Is it me or does nobody cares about “Tea”?

March 1, 2008

Being Chinese (and once British controlled Hong Kongnese), I love my tea. I love it pure, I love it mixed, but I can only have it one way and not the next.

I am a traditionalist when enjoying it pure. No tea balls or filter needed except nice pure tea, hot water and a porcelain cup or dedicated clay tea pot. But where can you buy real tea today. It seems everyone is selling it and no one appreciates it. I love “Eye On the Bay”, but when I saw how they served up Oolong as Kung-fu tea, it made me wonder who can I trust, even the tea shop was sacrilegious.

In pure Chinese teas there are different ways to enjoy different teas. You always heat up the containers that will contain the tea, so that the temperature change is minimal. You do not want to scald the tea, but the aroma is in the tea’s steam. Some teas require a rinse (i.e. Kung-fu teas) , while most is just a steep. When the tea is ready to drink the leaves automatically fall towards the bottom, so there is no real need for a tea ball or filter. Also depending on the tea, some are packed into the pot and they let it sit, and mix the concentrate with hot water to enjoy. In some parts of China nowadays, they do have tea bar in which they do let you sniff the emptied glass cylinder to check out the fragrance like sniffing the cork of fine wine.

To have expensive teas in Bay Area Dim sum places is just a waste (even though once upon a time I used to enjoy it at Koi Palace in Daly City) since the food items are so heavily spiced. Most hot Chinese teas, do help in digestion, especially if the food is greasy, which seems to be the case in most Chinese restaurant around the bay. Although you can drink pure teas plain, they can be paired. With some expensive teas like Golden Monkey Tea the flavor is light (but the finish is smooth), you can only pair it light flavored dishes (i.e. almond tofu?) to get the best out of it.

In areas in and around Hong Kong the milk tea is made with a blend of Western (anything to the west since Europe does not produce) teas. It is a copy of the teas the British drink (ironic the Chinese are copying something they probably drank first, which maybe a copy of the yak tea drank in Western China and introduced to Marco Polo). Most producers use two pot of boiling water and something close to a pantyhose. In Hong Kong the best milk tea is referred to silk pantyhose milk tea. Although most do not use a pantyhose today, it is rumored that it used to be made with a pantyhose as a filter, giving it a smooth finish. The tea blend is poured into the filter and dipped in the first pot a couple of times to rinse it. It is believed that the tannins of the tea gives it the sour bitter tastes and a rough texture finish. The goal is to rinse it enough to remove the tannins, but leave the maximum flavor. Sure some can hide this flaw with cream, but then you lose the intense flavor of the evaporated milk, some even use condensed milk (not original as well). I do not know why they prefer evaporated to fresh cream, but maybe the weather down there inhibited it. This is the drink that most SinoWestern dishes are served with, the other drink is the YinYang, which is half coffee and half milk tea.

The YinYang is simple yet complicated, because both flavors have to come through. So far I have not found a similar YinYang in the BayArea as in Hong Kong. I have tried to make it with good coffee such as Columbian or Sumantra, but the coffee over powers the flavor of the tea. Any suggestions?

Tapioca in everything was curious at first, but where is the value? Sure if the tapioca is done correctly it gives me some interesting texture and flavor, but it still can be dangerous or cumbersome at the end. I really do not see the novelty in it anymore. The adding of flavors, like adding flavor syrups to an latte is cute, but milk tea to me is still about flavor and texture finish.

What about Chai? Well I can not compare it with HK milk tea or Thai Iced Tea, because the specs are also different. Maybe because I am Chinese I prefer the Chinese pure and HK milk tea more.

As teas go I like them in the follow order:
1. Pure tea
2. HK milk tea
3. Taiwan milk tea
4. Chai
5. Thai milk tea

Top 3 Taiwan milk tea places:
1. Tea Station (on Cedar in Newark)
2. Tapioca Express (on Decoto in Union City)
3. Fantasia (on Cedar in Newark)

Top 5 milk tea places:
1. Venus Tams Cafe (on Jarvis in Newark)
2. Tea Station (on Cedar in Newark)
3. Cousin Cafe (on Cedar in Newark)
4. Tapioca Express (on Decoto in Union City)
5. Fantasia (on Cedar in Newark)

What’s your fav? How do you rank them?


Happy Cafe

February 27, 2008

Happy Cafe
723 Webster St
Oakland, CA 94620
(510) 986-0163

For those looking for American fair, this is not the place for you. This is what it is, a Hong Kong street style tea cafe. People that are from Hong Kong can sort of appreciate this place, but most will complain that there are no custard tarts (H.K. style) and or pineapple buns with butter. It is not for people used to American Diners or the likes of Denny’s, but their food is definitely on the cheap.

The closest competitors in this field around that area are the following:
D&A Cafe on 8th St.
ABC Bakery Cafe on 9th St.
St. Anna Cafe Shop on 8th St.

This is considered a fusion between true Hong Kong and British cuisine. You might see many dishes with a familiar Western name, but does not resemble it at service time. They are not trying to stiff you but, it was changed in Hong Kong. To truly enjoy this place you can try the Chinese items and compare them to the other Chinese places around the area or order the SinoWestern dishes but please compare them to those palaces only. Comparing SinoWestern dishes to Western Dishes is like comparing Bristish to German Dishes just because both chef has Blond hair and blue eyes (not meant to be racist).
To me this seems to be the best place so far. It does not seem to carry as much MSG as the dim-sum places around the area. The portion is pretty good for the price. And the service is pretty prompt considering the price.

If you decide to be adventurous and try places like these, I would recommend that you try the Chinese fair first, because I do want you to be turn away from their SinoWestern cuisine (you will never know what your missing). Once familiar give there specials a try they are what most of their usual customer gets, because it is really cheap.

There are a couple of things to look for in a Hong Kong Tea cafe:
1. Tea (Not Chinese tea, but the milk tea. It should be bold, not bitter, and smooth to the taste.
2. Happy Hour appetizer specials (It is not bar food but can be very filling at a low price)
3. The specials they have for breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (You will definitely get more for you buck. It is not overly filling but will hit the spot.)

So far this place ranks #1 for me in breakfast spots, because it is cheap, quick, and makes me happy.

Here is my top 5 for breakfast:
1. Happy Cafe (on Webster in Oakland)
2. The Country Way (on Mowry in Fremont)
3. Denny’s Restaurant (on Industrial Pkwy in Hayward)
4. Venus Tam Cafe (on Jarvis in Newark).
5. Baldie’s Cafe (on Decoto Rd. in Union City).

What is your take any reommendations?


All hail the coffee mutt!

February 26, 2008

I admit, I am a coffee mutt. I do not really know how to be a purebred, but does anyone really? A good cup of coffee to me has a blend of coffee, sugar, and cream (the real stuff), but sometimes it is just a blend of coffee and just condensed milk (sugar and milk in one), otherwise known as Cafe Sua Da.

I have tried pure bean coffees such as Sumatra Mandheling, Columbian, Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain (hard to find so far only found it a Peerless and Peets), and French Roast (I don’t know what is in it), but could not appreciate the single bean experience. Made coffee from drip (American (very boring and sometimes sour) and Vietnamese (depends on the blend, but can be bold and intense)), expresso (give a darker/bitter flavor) (Italian and South American), and vacuum/siphon (definitely smoother and less acidic) methods, but still liked making it with mix of beans more.

According to, I seem to gravitate to Bold, medium acidic coffees. In my experience the famed “Blue Mountain” coffee was so boring by itself, but in a blind tasting jumped out, so I blended it and could not find anything comparable to it.

Again I have to ask America’s Test Kitchen, how could Starbuck’s win the tasting? If so which blend should I go for, since they have many blends, and the blend ratios do change from time to time due to availability. I personally blend my own (40% Sumatra, 40% Columbian, 10% French, and 10% Kona) at the supermarket, I gravitate to Millstone or Java (the market brand). That way I can buy just as much as I need, since I don’t really get snowed in around the Bay Area.

I don’t hate Starbuck’s, since they are the ones that pulled me to the dark side. They however, do not really stack-up in terms of mutt coffee to other mutt coffee bars. Here are my picks:

1. Ikea (cheap bold and smooth coffee with a nice view in Palo Alto)
2. McDonalds (really cheap bold and smooth hot coffee for seniors)
3. Cafe Sua Da (really intense coffee that is cheaper than conventional coffee bars)
4. Seattle’s Best (Bold coffee not so smooth and not so cheap)
5. Peete’s (more flavor and the original print that Starbuck’s model after)
6. Starbuck’s (over roasted over priced and bland)

Currently I am attracted to Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee, how sacrilegious is that?
What do you think? And should ATK also include their own blends and instant coffee?


Sacrilegious “Soy” sauce.

February 26, 2008

It has bothered me for months, but what? Westerners reviewing soy sauce, then using them to cook Chinese stir-fry dishes.

Using one type of soy sauce to cook all Asian dishes is almost like saying all white people are British. Or using white vinegar as balsamic or champagne vinegar is alright. Well it is not.

Chinese and Japanese soy sauce are not the same. Japanese soy sauce is lighter and not as salty and Chinese soy sauce in general, that is why I don’t use Chinese soy sauce to eat sushi with. Chinese soy sauce has a slightly bolder and deep fermented soy flavor in it. I agree that cooking it too long in a stir fry can even bring out a sour flavor. But where is America’s Test Kitchen learning how to do Chinese stir fry from?

If they did their homework, they would know that there are different types as well as grades of Chinese soy sauce, not just Japanese types. My family keeps about two are more types of soy in the house and sometimes we comprise. Being Cantonese, we eat a lot of delicate flavored foods, such as steam fish (must use really fresh fish), steamed chicken, won tons, steamed meat dumplings, or soft tofu, in which we normally would lightly drizzle with a light Chinese soy sauce, but we might substitute it with a salty Japanese soy sauce. The saltier taste of the light Chinese soy sauce brings out the flavor of the meat or the sweetness of the soft tofu. In stir fry we use the dark, but not thick, prime to medium grade Chinese soy sauce, but not always. To appreciate the deep soy flavor from this type of soy sauce, you can taste it in (my opinion) two ways:

1 . drizzled over a super fresh hot bowl of steam rice along with cooked oil, with the optional luxurious raw egg in the middle.

2. cooked into stir fried noodles (i.e. fun or thin egg noodles made for stir frying not soup) (refer to the art of “Wok”), with optional yellow chives and/or bean sprouts.

These two are the most common type of Chinese soy sauce and has been infused with other flavors and used for cooking or dipping food in. The third most common is the super dark and thick soy sauce, which is commonly used in braising, but other ways as well.

In conclusion because something is called a vinegar or red wine, remember that they are not all the same. Just like not all white people are British or not all Asians are Chinese.

Sala Thai

February 26, 2008

Sala Thai #1
39170 State St
(between Beacon Ave & Capitol Ave)
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 792-0770

Sala Thai #2
44800 S Grimmer Blvd
(between Fremont Blvd & E Warren Ave)
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 445-0088

Maybe I should have went on a weekday but me and my friends decided on going to Sala Thai #1, since it has a pretty good ranking on and it has won best Thai in 2005. We had two curries, two bowls of rice, and one Pad See Eiw, but we did not share. The bill came up to be about $31 before tips, but that is normal for around here.

Since I had the Pad See Eiw, this is what formed my opinion of this restaurant. The service is better than “Banh Thai Restaurant”, but I still felt a little rushed. It seemed the waiter wanted me to order, finish, and get out quickly, because he kept prompting me to go to the next stage of dining before I was ready.

It is pretty hard for me to finish the Pad See Eiw, because I felt the chicken was a bit over cooked and dry. The dish was also lacking the flavor of the wok (me being Chinese), and was spice less. This is unusual for Thai, since they are know for their spicy flavor. I hope that is was an assumption more than the norm for them. Either way I am not fan so far, because I have had better elsewhere such as Tuk Tuk Thai in Berkeley. The portions were sufficient for an individual, but it seems to be half as much as I am used to from other Thai restaurants.

I can not say that this is a bad restaurant, but I believe there are better choices for me around this area.



Hello world!

February 26, 2008

Good for me, bad for you? Not really I am not really bitter that not a lot of Asian restaurants are reviewed or on the Michelin list, but I like to share my two cents (taste) on restaurants, places, and things.