Category: Non-Alcoholic

#HOTGV Episode Seven: On coffee with James Hoffmann

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I spoke to James Hoffmann, founder and CEO of Square Mile Coffee.

James Hoffmann Square Mile Coffee

I met James at the London Coffee Festival earlier this year where I attended one of his tutored tasting sessions. As a coffee enthusiast, I was excited to learn about the terroir potential of coffee.

Keen to learn more, I headed to their roastery in East London for this podcast. There, over a fresh brew of filtered coffee, we talked about this stimulating drink.

roasters Square Mile Coffee

I think what surprised me was that even amidst all the coffee geekery, James was impressively level-headed about the business side of things.

Yes, there are many interesting things we could learn and do with coffee but no matter how much we are in pursuit of a fine product, at the end of the day, it is a commercial entity.

So join us now as we discuss this business of coffee.

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Photographs C/O James Hoffmann

#HOTGV: On fine teas with Jameel Lalani

It’s been a little over a month since the first episode of Heard on the Grape Vine went out and we’ve had great feedback – so thank you! If you’ve enjoyed the first episode, don’t forget to subscribe.

Amateur Wine » HOTGV Podcast

Oh yes, and we’re also up on iTunes now so you can subscribe there too —> #HOTGV on iTunes <—

On fine teas with Jameel Lalani

For this second episode, we’ve gone zero alcohol. I met with Jameel Lalani, the founder of Lalani & Co, specialists in single batch teas, to discuss the world of fine teas.


The first time we met was perhaps five years ago to talk about the Japanese green tea matcha, a topic which we revisit here. We also talk about the ageing ability of teas, food and tea matching and Lalani’s tea projects in Hawaii and east Africa. And some other fine tea related stuff.

Listen in here:

Some notes of thanks

If you’ve followed the saga of my podcasting mistakes, you might be interested to know that this is the first full episode made with the Roland R05. See my additional podcasting notes here.

Dalston Cola: The real, real thing

Pssst. That’s the sound of the small East London bottling plant where a fresh batch of Dalston Cola, a stripped down version of the eponymous soft drink, is being carbonated, ready for distribution in the neighbourhood’s independent cafés and bars.

Dalston Cola, photo by Anna Gudaniec

Dalston Cola, photo by Anna Gudaniec

Created by the people behind Treehouse Kitchen, Stephen Wilson and Duncan O’Brien, the drink was conceived just over a year ago for events at Passing Clouds arts club, and is fast becoming the mixer of choice for Dalston’s foodie scenesters.

It was while investigating the ingredients in Coca Cola, with its famously closely-guarded recipe, that Stephen discovered kola nuts, the original flavouring for cola. “The nuts were grown on trees indigenous to Africa, and played a large part in ritual behaviour. Drinks made from the nuts were originally medicinal, with many of the other spices in the drink having healing properties,” says Stephen. Surprisingly, by speaking to people at his local markets, he discovered that fresh kola nuts could be found right here in London. It was then that he decided to start making this soft drink, but with less sugar than you’d expect. When he added the nuts to apple concentrate and muscovado sugar for sweetness, organic ginger to add to the bite, a little vanilla, some lemon and orange zest, and some spices to create Dalston’s own secret formula, he realised he’d stumbled across something special.

Initially Dalston Cola, as it was soon christened, was only sold in syrup form. But after consulting Evin O’Riordain from Maltby Street’s The Kernal Brewery, Stephen and Duncan decided to start experimenting with bottling. By March 2012, Treehouse Kitchen was producing 250 bottles of the drink’s sparkling form a week, as well its Raw Fiyah Ginger Beer, which includes lots of fresh organic ginger, Fairtrade sugar, organic apple concentrate and a few herbs and spices that shall remain secret.

Both products can now be found on the shelves of Passing Clouds, The Russet in Hackney Downs, E5 Bakehouse, Tina We Salute You, The Vortex Jazz Bar and Betty’s. But these two ‘Davids’ against the Goliaths of the soft drinks world don’t want to fall into the trap of just being an edgy East London company. Treehouse Kitchen was started because the pair wanted to create a company which serves food that’s ‘good for people and the planet’; where they know where the ingredients come from, how they’re produced and what the labour conditions are like. So there’s a striking (red and white – of course) logo, but they’ve steered away from funny shaped bottles and the fashionable ‘ye olde England’-style labels and won’t be “scrawling any philosophical ramblings” on the product any time soon, says Duncan. Instead, they are concentrating their efforts on market research, including, of course, learning more about a certain global multi-billion dollar competitor.

(First seen in The Jellied Eel)

Is matcha the new superfood trend?

Lalani_-Co_organic_matcha-300x227I was recently invited to sample some matcha flavoured frozen yoghurt by the owners of Lalani & Co, a major importer of the Japanese green tea powder. It was introduced to me as the latest superfood trend to sweep the UK because it contains more antioxidants than regular green tea, is low in caffeine and also contains vitamins and minerals.

The truth is, I already knew about the frozen yoghurt and had seen matcha being sold at food festivals as far back as five years ago, and at specialist shops for even longer. But I wanted to learn more about the process of producing matcha from its importers: how it’s transformed from the tea leaves to the green powder form that it’s sold in and of course the traditional Japanese tea ceremony during which it is served.

Well, I learnt that the process is long and intricate with an output rate of just 30g of tea an hour. The high grade tea leaves are grown under the shade in order to concentrate the chlorophyll and amino acids in the leaves. The best leaves are then picked, de-veined and stone-milled between two granite slabs to produce the fine green powder. Because of the friction in the milling process, the production must be extremely slow in order to prevent the powder from burning.

matcha_cupcakes-224x300Traditionally, matcha is consumed as part of a long Japanese tea ceremony where hot water is whisked into the green tea powder using a bamboo brush. These days in the UK, it is readily available from specialist tea retailers in its powdered form for you to try at home. I was surprised to learn that my favourite coffee merchants, H.R. Higgins, have started stocking them too.

In fact, it’s widely available in drinks such as lattes and smoothies on the high street but is also often used to flavour iced desserts and chocolate. The likes of Modern Pantry and Bougie Macaron are using matcha in scones, meringues and macarons. It has even appeared as an ingredient on this year’s MasterChef.

While popularity of matcha has certainly grown considerably over the past few years, perhaps with the exception of drinks, its use has been primarily for flavour rather than its health benefits. But with matcha used as an ingredient in confectionery, the resulting product may not be healthy at all. In fact, any health benefits could be cancelled out altogether by other unhealthy ingredients.

So the question is, is matcha the new superfood trend or should we just recognise it as an “exotic new flavour”?

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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