On your Marks, Detox, Gooooooo

My colleague, Melvin, called me a traitor this week for drinking tea. I disagreed, it was a detox regime in preparation for the next wave of coffee tasting. I learnt this is necessary the hard way.  My internal cells just do not cooperate the way I want them to i.e., both Uma and her cells are like two separate entities requiring constant counselling on many lessons related to human existence.

Early this month, I finally made that trip to Kampar and Ipoh, the plan that Poh Lin had to dig out of the ancient archives.  This was not my first trip there though.  My father's job required him to move to various places in the country during my schooling years. This gave me the opportunity to experience each state's culture a tad more than just being a happy tourist.  Ipoh was one such place. This recent trip, however, was the first for just a cup of coffee. I booked myself on the earliest ETS train out on Saturday, Poh Lin joined me at her stop in Kampar. I have known Poh Lin for a while now, she once worked in Cyberjaya and was my travel companion on that schedule-less RapidKL bus to work. Up until recently, I had her listed as ‘Pauline from the train’ in my contact list. 

Look look, there it says Old Town White Coffee
Ipoh is the administrative capital of Perak, 200km north of Kuala Lumpur. In the late 19th century, Perak was regarded as one of the more economically wealthy states due to mining opportunities. This brought in many Chinese immigrants who brought along with them the famous ‘kopi’ from China. Today many of these local mines have been forced to close due to the collapse of the global tin industry. However, the presence of the local coffee remains strong.

We visited the famous Jalan Bandar Timah in the old town district.  I was overwhelmed to see a countless number of Hainanese styled coffee restaurants, each carrying its own brand of packaged coffees. We visited two of them. First Nam Chou who is also famous for its Curried Noodles. According to Poh Lin, Nam Chou serves good hot local coffee. So that’s what I had. I liked it, it’s an excellent wake-me-up coffee, stronger than the local coffees that I am used to in KL.

Dymanites come in small packages

The next was one of those life-saver coffees which are my antidote for stress. Many of us know this as the Old Town White Coffee. Nam Heong is where it all started. According to google search, Nam Heong has been in existence since 1958.  It was almost noon, and we were in an overcrowded restaurant on a sweltering day. Yet, we managed to share a table with a friendly family before moving to a smaller one for two. The cold ice-coffee was refreshing. I also found it strong, perhaps just as strong as Nam Chou's. My decision to have fried Char Koew Teow (the vegetarian version) was probably not a wise one. I did not feel like myself when the overdose of strong coffee and noodles kicked in. 

The beans used and the way the beans are roasted there contributes to the uniqueness of Ipoh coffee. Some add sugar and margarine to the roast to give it a distinct flavour. My close friend, a local Ipoh-an - Chong agreed to show me places where they roast these beans. That’s in Ipoh 2.0 and I am looking forward to it.

My grand plan of trying various coffees was short-lived due to natural body defences. After just two cups of local beverages, I surrendered to lime, ginger and barley juices to detox that day and had regularly been detoxing ever since. Again, listen to your body, it knows what’s best.

Get your Mississippi.

As Forrest Gump's momma said, ‘life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’ That’s true, you'd never really know. Take for example earlier this week, the barista at Starbucks decided that my colleague would be known as Peter for the day and I got to be his sister Petra.  That was a hilarious start and it sure made the day sunny.  In reality, we have many of those unknown chocolates.

Someones at my desk!

We are all sailors at some point, facing mixed weather conditions en route to the destination. While sunny days don’t erase away threatening waves, we welcome them because they bring some form of comfort and clarity. They give us that little push to cover a bit more distance. It’s nice to be that sunshine and to have some of that warmth around us. 

The sea had been calmer over the last two weeks, the sails finally out. Signed-off! Some would say its routine, but only those on board know the depth and dangers of that voyage. The next mission is to be on auto-cruise and then it would be finally accomplished.

Rivers are tightly knit to the seas, so allow me to introduce to you a coffee I am very fond of: the Mississippi. This is a freshly brewed German coffee from an in-house coffee machine, and when you have this in Germany, it fulfils the local coffee criteria. You cannot get any more original than with the Mississippi. I call this coffee so because that's the name of the building where the coffee machine is located. There are two machines doing a fantastic job, but for simplicity, I will just stick to one coffee name for both.

Oh Sweet Mississippi.
The Mississippi blend is available in a few preparations, namely cappuccino, latte and espresso. Its fragrant aroma is so inviting, especially in the early hours of the day that even anti-caffeine demonstrators would surrender willingly.  The coffee, however, is only available at the 3rd-floor Express building in Bonn. So, I am sorry demonstrators, it’s a tough call, no fee is going to get you one unless you join us. And there are always ways to get around. ;)

Though technically, the coffee can be served in any mug, its perfection is enhanced when served on the sunny-yellow cups belonging to the organisation. This is shown in the picture. Try a sip, it’s guaranteed to make cold days feel warm. You must have noticed, my premium coffee grading standards are pretty high, but the Mississippi has earned a perfect-7. This week’s coffee journal entry is for all the teams whom I worked with and the friends we made across the globe. We made friends in Malaysia, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands and the US en route to GECO.  When we meet, I will buy you a similar coffee, scouts honour!

To the bubbly barista at Starbucks who served us that morning, the Aiman-like baristas and coffee machines around the world, thank you for being that sunshine, keep doing what you do. Through these cups of coffees, you cheer us up, making our days a little easier to get by....and for me to count those stars.

Seriously, it was caramel, wasn't it?

The first night in Singapore city and at the Star Performing Arts Centre, hopping on and off buses and uber-rides made us feel like serious tourists on a fast-paced sight-seeing mission. By the time we finally dozed off that night, it was almost after three. Yaay, we almost reached the record that we had set in Lang Tengah Island a couple years earlier.

The second day promised us nothing less. With hungry tummies and caffeine deprived pulses we headed to Penang Road in the Orchard district to Devil’s next recommendation. It was a charming boutique cafe. On the way, we received a text message from Muthu, an old friend who is also working in Singapore now. He was supposed to have joined us for coffee but couldn’t make it that morning due to a personal matter. We were disappointed, the three of us were office colleagues many moons ago. But the dentist is not someone a little girl, Muthu’s daughter, would want to visit if she had a choice.

Cafe's Signature Kopi
At the cafe, after a brief parking-lot syndrome and a five-minute intense discussion, we agreed to be seated indoors. Devil was not too pleased, but I got the guest-privilege to decide this round.

This place, which I choose not to name, is well respected for its food and for its signature coffee. Or for its Kopi rather. It is a smooth, silky textured espresso with creamer. The flavour had a hint of caramel or fruit, perhaps even a honey extract. I asked the store manager to reconfirm my observation; her reply was not convincing. Nothing is added besides the espresso, she said. So, I decided to go with my taste bud’s observation. If you are into flat-white styled coffee, this is something worth trying mainly for its twist. The price is upper middle range. Its customers were primarily from the Singapore expat group, with a few visitors like Devil and me & a couple of locals. The ambience and the presentation were perfect. Its location hidden but not too difficult to find within the city, making it ideal for a cosy cup of coffee. I learnt there are a couple more of its branches across the island.

Devil spent a good amount of time organising this fun-packed 24-hour trip for me. Being the warm and perfectionist person, she is, I suggested she takes up coach-surfing. She raised an eye-brow giving me ‘an I’ll-think-about-it look.’ I see a good freelancer in the making.

Our parting coffee at Novena Square was a simple old-timer on the block, the Americano, not so local, but it served its purpose. If Americano is calling, there is hope for Delphi. Sweet, that was a nice weekend!

One for the road.

And who is this Pianist again?

I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend with a close friend, Lil Devil and to attend a piano recital by Yiruma, in Singapore. Here, we also took the time to catch up on stories over some very serious coffee tasting sessions.

It has been years since I touched the white and black keys and my knowledge is stuck mostly at those few classics I repeatedly played to pass my music exams. Desperate to make up for not being up-to-date (both music & on personal updates), I agreed to go to a contemporary performance. We were indeed mesmerised hearing and watching Yiruma for two hours as he glided effortlessly across those octaves. Here's a secret, as much as I love music, I can’t sing to save my life. If I did sing, I’d be handing Simon Cowell the platter he would so enjoy! I am what you call tone-deaf. These are extraordinary people, with other unique and humbling talents, but singing to pitch is not one of them. Someday, if you want to know more, I will tell you over a drink.

The trip to Singapore is a pleasant six-hour bus ride or a 45+ / -minutes flight to Singapore. Options are plenty, depending on your preference. Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaya from 1946 to 1963. To many of us from this region, Malaysia and Singapore are still geographical relatives separated by politics. Singapore is one of the leading economies in this region  and offers an array of opportunities. For me, it’s the music!

Devil promised me good Singapore local coffee at Ya Kun, in Paragon.  The queues here were long and all seats at Ya kun were taken. Many customers were standing behind those seated to reserve their seats next. According to my mate, this is common, and she tells me to be thick-skinned and to do the same. It’s a survival game, she reminded me.  Devil is blog-and-camera-shy, but if you look closely at the picture, you will notice she is not hand-shy. She recommended the steamed bread and milk coffee. I ordered a set each thinking it would be more economical for us given the high currency exchange rate but, ended up with uneaten half boiled eggs.  That was not too economical after all. The coffee, on the other hand,  was hot, not too strong, and just perfect after the long and wet bus journey. I hadn’t had breakfast nor lunch, and if not for my next early dinner appointment, I would have stocked myself up with more steamed peanut butter and kaya bread.

I noticed Ya Kun also served this coffee in a few variations. Classic styled, black or interestingly white with butter. The prices are affordable by the average working-class standards, starting from as low as SGD1.80 for a basic hot coffee. Personally, I don’t like being rushed to finish my cup due to the crowd. Yet I do understand this is not really like those uppity cafes which I rarely visit.

Devil was right, the coffee here is a good deal, and I am glad she had this franchise as the first on the list.

More on another coffee in Singapore next week. Till then here’s to another great week friends!