World’s most expensive coffee

You might look at cat poo in a different light after tasting what is undeniably the most expensive cuppa joe in the world! You have probably heard of it and this weekend, I and some friends, got to try it at Taipei’s Tea, Coffee, and Wine Expo. While most coffee dealers were doling out their wares for free, the folks who create Kopi Luwak typically charge 680NT (nearly 20USD) for a thimble-sized taste. Luckily, for this event, it only cost us 100NT, or about half the cost of the tallest Starbucks offering.

This unusual java originates on the island of Java and Sumatra (Indonesia), home to a civit-like animal: the luwak, whose favorite meal is ripe red coffee “cherries”. Down the hatch they go, and of course you know where they end up. After being collected and sanitized, they are roasted and ground, to be enjoyed by coffee connoisseurs.

A caffeinated afternoon!

A caffeinated afternoon!

Was it worth the price? Yes – if only to say we’d tried it. Would I pay 100USD for 200grams of the stuff? Uh…no.

 

A hidden gem of a teahouse

A friend of mine just opened a teahouse, THÉ Beauté , (French for beautiful tea) and invited me to come check it out. He describes it as a “not traditional Taiwanese style,  more like a modern afternoon tea house”. Hmmmm, not sure what that means so I’ll just have to find out for myself…
If you think you know tea, you haven’t met Victor Yang! After a successful career in the high tech arena, he decided to make a change and has spent the past 5 years becoming a tea guru. Recently he opened a lovely shop, creating a tea experience where each little detail has been thoughtfully considered. His shop is sleek and elegant, every item custom-made: from the gorgeous menus, to the porcelain tea cups and hourglass timers for perfect tea temperature, to the tables and chairs covered in tea-colored velvet (what else?). What I love most about THÉ Beauté  is the education that comes with each cup of the world’s rarest tea. My favorite selection so far is called “Moonlight”. Picked only at night on a Sri Lankan mountain top, during a full moon in Spring, this brew smells as wonderful as it tastes! And there are only 5 venues in the world with access to these amazing leaves! If you’re hungry, try some of the locally-made tempting treats. (The fruit cubes are simply a little piece of sugared heaven!) A visit to THÉ Beauté promises not only a relaxing environment, but also tidbits of information about teas you may never have known existed. Enjoy!
The closest Metro station is brown line (文湖線) at Dazhi (大直) station, exit no.3. For detailed information (in Mandarin) see http://www.kireikan.com.tw/ .

Qigong Center

Each month, I select one of the places I’ve visited in Taipei to “recommend” to the readers of Centered on Taipei magazine. This month, one of my co-workers introduced me to a delightful vegetarian restaurant; we had such a positive experience, I wrote this:

 

As much as I love Taiwan, I still sometimes get a bit overwhelmed by Taipei’s fast pace (okay, that’s mainly the taxi drivers), the constant barrage of sights and sounds, and the enormous variety of everything, available 24/7! Wouldn’t it be lovely to find a peaceful environs, just off the beaten path, where you can have a wonderfully delicious meal, served in zen-like surroundings, soft music playing? And after your meal, you could wander through a modern gallery, perusing museum quality works of art, or browse a selection of colorful east-meets-west clothing? If a thoughtful, peaceful haven is what you seek, then I highly recommend the Meimen “Life Cultivation” Center. The staff at this haven are welcoming and friendly. The food at the restaurant is prepared according to the Chinese philosophy of Five Colors, Five Tastes, and Five Elements. The Qigong area offers both physical and spiritual rejuvenation. Interested in flower arranging, calligraphy, or attending a special tea ceremony? Needing a one-of-a-kind handcrafted wooden tea caddy? You’ll find all that here, and more. Enter with an open heart and leave with a lighter spirit. Meimen Culture Center, 42 Lishui Street (just off of Heping, near Shida), Taipei 106 +886 0223 216 677 www.meimen.org

 

Writer’s holiday party

My work team celebrated this holiday season with a White Elephant gift exchange and dinner at a local “hot pot” restaurant.  I must say I was originally not too excited, thinking “oh great, an a;;-you-can-eat all-meat restaurant with no veggie options”. I could not have been more wrong! The 10 of us sat around a large table with “hot pots” (large vessels set over a gas burner) and selected which liquid to cook our dinner in. We vegetarians shared half a hot pot filled with some tomoto-based liquid and heaped our plates with all manner of non-meat options. In truth, I recognized very little of the plentiful veggie options but that didn’t stop me from trying as many of them as possible.When the liquid was gently bubbling, we used chopsticks to carefully drop items into the “hot pot” and waited for them to cook. (Of course, while we were waiting for the liquid to heat up, we helped ourselves to the dessert bar – my boss actually had 3 HUGE bowls of Haagen Daz!) After the items were cooked, the idea is to place them into a bowl to cool off and then dip them into a smaller bowl filled with whatever custom-made sauce you’ve prepared. Needless to say, I’m now a “hot pot” convert!

Hot Pot extravaganza

Morocco in Taipei?

As one of my co-workers and I walked home on Friday  after work we took a wrong turn trying to avoid the traffic headed towards Keelung, and, as often happens, it turned out to be a serendipitous detour. We had intended to eat dinner at Swenson’s (I can’t tell you anything about it because we never made it there). Instead, we saw a brightly lit store front with exotic lettering: Tajin, Moroccan Cuisine. It looked intriguing (and for some reason I thought it might be something close to mediterranean food) so with visions of lentil soup and tabbouleh, we went in. The walls are painted bright white with niches holding colorful Morrocan cookware: tiny jewel-colored glasses encased in silver with ornate silver lids, and ornate traditional tagines (or tajin).

Moroccan Tea Glasses

who wouldn't love a meal made in one of these?

There were only two other groups of diners so we had our choice of tables. I was surprised when the ladies bringing us water and menus didn’t look Taiwanese!

The menu looks appealing although there were only a few vegetarian options – and all had onion or garlic listed as an ingredient (not good options for me). After the waitress went to ask for the chef’s recommendation, he came out and I explained my dietary needs. He graciously offered to leave the onion out of the veggie tagine and suggested an eggplant appetizer.

who knew eggplant could taste this good?

Both were simple dishes, served with fluffy pita-like (not sure if that is really pita) bread, warm out of the oven.

Pita and Veggie Tagine

The Moroccan mint tea and almond rice pudding were unusual and delicious.

A colorful ending to a delicious meal

On the way out, the chef was outside, chatting with some Frenchmen and I asked if he’d consider adding hummus or baklava to his menu and he said “This is a north African cuisine, not Mediterranean.” – oops! Despite my geographical culinary gaffe, this is definitely a place I’ll visit again!

Hilarious food descriptions

You’ll love this! When you shop the 7-11 or Wellcome or any of the local food stores, you’ll find English translations printed under the tradition Chinese characters on some packages. For instance, here’s a cream wafer that is deemed “evolutional” by the manufacturer. Hmmm, what does that mean, I wonder. Is it the next generation of cookie? If you eat it when you’re pregnant will your children be farther along the evolutionary chain than they might have been had you not eaten it? I have no idea! I did ask a native Chinese speaker to interpret the characters and she came up with “super creamy”. Ok, I buy that. And they were delicious…

say what?

The hills of Taichung, part 2

First stop, though, is a side trip to visit my host’s parents house in Yingge where I’m excited to have the opportunity to see some of her father’s art work. He creates pottery with unusual finishes and glazes; not the stuff you see in many shops in town.

Next up, DINNER! We stop at just outside Taichung  at a *barbeque* place owned by my host’s cousins. I typically avoid these places since they mostly serve meat but I was pleasantly surprised. I had “dou fu” (tofu), tofu skin, and green beans on a stick; hao chi (how-cher). Good eating. Bu hao (not bad)!

kebabs, Taiwan-style

After spending the night on the outskirts of Taichung, we went up the winding mountain road to my host’s Grandparents’ home. The whole family turned out and we spent a day of eating (very popular pasttime here!), playing card games, drinking tea prepared on an outdoor stove, and talking about the family history. My host is 7th generation Taiwanese; her grandparents, 5th. “Grandpa”, and his ancestors were all farmers who had come over from China. Behind their home you could see fruit orchards built up on the steep hills. They served up persimmons, guava, and the largest asian pears I’ve ever seen (literally 8 inches in diameter) from their orchard. What a treat! We heard how the matriarch and patriarch had met: he came to work in the orchard and would spend the night in the family home.

All around the porch, were dozens of bonsai trees, carefully pruned and lovingly tended. “Grandpa” told us that one of the trees was more than 200 years old and had been taken from the ground of the orchard. Amazing! This lovely family truly exemplifies the warm hospitality of the Taiwanese people.

there is beauty all around

When we left, on the way down the mountain, an older well-dressed lady on the side of the road, flagged us down. We pulled over and from the conversation I gathered that she needed a ride into town. So, of course, we obliged! (Where else but here would this be advisable or even possible?) She kept smiling and patting my hand , apparently happy not to have to wait for the bus in the rain.

On the way back to Taoyuan (where I would catch the train to Taipei) we stopped at a rest stop. And by that I mean, a party on the side of the road! The place was HUGE and the atmosphere was like a giant amusement park….to me, the most amusing thing of all was the MUSIC (ok, asian musak) playing in the restroom! I’m calling it “music to pee by”! I guess that makes up for the lack of TP!! LOL

Mela adventure, part 2

I stand in the front area of the Mela store. I’m obviously the only white person and I’m sure I look like I wandered in off the street. I’m here because I I’ve run out of some of my favorite health supplements and need some cleaning products too. I found out that Melaleuca has an Asian branch so I’m here to purchase what I need, only I have no idea how the Taiwan system works! A nice young lady fluent in English asks if I need some help and proceeds to help me shop!  Many products are familiar to me but there are some clearly designed for an Asian market: drinkable collagen, skin care products with “whiteness” in the name, and RICE! for purchasing a certain amount I get a “free” gift – some sort of hibachi. (I’m exactly sure what it is because the entire box is in Chinese.) I get a lot of curious looks but I’m used to it by now. I smile and nod when I catch someone looking. The taxi ride back takes less than 15 minutes and costs 140NT (< 5.00 US). Next time I’ll try taking the train…

After cooling off at the apartment I head to Wellcome for groceries. More curious looks or people turning their necks to see where the tall white girl is going. In the store, so many interesting products, so many labels I can’t read! I end up spending about 28US for a cornucopia of organic goodies (Danish butter!! Bisquik! Longan honey! Coconut “just add hot water” powder!). Check it out:

Wellcome groceries

NHI and newcomers

I got my NHI card today – that’s National Health Insurance for you out in blogland. This means that for around 1500NT (50 USD) per month, I’m able to go any doctor or dentist (Western or Chinese style) accepting this insurance  for a 4.00US co-pay! Wow! Guess I’d better get going on the dental work I’ve put off for years (thanks to Melaleuca for keeping my teeth and gums healthy in the meantime). Interestingly enough, they include your birth date YEAR as a number representing how many years Taiwan had been a nation at the time of your birth (mine = 46).

We welcomed a new team member today with a welcome lunch at a lovely vegetarian restaurant: King Join.

King Join Restaurant

The meal was 4 courses served by white-gloved wait staff onto a lazy susan in the middle of the table. You are going to love this: dessert was also 4 courses, with the final one being hawthorne berry gelee, complete with an actual hawthorne blossom,  served over a bed of dry ice. What an unusual effect – and I don’t usually eat anything  jello-y.

Hawthorne Gelee

Wellcome shopping extravaganza

Grocery shopping takes on a whole new meaning when you have a fridge the size of a single file drawer , very little storage space, and it’s hotter than Hades outside so walking any distance is not an option. It’s amazing, though, how much you can fit into one shopping bag and how much you can buy here for 370NT ( 12.00 USD)!

3 heads of romaine lettuce
3 Tomatoes
3 Cucumbers
6 lemons (that are probably limes)
Big slice of melon (won’t know what kind it is until I bite into it!)
6 brown eggs
4 cups of cherry non-fat yogurt
package of pineapple cookies
6 slices of wheat bread

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…