Entries Tagged as 'Food and Drink'

Pinky Up: The Best Teas in Lawrence

3.31.2014

by Sylas May

Gaiwan

A mushroom-like lump of bacteria floats in a jar on the counter of Mana Bar, the newest tea shop in Lawrence, Kan. I’ve drunk the vinegary liquid it floats in, which tastes something like balsamic vinaigrette dressing, only sweeter.

It’s called kombucha, and it’s a popular kind of tea in parts of China, Russia and Japan. Produced by leaving a culture of probiotic bacteria in black tea to ferment, kombucha is dubbed a health food by many of its supporters, who claim it’s capable of improving digestive health.

Kombucha is one of many unconventional types of tea that Mana Bar stocks. You certainly won’t find bags of English Breakfast here.

“A lot of Americans, when they think of tea, they think of grocery-store tea and tea bags, and that’s just the lowest on the totem pole as far as tea quality goes,” said Derek Poskin, Mana Bar’s chief procurement officer. “A lot of our job is just re-educating people on what tea is.”

Apparently, it’s herbs, roots, leaves, and mushrooms. It’s hot, in multiple senses of the word — the Tea Association of America says the demand for specialty and exotic teas rises 10 to 15 percent each year.

I’ve been a tea drinker since childhood, but I’m still no expert, so I decided to find out what the best teas in town are from the people who sell them and drink them.

Mana Bar: Toasty Ti Guan Yin

At Mana Bar, the owner, Matthew Rader, says something familiar, like jasmine tea, might be the best place to start exploring high-end tea.

“Jasmine tea is probably something everyone has come across at some point,” Rader said. “But ours is just so above-the-bar that people just smell it and are like, ‘Okay, if it even tastes half as good as that, I want that.’”

For the more adventurous, Mana Bar carries teas that would baffle most tea novices, including teas that taste like coffee.

“We have a dark roast Ti Guan Yin that, when brewed properly, almost tastes as strong as coffee,” Poskin said. “But it’s a very mellow energy, as well.”

The Taiwanese Ti Guan Yin tea I took home to brew, while not as dark as coffee, had a similar aroma and went down smoothly. I didn’t really suffer the crash like that of coffee, either; the tea kept me going for a few hours without ever feeling lethargic or nauseous. Plus, watching the tightly rolled leaves unfold in the water was a great way to relax.

Brits: Smoky lapsang souchong

Many other places in Lawrence stock loose tea leaves to swirl around in the pot. One such store is British import shop Brits, where you can find common teas like Earl Grey alongside stranger varieties like Ntingwe Kwazulu. Owner Sally Helm says most of the teas sold in the shop are basic, but more people have started buying green teas, like the popular rose tea, instead of the more traditional black varieties.

Some of the teas Helm sells are well outside most people’s comfort zones — and a few are even too outlandish for her palate. One such tea is a Chinese black tea called lapsang souchong, which is smoked as it dries.

“The lapsang souchong, to me, it tastes like the bottom of an ashtray,” Helm said. “But it’s all a matter of taste.”

When I tried brewing it, the room smelled like a bonfire for about an hour after the tea had steeped. The tea itself was very strong and spicy, and it definitely woke me up. If you like your tea strong, lapsang souchong is a great way to get into exotic teas.

House of Cha: Iron Buddha

At the cozy House of Cha, employee Isaac Jambor recommends something called Iron Buddha. “It’s really caffeinated and really strong, especially if you let it steep for a long time,” he said.

As I swish it around my mouth, I can’t place its flavor; one minute, it’s fruity, the next, earthy. It’s always rich and smooth, though, and it doesn’t taste that strong to me at all.

He also suggests a powdered tea from Japan, called matcha, for tea-lovers on a budget. “It costs $8.00 per ounce, so it’s not as expensive as our other teas,” he said. “Plus, it has rice puffs in it.”

People don’t drink tea just for the taste; the health benefits are reason enough to drink it. Tea is rich in antioxidants and can reduce regular drinkers’ risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Tea Association of America.

Mana Bar’s Rader and Poskin can vouch for the beverage’s benefits, too, as they have seen regular customers visit the shop when they feel a cold coming on. The bestseller for these customers: naturally, the probiotic-rich kombucha.

“It is kind of the high road to dealing with sickness,” Poskin said. “Instead of antibiotics, you do probiotics.”

 

Want to broaden your horizons with some weird teas? Here’s the roundup of recommendations, along with where to find them and how much it’ll cost you.

Ti Guan Yin

Mana Bar, 1111 Massachusetts St.
Price: $5 per ounce

Lapsang souchong

Brits, 929 Massachusetts St.
Price: $7 for 4.5-ounce box

Iron Buddha

House of Cha, 21 W. Ninth St.
Price: $15 per ounce

 

Edited by Hannah Swank

Photo by Ryan Ott

From Concrete to Cold Coffee

11.17.2013

When walking into Alchemy Coffee on the corner of 19th and Massachusetts Street, there is the immediate smell of rich, exotic coffee in the small, intimate space. Along one wall there are two large, medieval looking devices that slowly cold brew coffee, and along the other is a counter where the magic happens.

Behind the counter is Ben Farmer, owner and self-proclaimed coffee aficionado, with a taste for specialty coffees that can’t be found anywhere else in Lawrence.

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“Basically I saw a niche that wasn’t being filled here in town,” Farmer said when asked why he opened the shop. “There was no one doing the kind of coffee we are doing. I thought the pour-overs we are doing is something that is very special and unique to Lawrence.”

Farmer, who grew up in the small town of Spring Hill, Kan., took a long and laborious path to finding a way to mix his passion of coffee and community with his livelihood.

Previously, he had spent years working concrete, tree-trimming and contracting jobs. Along with working, he dabbled in five different majors at both KU and Central Missouri State University.

“In the meantime, I started getting really into home brewing, doing my own pour-overs at home,” Farmer said. “It was a hobby at first.”

After spending time in Spain with his brother, he had a changed perspective on what he wanted to do and how he wanted to live. When he returned to the United States, he was searching for a European atmosphere, and Lawrence was the closet he could find to that in the Midwest.

When the opportunity to open a coffee shop presented itself, Farmer seized it with all the gusto and confidence he had gotten through his previous entrepreneur experiences.

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“I had always gone places and checked out coffee shops,” Farmer said. “It’s what I’ve always done. I’d think, oh God, if I had a coffee shop that’s what I’d do. And then finally, I came across the brew method.”

As Farmer makes a cup of coffee behind the counter, it looks like he is the midst of a science experiment mixed with an artistic flair. This isn’t your ordinary cup of Joe. This is a labor of love that is poured out in each and every individual cup.

“We pay grave attention to details,” he said.

This process of brewing is precise. Each time a customer orders a cup, the beans have been pre-measured in a streamlined process.

The customer’s chosen blend is then ground, placed in a fancy cup with a hole in the bottom and brewed slowly by hand. There is no baffled baristas here, only scientific precision and deft hands.

This brewing method happens to be the inspiration behind the name, Alchemy Coffee.

“I decided that I wanted to capture it all,” Farmer said. “There are a lot of numbers, all the temperatures, you know there is that science to it. But at the end of the day if you don’t have the touch, and aren’t paying attention, you’re going to mess it up. There is definitely that melding of art and science.”

Farmer’s most recent adventure leaves behind the hot steam usually associated with coffee, and instead infuses the rich beans with a slow drip of ice water. His new cold brew apparatuses are once again pushing Alchemy Coffee beyond the normal expectations for a corner coffee shop.

Served cold straight from a nitrogen-pressured keg, the coffee comes out smooth and creamy; with much more of caffeine kick than the average serving.

Next, Farmer plans to bottle the cold brew and sell it at other local businesses. Currently it is available at The Merch, and in the next few weeks it will be unveiled at The Burger Stand.

As far as the possibilities seem to go, however, Farmer is mostly concerned with keeping the business local and creating a community with everyone that wanders in.

“We aren’t here trying to be trendy or cool,” Farmer said. “We are trying to make the best product out there and also having fun doing it.”

Alchemy8– Erica Staab

Edited by Erika Reals

Photography by Emma Johnson

Apple Pie Moonshine

10.09.2013

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. The leaves change, there’s a crispness in the air, basics in line at Starbucks waiting for their pumpkin spice lattes; yes, fall truly is a magical time. What better way to celebrate these chilly equinoctial evenings than with some harvest-time hooch? May I humbly present to you apple pie moonshine – the Everclear-laced libation that will keep you warm as well as inebriated.

Don’t be scared by the Everclear aspect of this recipe. All of the sugars help make this beverage drinkable. Make sure you also allow the “apple pie” mix to cool to at least room temperature before adding the Everclear, this way you get the maximum buzz for your buck.

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon apple juice
  • 1/2 gallon apple cider
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 liter of Everclear

1.  Boil the apple juice, apple cider, sugar and cinnamon sticks in a large pot.

2.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

3.  Add 1/2 liter of Everclear to pot. Mix well.

4.  Serve warm or chilled.

 

-Recipe by Alec Weaver