, people don’t even prefer the expensive wine – provided they can’t see the label. (There’s) a top wine judge who plays a game with his wine-marketing classes at Napa Valley College. The students. most of whom have several years of experience in the industry, are asked to rank six wines, their labels hidden by brown paper bags. All are wines that the expert enjoys himself. At least one is under $10 and two are over $40. ‘ Over the past 18 years, every time, the least expensive wine averages the highest ranking, and the most expensive two finish the bottom.’

It’s safe to say that wine is mainly sold on Christian countries. Isn’t this Christianity’s biggest idea: treating others in the same way that you’d want them to treat you? Combine that with New Testament stories in which mention wine a lot and it seems ironic that the wine industry uses marketing hype and mysterious jargon to sell wine. This trickery creates an environment that’s more “buyer beware” than the “golden rule.” I know he can make his own, but what sort of wine would Jesus drink?

Toddy Coffee

Espresso makerThis is a picture from a coffee shop. Most of the coffee here is brewed with hot water.

But good coffee can be brewed without using hot water. It just takes longer to make.

“Toddy coffee” is what most people call cold brewed coffee. Toddy coffee is cold brewed coffee made using a Toddy coffee maker. It’s easy to do, I’ve been brewing yummy rich flavored coffee this way for years.

I have two Toddy makers so I can brew two batches at once, which will last for about two weeks. Once made, the coffee is always ready in the fridge, add some cream and have it cold or heat it up if I’m in the mood. It’s easy and tastes great.

What made me think about this is that Starbucks will start selling cold brewed coffee at 2,800 stores, and I started wondering if it catches on, will people realize it’s easy to make and how convenient it is to drink?

What is cold brewed coffee exactly? Here’s how the NYT described it:

“Cold brew coffee has a milder, smoother and often sweeter taste than iced coffee that was first made with hot water. It can be up to 67 percent less acidic than hot coffee (or the iced coffee that comes from it)… Infuse coarsely ground coffee overnight in cold water, about 5 cups for every 1/2-pound of coffee, then press or filter the brew from the grounds.”

Although I’m guessing Starbucks won’t use the Toddy device because of the volume they’ll need, the NYT article described the Toddy maker since that’s what is most commonly used by home cold brew coffee makers like me, “(it) is a plastic container with a thick feltlike pad that fits over a stoppered hole in its bottom. When the stopper is removed, the liquid drains through the mass of grounds and the pad, which filter out tiny coffee particles, letting a dark yet clear coffee concentrate drain into a pitcher. The concentrate can be diluted with either cold or hot water for a quick drink.”

A “quick drink” that also is delicious and easy to make might cause Starbucks to lose some business as some clever customers figure out how to do it at home, saving themselves a daily wait in a line.


Yeast Power

I don’t drink a lot, so I’m going to pass this along as a public service for people who do drink a lot. Plus, I’m fascinated by the main idea that’s in the Esquire magazine article, “How to drink all night without getting drunk.”

Of course the idea this idea isn’t for everybody. For some, the whole point of drinking is all about getting drunk. I haven’t tried out the idea in the article yet, but I will. And you might want to as well when you need to drink but don’t want to get drunk.

The article’s author spends time with Jim Koch, the chairman of the Boston Beer Company, sampling beers and talking about beer culture and the author claims (I’ve done some abbreviating):

I’d long noticed Jim was always lucid, always able to hold court, and hold his own with those much younger, and was doing likewise with me at 4 PM on a Thursday afternoon despite the fact we were both now several beers deep. So what was the secret?

“Active yeast. Like you get at the grocery store.”

Koch told me that for years he has swallowed your standard Fleischmann’s dry yeast before he drinks, stirring the white powdery substance in with some yogurt to make it more palatable. “One teaspoon per beer, right before you start drinking. And it’ll mitigate – not eliminate – but mitigate the effects of alcohol!” Koch told me. 

He’d learned the trick from the late-Joseph Owades. With a PhD in biochemistry and an early job in the fermentation department at Fleischmann’s, Owades probably knew more about fermentation and alcohol metabolism than perhaps any man who’s ever lived. He became good friends with Koch, helped perfect Boston Lager, and passed on to Koch his little yeast secret.

It turns out that active dry yeast has an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). Roughly put, ADH breaks alcohol molecules down into their constituent parts of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, the same thing that happens when your liver metabolizes alcohol. Owades realized if you also have that enzyme in your stomach when the alcohol first hits it, the ADH will begin breaking it down before it gets into your bloodstream.

Go forth and experiment.

What’s Mescal?

We just returned from Oaxaca City in southern Mexico. Coincidentally, a friend is living there while he’s starting a mescal export business. We visited with him a few times and learned a bit about mescal.

Mescal is a broad category for liquors distilled from the agave plant. The mescal most people know is tequila, but there’re lots more mescals throughout Mexico.

Because I live in Mexico, I’d been thinking about writing a post about my favorite tequila. But mescal is a more interesting story than my favorite tequila (I buy Centenario Repasado most often which, I guess, makes it my favorite).

Different types of agave plants are found pretty much all over Mexico. Agaves have been used as a beverage base for thousands of years here. Probably the original agave drink was pulque, sort of like an agave beer.

After the Spanish showed up and introduced distillation, various local Peoples began producing a drink called mescal using agave plants.

The world of mescal shares some similarities with the wine world. The agave plant comes in many forms and grows in many different soils and climate with each combination providing different taste characteristics for the mescal.

Just as champagne can only be made from certain grapes and only in the Champagne region of France, tequila can only be made from a certain agave plant and only in the Tequila region of Mexico.

Like wine, mescals can can be consumed when they’re young or they can be aged. Young clear mescal, called joven, seems to be considered the way to go.

The agave plants can also be harvested in the wild where they grow naturally, or they can be cultivated and harvested more easily. Each style of the resulting mescal has it’s following.

Again like wine, the pricing is often based on scarcity. And mescal drinkers use similar adjectives for describing the, often subtle, taste differences between different mescals.

There’s even some overlap with scotches; the most common adjective I heard for describing a mescal’s taste was “smokey.”

There’s a thriving mescal subculture, especially in Oaxaca, that’s worth investigating if you’re even slightly interested in it.


The Wine Whine

Over the years, I’ve worked at some very nice restaurants that have expensive wine lists. I’ve sold lots of bottles costing hundreds of dollars, even a bottle of wine for $1,500.

I thought a $1,500 bottle couldn’t possibly be 100 times better than some wines selling for $15 a bottle; or could a $150 bottle be even ten times better? Wine prices seem to be driven higher mostly by scarcity.

Expensive wines tend to be from smaller vineyards and over time there’re fewer and fewer bottles for sale as they’re consumed or squirreled away. Then the mystique increases around certain wines driven by reputation as well as the expectation of goodness that comes with a price that high.

Over the years I’ve attended lots of wine seminars, some were informative and others a lot of foolishness. But the situation with wine often becomes one like the king that has no clothes. Everyone has to go along with the highest status person’s opinion in the room.

I’ve been listening to the Freakonomics Radio audio podcast. It’s really good. If you enjoy “This American Life,” you’ll like this show, the hosts even sound the same. Anyway, each show digs into a different subject attempting to shine the light of reason on that subject’s often unexplored nooks.

One show asked “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” The short answer is just what I’ve always thought, no. And most of the “experts” don’t have much more sophisticated taste buds than the rest of us. Sure, they’re up on region and varietal names, know who’s who, and how to describe what a particular wine tastes like. But, when it comes to choosing which wine is which in blind tastings they don’t do too well. Have a listen.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about wine is to drink what you enjoy and to try branching out and try different types of wine.

And who buys a $1,500 bottle of wine? No idea who he was, but he just drank a couple of cocktails, not the wine, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy them.

Cold Drip Coffee

Have you heard of “cold drip coffee” before? If you like drinking coffee, here’s a way to make great tasting coffee that has a few advantages over the regular way of making coffee.

I use a Toddy cold drip coffee maker. It consists of only three parts. There’s the soaking container, a filter that fits in the bottom of that container, and a glass carafe to drain the coffee into. The plastic soaking container is about the size of a large popcorn bucket from the multiplex. The bottom of the soaker has a bottleneck for the felt filter that’s about the size of a large cookie. This bottleneck on the soaker’s bottom also fits the mouth of the glass carafe for draining the coffee when it’s time.

I’ve been making cold drip coffee for years, it’s really simple. First, after inserting a filter in the bottom of the soaking container, add about two liters (quarts) of room temperature water. Next, put in a pound of coarse (not fine) ground coffee on top of the water; but don’t stir in the coffee grounds, let the ground coffee soak into the water. That’s it, now allow the mix to soak for between 12 and 24 hours. Then pull the small plug on the bottom of the soaking container and let gravity drain it into the carafe. You’ll get about a liter and a half of delicious coffee concentrate that can last three weeks in the fridge.

Put the concentrate into the fridge and spread the grounds on your garden (or in the trash). Take out the filer and give it a though rinsing under the tap before putting it into the fridge for the next time. If you rinse the filter well and refrigerate it in water, you’ll be able to use it for months.

The cold drip coffee is also about 60% less acidic than brewed coffee because no heat is used to make the coffee. The flavor profile will be richer and less bitter-tasting than brewed coffee. There even a bit less caffeine too. The system was developed in 1964 by a chemical engineer at Cornell University.

There are all kinds of uses for the coffee concentrate. You can dilute it or not (I don’t) to the strength you like,  then ice it or heat it (stove top or microwave), or use it in recipes calling for coffee.

There are hundreds of coffee houses and cafes using cold drip coffee for their iced coffee. I even sell Thai style iced cold drip coffee here in Mexico at the fledgling farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in our little town.

Iced coffee is what we make most often at home. I usually premix the coffee with milk and Half and Half in a two liter bottle. Drinking coffee doesn’t get any more tasty and convenient than that.

An Atheist In The Foxhole

Christopher Hitchens has cancer. He thinks he won’t win and the cancer will take him.

Too bad. Of course it’s always too bad when someone dies from cancer. He’s been an enthusiastic, lifelong smoker and drinker and would no doubt say that he enjoyed the ride.

He’s a hero of mine. Not because of his lifestyle but because of his stances and defense of what he thinks is the way things are. A long time ago William Blake wrote “… create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Good advice, I think. Hitchens has never been shy about pointing out the enslavement foisted upon most humans by religions large and small.

Hitchens is an atheist. And now that he’s dying and thinks he won’t make it, he’s still unrepentant.  He’s only 61. With esophageal cancer that’s spread to his lymph nodes and lungs, he says he’ll be very lucky to live for five more years.

He’s an atheist in a foxhole; and he plans on staying one. Hitchens has gone on record about this now, while he has all of his faculties. If he is said to have had a last-minute conversion while he lie dying,  it’ll be due to him having lost his ability to think due to the cancer or its treatment.  Any claims of sudden conversion at the end will be due to having a diminished mind and not a sudden switching of sides because he sees the light. Because he’d say that religion is darkness.

As a controversial figure because of his views and  his wide exposure from his prolific writings and speaking, Hitchens has been engaged in conflicts most of his life. The title of his 2007 book is “God Is Not Great,” that’s a pretty good way to draw fire. It’s a good book too.

Hitchens has lots of experience in holding his own against what he considers bad ideas. I hope he can keep it up.