A coffee tour that begins from picking up coffee cherries and ends in freshly brewed coffee. I was intrigued! The tour, operated by Assa Coffee in Kathmandu, aims to educate people on coffee farming in Nepal and shows them how much effort it takes to create a cup of coffee.
When we arrived at the farm, one of the coffee farmers’ daughter offered us a glass lemon tea in a typical stainless steel glass, which has become the standard Nepali cup for past few decades. Nepal is nation of tea drinkers. A cup of tea is offered every time you visit someone’s home, even home of coffee farmer’s.
The coffee seed was first planted in 1938 in Gulmi district by a monk named Hira Giri, who brought them from Myanmar. But it was only until the late 1970’s commercial farming slowly took off, finally picking up the pace in 1990’s. Currently coffee is farmed in about twenty-seven thousand small farms across Nepal. Due to attractive returns, small farmers are abandoning traditional crops like corn and replacing them with coffee, macadamia nuts, avocado, etc. Some corn remains, but only for personal use.
In summary, the coffee tour can be divided into seven parts; coffee cherry picking, pulping, hulling, roasting, grinding, dripping/tasting, and planting your own coffee seedling. During each leg of the tour, the coffee guides will provide you an informal lecture with accompanying infographic panels on different facets of coffee, usually related to task on hand.
The first stop was coffee nursery of Krisha Prasad Timalsani. The guide informed us about challenges of starting a coffee plantation. A major challenge as we were told is that there is no income for five years until you harvest the cherries. This is a significant risk and investment for small farmers. But the biggest problem for the coffee farming right now is the lack of water. Small coffee seedlings need lot of water. It was sad to hear farmer saying “Sansar Nai Sukyo Bhanhan” meaning “the whole earth is dry now”. One of the goals of the tour is to generate enough profit to be able to provide a water tank to the local farmers.
The excursion continued by picking fresh cherries in his farm. We were encouraged to taste (chew and spit out) the coffee cherries. It tasted sweet and very fibrous, obviously no coffee aroma. If you are lucky enough, which I was, you will see the pulping process by the machine as well. The pulped cherries are fermented in a sac from 24 to 48 hours, and dried to obtain green coffee beans with parchment.
To prevent wasting the picked cherries, guests were asked to make bead necklaces with them while being welcomed by freshly brewed lemon tea and cookies. While making necklaces, the guide talked about the origins of coffee from its accidental discovery by Kaldi in Ethiopia to its renaissance in Italy, and its trip to Nepal via Myanmar. We were then taken to plant a year-old coffee seedling. We were also given a white plank accompanied the seedling to write down our personal messages.
This was followed by an introduction to green beans and roasting. The dried coffee beans were hulled to remove its parchment cover. The beans were separated by hand to remove inferior and broken beans. While we were doing this, the guide informed us about the process of hulling and roasting.
The hulled green beans were roasted on a stovetop in a simple metal pot by us. The beans were constantly stirred with wooden stick broom to get even roasting. The roasted beans were quickly cooled by fanning in air. The goal here was to see how beans transform during the roasting process. First I smelled the fresh vegetable-like earthy smell coming out of the green beans, and then as it got roasted I could smell the familiar coffee flavor developing. We could roast according to our preference. I roasted to medium while the others did a dark roast.
After roasting, the grinding and cupping took place in Kedar Adhikari’s farm. Grinding was done with manual hand grinders. We were told about the grind sizes for different types of coffee drinks, and introduced to various brewing methods and the basics on coffee tasting.
Our freshly roasted beans were brewed with classic hand drip method. We could take the remaining beans we roasted with ourselves
This unique coffee tour is scheduled any day when Assa coffee tours has a minimum of two guests with knowledge coffee guides in coffee brown apparel.
The tour concluded with a meal under the shades of coffee trees. It was great to see the coffee farm, meet the farmers, talk to them, see the harvest, and get involved in the full process of coffee making. The coffee tour may have started with a cup of tea, but ended with complete appreciation for most of our favorite drink.
Most importantly this coffee tour revealed to me how much effort goes into making a cup of beverage that has become a daily routine I take for granted.
Posted in: Travel and Food |
The highest rated eatery on Yelp within 5 miles from me is a taco truck with an unassuming exterior. This food establishment has a perfect 5 stars rating with over 150 reviews. This is higher than any other restaurants in Washington DC area that are featured on covers of food magazines or boast famed chefs.
El Chilango looks like a generic working-class Mexican taco truck, painted white with classic Mexican signs in green and red and, obviously, with the ubiquitous sombrero logo.
The truck is always parked one and half block away from my home. I had seen it many times, but unfortunately was skeptical of its food. It looked like any other ordinary taco truck that you find at a construction sites. It took 5 star rating on Yelp to ignite my foodie curiosity; I had to try its food!
El Chilango serves traditional Mexican street tacos. Taco meats are spiced to perfection, served over double corn tortillas garnished with cilantro and onions. Wedges of lime, cucumber and radish are also served on the side. Each of these simple tacos cost $2, cash only. It’s amazing to see this small mobile place with one flat iron grill and couple of people is able to outdo all the fancy food establishments.
Drinks are bottled and canned sodas. Since we are eating Mexican, I urge you to try Mexican Jarritos soda over other regulars.
I can’t believe that I dismissed this hidden gem just because of its looks, and needed cadre of strangers screaming at me before I explored this diamond in the rough. Often good food is simple, served without much glitter or fanfare.
Posted in: Food Culture - Travel and Food | Tags: Best Rated in DC, Best Tacos Arlington, Best Tacos DC, Mexican food
Song Que is a Vietnamese deli and mini-mart in the Eden Center, a Vietnamese American strip mall in Falls Church Virginia, a few miles outside of Washington DC.
I was introduced to Song Que Deli during my first visit to the Eden Center, couple of years ago. Although, technically accessible by the metro (15 minutes walk), I don’t know anyone who has made the trip to the Eden Center by the metro. Thus, Eden Center remains top of my list whenever out-of-town visitor drops by with a car with an appetite for adventurous food.
Song Que sells Vietnamese smoothies, desserts, fruits, snacks, and freshly made pre-wrapped treats. Even though many of the pre-wrapped items are labeled in English, I have no idea about most of the colorful items. Nevertheless majority of them look appetizing. If you are planning on eating in, there is also a small seating area in the back of the deli.
Song Que sells more than two-dozen smoothies and drinks. My favorite is the avocado smoothie that blends creaminess of avocados with the sweetness of condensed milk. You can get it garnished with tapioca seeds or bubbles like any other smoothies.
Technically Banh mi means just bread, but among Vietnamese diaspora aboard, it means meat-filled banh mi sandwiches. There are about half a dozen delicious options costing just $3/$4. This time , we chose two bánh mì; Banh Mi Bi (shredded steam pork & pork skin) and Banh Mi Gio Bo (house braised ham).Both bánh mì were decent, but for my carnivorous appetite, I would have preferred to have option of adding extra meat.
Bánh Bột Lọc (Vietnamese Clear Dumpling)
Bánh Bột Lọc are clear Vietnamese dumplings made from tapioca flour. Our banh bot loc had whole shrimp, scallion, and fish. Son Que’s rendition of clear dumplings had whole shrimp with intact shells. Sorry but I prefer to eat my shrimp without shells.
Factoid: Why Vietnamese dumplings and rolls are see-through!The clear dumpling dough is a central Vietnamese specialty made from flour mixes that consist of tapioca starch and some cornstarch. Tapioca flour when cooked becomes translucent (or clear), giving it its defining characteristic. Tapioca is the same stuff that makes bubbles in bubble tea.
Xoi Ga (Vietnamese Sticky Rice)
Xoi Ga is one of the pre wrapped entrée we chose. Xoi Ga is sticky rice with chicken garnished with peanut, soy sauce, and scallions. There are other fried rice options. They taste good cold as well as warm (after microwaving).
Among Vietnamese snacks, many of which are commercial prepackaged stuff, my first choice for Vietnamese snack is the dried squid jerky. Dried squids do not sound that appetizing but it tastes similar to any jerky with a slight fish flavor. This jerky treat is good enough for even liberal vegetarians (pescetarian) out there.
I am not an expert on Vietnamese food so can’t vouch if Song Que offers good or authentic Vietnamese deli. As a universal food-lover what I can say is that a delicious venture to Song Que will surely fill up your eyes, taste buds and stomach without emptying your wallet.
Posted in: Travel and Food |
The downtown of the city of Frederick Maryland, an hour away from the Washington DC, just celebrated its diverse dining options with a restaurant week. Here are some of the deliciousness found in Frederick, listed alphabetically by the restaurant’s name. There are no reviews of dish – just their photos – because “a picture is worth a thousand words”. We recommend you to explore these and more of Frederick’s deliciousness on your own!
Chevrolet Volt, plug-in electric and gas car, was loaned to me by GM Northeast for the trip to Frederick. This 2011 Motor Trend Car award winning car made possible these restaurant trips from Washington DC to Frederick possible.
Posted in: Travel and Food | Tags: Baked cod dijon bread-crumbs, Black trumpet mushroom ravioli, Breadsticks in VOLT, Brewer's Alley Frederick, Bryan Voltaggio's VOLT restaurant, Chevy Volt in DC, Chicken kimchi spring roll, Crispy pork belly, Firestone's Culinary Tavern Frederick, Flounder florentine rolls, Flourless chocolate cake, Frederick Restaurant Week, Goat cheese ravioli, Honor Amongst Thieves, Mixologist Alex Strange, Red Horse Restaurant Frederick, Roasted lean pork tenderloin, Salsify, Shab Row Bistro Frederick, Shrimp and Grits, Smoked pork belly, Sweetbreads, Vegetable ash, VOLT Restaurant Frederick
One hour (or more) long line for a lobster roll! I refuse to stay such a long line to get my lunch on a work day – who has time? At the same time, I was somewhat intrigued by the lobster rolls that made people to stay out in muggy DC weather for an hour to eat $15-18 lunch.
Before these reviews of lobster rolls, I have to disclaim that I am not an expert on lobsters or grew up eating them on a weekly basis. I know good food and believe that ocean already made lobsters so tasty – all we need to do is heat it to perfection without too much of bells and whistles.
Why lobsters are sustainable and expensive?
Lobster recommendations in DC (in no particular order);
Red Hook Lobster Truck [4.5 oz lobster meat]
BGR – The Burger Joint [5 oz lobster meat]
Luke’s Lobster [4 oz lobster meat]
PS. Checkout this stop-motion animation of Luke’s Lobster Roll.
All above three lobster rolls are equally good it their own right. Now, here are some other lobster rolls that I would be hesitant to recommend.
Au bon pain [4 oz lobster meat]
When Quiznos introduced the lobster and seafood salad sub, they promoted with this eco-video which shows setting four protagonist lobsters free into the wild. Choose
The narrator ends the video by saying, “We couldn’t help but wonder if what we’d done was just a big contradiction. It’s not their fault, they taste so good.” Indeed!
Posted in: Travel and Food | Tags: Au bon pain Lobster Roll, BGR - The Burger Joint Lobster Roll, Kinkead’s Lobster Roll, Lobster Rolls, Lobster Rolls DC, Luke’s Lobster DC, Quiznos Lobster Roll, Red Hook Lobster Truck, Washington DC Lobster Rolls