Fine Wine

I remember a friend describing me earlier as one having a reasonably developed palate. So when I was fussing over the wine at a restaurant the other day, it got me thinking – why did wine become such a synonym with fine living?

Sign of Prosperity – Even before medieval times, wine was not a drink for the poor, simply because of the cost of making and storing wine with its high chances of getting spoilt. Cheaper homemade alternatives were used by the mass, but wine was a sign of affluence. This was prevalent across Greece, Egypt and other cultures. It was the Romans who actually catapulted it to its current status. For an ordinary person, a simple association of the wealthy and powerful of the richest civilization with wine drinking would present a powerful image. Thanks to Roman colonization across Europe, especially Spain, Britain, and France, wine development had started and added to the popularity of wine.

Alternative to water – After the industrial revolution, water from natural sources was not drinkable in many places due to pollution, and transportation was not adequate to get pure water in quantities everywhere. Wine was considered as a healthier(!) option to available water and steadily became considered as part of the daily diet of the Europeans. Coffee would later replace wine as the drink during the day.

Taste – From early times, people did enjoy the taste of wine. This is partly because of its low alcohol content (Wine typically has 10% – 12.5% alcohol v/v), which allows the tongue to taste other flavors and partly because of the nature of the basic ingredient of wine. This also means most people can have some glasses of wine in a social gathering without acting unrefined, like throwing up or passing out, all the while showing off their skills at guessing the subtle wine flavors. It also does have some health benefits, especially in comparison to other alcoholic beverages of earlier times.

The Kettle Water Situation

I am not ordinarily a superstitious person. I mean, I believe in God, but then that too in a limited fashion. I used to be scared of ghosts as a kid, but to be honest, most of us were. So I can safely call myself a science-oriented person who does not believe in astrology, curses etc. My fervent prayers before the exams and results is something which I hope can be overlooked in this context.

But of late, I have started to observe a trend which has convinced me that my sleep has been jinxed. Simply put, whenever I take a flight and try to sleep, I cannot. Be it any time, any destination, if I want to sleep, I just cannot. The reasons are myriad. Most often than not, its crying babies. Once it was a curious toddler who was fascinated by my beard and kept trying to play with it despite dissuasion from me and its parents. Sometimes, it is the flight attendants, who prove too hot to keep your eyes off. A couple of times it has been the flight turbulence, which left me as a cocktail of half-nauseous and half-paralysed in fear, shaken as well as stirred.

The other side of the coin is if I want to stay awake and get some work done in the course of the flight – I sleep deeply and peacefully. No babies, no turbulence and no attendants. It doesn’t even have to be work; it could be a novel I want to read or simple solitaire on the laptop. The moment I start it, I go off like the light.

I think it is something like water boiling in a kettle. Like Jerome K. Jerome said, if you look at it, it will take forever. So, don’t look at it and pretend you will not need it. It will boil off immediately. Sounds like a perfect fit for my situation. On a profound note, I think the same goes with success and money in life. But then again, it’s easier said than done. When I am sleep deprived, I don’t think I want to play solitaire, I want to sleep, flight or not.

An Ode to Coffee

I have been a self-taught barista since the fall of ‘06. Unlike the urban, youth Indian populace, I actually got addicted to caffeine. I don’t know how and why. All I know is I used instant coffee to keep me awake during my exams since class nine. Then I bought a coffee maker with one of my initial salaries, and now I need at least 4 cups daily. So over the years, I have devoted some of my spare time to coffee as a subject and here I present a compilation I have collected from the net as well as my own understanding –

1. Beans

a. Bean Types –

Robusta (Coffea Canephora)

Arabica (Coffea Arabica)

2.7% caffeine 1.5% caffeine
Less maintenance and greater yield Lower yield and more maintenance
Full-bodied, earthy flavour, bitter (pyrazine) Slightly acidic tone, smoother, richer
20% of the coffee produced in the world 80% of the coffee produced in the world
Vietnam, Brazil, India, and Indonesia Central America, East Africa, India, Indonesia

b. Cleaning –

Wet Process

Dry Process

Specific equipment and substantial quantities of water Used for about 90% of the Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, Ethiopia, Haiti and Paraguay, also in India and Ecuador. All Robusta are processed by this method
More balanced taste Fruitier taste

c. Roasting –

Roast

Surface

Notes

Flavour

Light Dry At first crack (205 deg C) Light, acidic, no-roast
Med Dry Between first and second crack Balanced, smoother, slight originality
Full Slight Shine At second crack (225 deg C) Aromatic, heavy body
Double Oily Smoke come out, sugar carbonizes Smokey-sweet, nothing original

Caffeine diminishes with increased roasting level: light roast – 1.37%; medium roast – 1.31%; and dark roast < 1.31%. At lighter roasts, the bean will exhibit more of its “origin flavour”; the flavours created in the bean by its variety, the soil, altitude, and weather conditions in the location where it was grown. As a rule of thumb, the “shinier” the bean is, the more dominant the roasting flavours are. Sucrose is rapidly lost during the roasting process and may disappear entirely in darker roasts. During roasting, aromatic oils and acids weaken, changing the flavour. At 205 °C other oils start to develop. One of these oils, Caffeol, is created at about 200 °C, which is largely responsible for coffee’s aroma and flavour.

2. Preparation

a. Grinding and Brewing–

The fineness of grind strongly affects brewing, and must be matched to the brewing method for best results. Brewing methods which expose coffee grounds to heated water for longer require a coarser grind than faster brewing methods. Beans which are too finely ground for the brewing method in which they are used will expose too much surface area to the heated water and produce a bitter, harsh, “over-extracted” taste. At the other extreme, an overly coarse grind will produce weak coffee unless more is used. Water temperature should always stay between 90 and 96 degree Celsius. If the temperature is higher, the result is bitter and ashy taste. If the temperature is lower, then the taste is sour and diluted. In processes involving manual intervention, it is easier to make a mistake of having water at a lower temperature. The other scenario doesn’t happen because water is taken off-heat at boiling point, and by the time it is seeped through coffee, it reaches ideal temperature. Due to the importance of fineness, uniformly ground coffee is better than a mixture of sizes.

  • Coarse – Very distinct particles of coffee. Downright chunky.
  • Medium – Gritty, like coarse sand. (I use this a lot)
  • Fine – Smoother to the touch, a little finer than granular sugar or table salt.
  • Extra fine – Finer than sugar, but grains should still be discernable to the touch.
  • Turkish – Powdered, like flour.

Brew Method

Ideal Grind

Plunger pot / French press Coarse
Percolator Coarse
Vacuum coffee pot Coarse
Drip coffee makers (flat bottomed filters) Medium
Espresso mocha pots Fine
Drip coffee makers (cone filters) Fine
Espresso machines (pump or steam) Extra fine
Ibrik / Cezve Turkish

b. Flavour –

Flavour is the overall perception of the coffee in your mouth. Acidity, aroma, and body are components of flavour. It is the balance and homogenization of these senses that create your overall perception of flavour.

Acidity – It is the sensation of dryness that the coffee produces under the edges of your tongue and on the back of your palate. It provides a sharp, bright, vibrant quality. Without sufficient acidity, the coffee will tend to taste flat. Acidity should not be confused with sour, which is an unpleasant, negative flavour characteristic.

Aroma – Without our sense of smell, our only taste sensations would be: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The aroma contributes to the flavours we discern on our palates. Subtle nuances, such as “floral” or “winy” characteristics, are derived from the aroma of the brewed coffee.

Body – It is the viscosity, heaviness, thickness, or richness that is perceived on the tongue. A good example of body would be that of the feeling of whole milk in your mouth, as compared to water. Your perception of the body of a coffee is related to the oils and solids extracted during brewing. Coffees with a heavier body will maintain more of their flavour when diluted.

c. My Recipes –

Basic Ingredients –

Standard Espresso shot – 60 ml, Steamed milk, Milk Foam, Condiments (Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Chocolate powder etc.)

1. Cappuccino

Espresso:Milk:Foam :: 1:1:1 (a.k.a. rule of thirds)

Foam dense, Total 180 ml, Optional condiments

2. Americano / Long Black (My daily cup)

Espresso:Water :: 1:2

Always add hot water separately to espresso, Total 180 ml

3. Cafe Latte

Espresso:Milk:Foam :: 1:3:1

Foam Light, Total 300 ml

4. Flat White

Same as Latte except it has no foam, Total 240 ml

5. Macchiato

Espresso: Foam :: 1:1

Foam dense, Total 120 ml

I am Ron f***ing Swanson!

After Charlie Sheen managed to get himself fired from Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory has now become Friends Part II instead of a nerdy comedy it used to be, I thought good sitcoms are now an extinct species. Then as all hope was lost (as always is the case), along came a you tube video of Ron Swanson which introduced me to Parks and Recreations.

True, the name is boring, and so is the premise. It is about a government department dealing with parks (I am yawning as I type this). But (that too a big one), everything else about it is fantastic. Amazing characters, super story and a mocumentary style wherein the characters break the fourth wall often.  The best is of course Ron Swanson, who says about fishing “It’s like yoga, except I still get to kill something.” The bonus is Rashida Jones, who lights up the screen with every appearance.

I am an avid watcher of sitcoms and have been bored with most of them having similar premises and jokes. This one is different. If you don’t need a laugh track to tell you when to snicker or roar, go for it.

Coming back with web quips

I have often faced situations when I failed to come up with a good retort or comeback immediately, unlike what they show on TV or Movies. You know the type, one character says something insulting to the protagonist and he replies with something that blows the first person’s socks off. So I decided to use the internet.

I figured out if the net can give me info (and porn) it can surely give me quips. Guess what, I was right! I know this idea sounds lame, but check out http://www.grouchyrabbit.com and http://www.dearblankpleaseblank.com. Good laughs in both of them, and if you are particularly crazy about grass, check out http://www.thathigh.com. Wonder if I should charge these sites for advertising…

 

Bird’s eye view

A young bird takes her first flight.
With every eye -span ,

she learns new things and grows bold.
Then she starts questioning the old….

Flying above I look down and see –
Grey buildings and brown land.
Every inch, an human errand.
The water shining black and blue
Smoke rings which block my view.

Massive dams that make river stop
Flying planes that come to me for talk
Mighty machine uprooting the tree
Opening up place for walking free.

A big drill to break open the earth
And pull out oil even from inside the crust.
Power weapons to tame elephants life
Ivory to jewel converting magic knife
Even the mighty whale cannot freely float
A magic machine can convert them to soap.

So much magic in the world below lies
New things I learn with each span of eye
But each eye-span chills my heart like ice
To realize that all my grandmother stories were lies —

“Blue water and green land” she told
“Elephant the mightiest animal” she behold
“River always flows to meet the sea” told she
“Only birds can reach the tallest tree.”

May be she never flew out of the nest,
May be she told all stories just in jest,
But when I return home to the flock
My grandmother I will delight with my talks.
I will tell her about the real World Rules
About man, machine and all the tools.
I know truth will give her delight
I know she will kiss me with pride.

But before I fly back home round
Why not eat the grains on the ground.
It is nice to chew these grains you bet,
But why are my feet tangled in a net?

The eighth color of the rainbow

Have you ever wondered what is colour?

As per physics colour is that band of light spectrum(the range of wavelengths) which the human eye can detect.

This band of spectrum is passed to the human brain which in turn ,        helps us to perceive color.

The human eye has three types of cones or colour receptors – Red, Green and Blue(Red , Blue and green are the three primary colours for us). These three types of cones can absorb wavelengths from 420 – 700 nanometres and help us detect about 100 different gradations of colours. The human brain combines these 100 gradations to enable the average human to distinguish about 1 million different colors

But what if our eye can be engineered to detect a wider range of spectrum? Imagine if our eye can have another type of cone to detect more primary colors? This special quality already exists in many animals and some humans, Read – Tetrachromat

Imagine how our new world would be like if we became a tetrachormat or pentachormat or something even beyond?

The rainbow would no longer be of seven colours. The world would be full of new colors and shades. How and with what words would you describe such a world? How would you describe and explain a colour you never saw before. Everything – living or object would look and feel different.

Imagine the impact on culture, art and literature. They would be redefined. All the famous painting of the world would now be fresh. Literature would be at a loss of words. The poetic expressions   – purple rain, green mile; red rose might turn out to be incorrect. The crow might no longer be black.  The grass might not be green now on any of the sides. Pink might no longer be the favourite colour of all the girls.

Imagine the impact technology and fashion. The best resolution monitors would suddenly feel pale. There would now be more shades to permute on the dresses – these new colors would rule the ramp and our minds.

Imagine the impact on our physic. We might initially find it difficult to even identify old and familiar things. We may develop new feelings. We would literally see our old world falling down in front of our eyes and new world takings its place. It would force us to revise the fundamental concept set in our brain. It will make us realize that our perception of things is just a model. There is no absolute truth –

“The sky is no longer blue; it just used to be;
The sky was never blue, we just used to see.”

Perhaps we need such a magical experience to crumble down the rigid walls which have trapped our free will. Perhaps we need such an experience to revitalize, the once considered most important trait of humans – ‘To question something and not believe in it blindly’.
Perhaps we need the eighth colour of the rainbow to appreciate the existing seven.