Wineweek 137: Hong Kong Highlights

June in Hong Kong is hot and humid: +35 degrees Celsius and a continuous pressure of rain in the air. It was not unbearable. Actually, if you are from Sweden (or Finland) you should not complain about warm weather. Its not allowed. However,  regardless of warm weather being welcome, we sought refuge in air conditioned malls, underground tube tunnels and in restaurants and bars of course. That is what we came for: food and beverages. Hong Kong is truly a great place for eating. Continue reading “Wineweek 137: Hong Kong Highlights”

Wine in Transit

Being here in Asia, I have started thinking again about how wine is stored. Or better said stored while in transit We have many times shaken our heads when seeing wine and beer being mishandled by letting it stand outside of bars and restaurants. The temperature here is almost always above 25C degrees. Most Asian countries are not traditionally wine cultures, so I get it that many do not know how to handle wine. However, should I order wine at all here in restaurants as the risk is quite high that it has not been transported that gently? Is it really that dangerous if a wine stands outside for 30 minutes to an hour? What kind of temperatures can wine take and for how long without being affected? As I could not answer these questions I took some time to read up.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am now ignoring wines requiring long term storage. This post will focus on wines exposure to heat/freezing during a transit process from winery to restaurant.

Exposure to Freezing

Wine is mostly water, but the alcohol in it lowers the freezing point. So depending on how much or how little alcohol percentage is in the wine bottle, the freezing point of the wine is probably around -9C. When wine freezes it expands pushing the cork up. This allows more oxygen to get into the bottle, and we all knows what that results to. yuk.

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Chilled in the glass, but how did it get here?

Exposure to Heat

Exposure to heat is believed to cause adverse chemical reactions in the wine that may lead to a variety of wine faults.  The wine may be spoiled or become “cooked” and develop off-flavors that taste raisiny or stewed.

At a glance, there is a limited amount study around this topic. It is a general belief that wine and heat don’t mix. However, some studies show that when the exposure is only for a short term, the wine remains unchanged. For example, a study done at the University of California shows that wine can tolerate temperatures up to 49C for a few hours without being damaged. I hope they are right. Another study done by Butzke and Chacón-Rodríguez (2012) concludes that heat exposure during transit (variation from -13C to 44C) significantly increased the effective bottle age and wine shelf life. The wines age jumped forward om average by 18 months. It’s not certain (nor probable) that the “ageing” due to increased heat exposure would be the same as if that wine were aged for a comparable amount of time at a more traditional storage temperature. It is likely that at least the subtle differences attributable to terroir would be lost.

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Hot and humid all day long

A Boston based company, eProvenance also conducted a study by monitoring over 5,000 actual wine shipments around the world. Its data shows that about 15 percent of shipments are exposed to extreme heat of 30°C. The study concluded  that wine exposed to temperatures over 26C for more than 36 hours showed permanent change to the wines chemical structure. If temperatures increased to 30C, the damage was permanent already after 18 hours.  In this study, shipments to China demonstrate the highest amount of exposure to heat, with 47 percent of shipments breaching 30C. On the route from France to China, a heartbreaking 90 percent touched that level.

Conclusions

After reading up I think I can conclude that extreme cold and heat will have an effect and that many shipments to this part f the world are affected somehow. It seems like there is a good chance that wine will be fine standing a few hours in the heat, however it is more the total transit process one should be worried about. Perhaps winter conditions would be at least slightly more beneficial as opposed to the summer, and perhaps Australian wine would also survive better to this part of the world as they have a significantly shorter transit.  But who knows.

I am not sure why the results by eProvenance are so poor. It is not like there is no possibility for a cold chain. I have worked in the pharmaceutical industry where companies spend enormous amounts of money on a guaranteed transport temperature of 2-8C. They use special containers (Unicoolers and Envirotainers) and temperature monitoring to follow that the required conditions are met. However, this is not a cheap service. I can believe that many wineries cannot afford that.

There are some cheaper and more reasonable options though, like frigo containers. The electricity powered cool-container is transported door to door, and adds only about 10% on the total transport price. This is similar to the transport we use for our wines when it is hot. Although we avoid shipping anything during the hot summer months anyway. A frigo container can also be used for sea freight.

So where is the problem then? Poor transport handling or cheap wineries/importers. Wherever the blame, it is a shame that it is usually the customer who suffers the most.

xx Soile

Sources:

Butzke, C.E., Vogt, E.E., and Chacón-Rodríguez, L. 2012. Effects of heat exposure on wine quality during transport and storage. Journal of Wine Research 23(1): 15-25.

K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 79-82 Workman Publishing 2001 ISBN 1-56305-434-5

 

 

Sumerian coffee, popular expat cafe in Shanghai with decent coffee

Normally there is a Coffee Monday post but due to a bit summer slacking this ended up being a Coffee Tuesday post. Among the more popular coffee places in Shanghai, is also the usually packed Sumerian coffee. It does not look like much from the outside but the crowd makes one interested to see what it is all about. Somehow it is still usually possible to find a seat, especially along the counter at the windows. There a few coffees to select from as hand brews, either cold or hot as well as espresso based beverages. The coffees are roasted by themselves but it is fairly dark and not dosed properly. It comes out way too dark and the flavors are rather muddled and not very clear. The cappuccino was decent, clearly drinkable, but nothing special. The quality of the coffee sort of falls into the category of being better than a regular cafe but not at all good enough to be a specialist coffee place.

   
 The service was neither friendly nor unfriendly but rather stressed and not really interested in chatting, perhaps due to the number of people there. The tables are placed really close to each other so also very difficult to move around inside as the place is not really inviting to sit for a long time. Three is still free wifi so that is of course a plus. The ambiance is however still not inviting, somehow the feeling of the place was not friendly and all visits there have been loud expats there so not really the atmosphere I am looking for.

   
 The food seems to be a big draw here, a lot of wraps and sandwiches to select from as well as smoothies and salads. Not very local fare, rather more the type of stuff one would find in an average Western cafe. There are better options in the same area (I would hold Seesaw, Cafe del Volcan and Paloma Cafe higher) so will not frequent this place but if in the area I know thatthe coffee is drinkable.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 2
Ambiance and service: 2
Food: 3.5
Vs local competition: 3.5

Cafe del Volcan: Still going strong on Shanghai’s specialty coffee scene

Among the first on the specialty coffee scene in Shanghai were Cafe del Volcan. They are still going strong and while the cafe is tiny they have a large business selling the roasted beans to other cafes and businesses. The cafe has only a few seats indoors and two tables outside so in total it can seat around 10 people. There is a large selection of different coffee beans to choose from and there is a choice of having it either hot or cold. Of course there is also the option of espresso based beverages.

The coffee quality here is in general high but not reaching the top international quality level. As in most places I have tried in Shanghai the roast is slightly to dark and while the quality is good they are still clearly not among the top ones in the world (in my world I am then talking of the likes of Heart, Tim Wendelboe, Roots and perhaps JB) but still doing an admirable job. The Kenyan filter was excellent, especially iced but the Guatemalan and Ethiopian ones were good but not top notch. What I found very interesting was that they seem very adapt at making the coffee taste great with the beans they have. I did buy some beans with me and I did not come anywhere near producing the same results as they did – when I made it at home it was not good at all. It may of course have something to do with my skills but in general I am fairly good at making coffee and I tried it as Aeropress, Chemex, V60, Gold Filter, Clever and on a regular Mocca Master and while it came out decent with some methods it was still not as good as the cup I had at the cafe. So the staff are perhaps better than the quality of the beans.


Food is non existent but there are a few cookies on sale but for those hungry this is not the place. The service was as I have almost come to expect in Shanghai specialty coffee places excellent and very friendly. They made sure we got proper information on the coffees, were happy to chat and also made sure that we knew that they were cleaning the espresso machine on arrival so it would 5-10 minutes before they could make espresso based beverages. They also offer free wifi but since the place is small it is not inviting to stay for too long.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 1
Vs local competition: 5

At the Shanghai Night Market

It has been a fussy month. I have not had time to post as much as I would like to. However, that is the way it is sometimes. Family and work (the actual paying one) come first and fun (blogging) later. So this post about our wonderful street food tour comes with a bit of a lag. Looking back at all of the pictures it feels like yesterday.

When visiting Shanghai in the beginning of this month, we had booked just one tour: a food tour of course, through the night markets of Shanghai. Even though I have visited Shanghai many times, street food has never been on the agenda, so we turned to a company called UnTour for acting as our guide. They have received excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, and I must say I am not surprised at all why. We met up with our guide, Mitch, and 15 other foodies in the early hours of the evening (18:00). We had been told to wear comfortable shoes (as the term “wet market” does not refer to drinking) and casual clothes; and of course to arrive hungry. And hungry we were.

The buzz at Shouning Road
The buzz at Shouning Road
Crayfish staring back at me
Crayfish staring back at me
Delicious coconut dessert
Delicious coconut dessert

We started of at Shouning Lu (road), a street full of food stands mainly focused on Chinese barbecue skewers and local seafood (a lot of lobster). They call it lobster, we in Sweden would call it crayfish. We looked around a bit while our guide went around ordering different foods and then we made our way to an upstairs restaurant for having our meal in peace. A large plastic sheet was placed on the table and we were handed rubber gloves. I presumed this was going to be messy (good that I wore those casual clothes), and messy it was. We snacked on cooked lobster and around eight different meat and vegetable barbecue skewers (kebabs). They all had the same spice mix and were absolutely delicious. We also had some oven cooked eggplant with bread and lot of garlic. That was perhaps my favorite dish of the evening. For dessert we tasted Chinese puddings. Everyone tried about five or six different ones with flavors like mango, coconut, pineapple, tofu and tarragon. Some of them were not to my taste (like the bean curd), but especially the ones with wonderful sweet mango were fabulous.

We continued our journey through the streets of Shanghai towards another food market located next to Yu Garden stopping only briefly to sample some fresh lychee and hand-pulled noodles from North-China. We were also introduced to Jianping, a delicious local pastry with pepper and sesame filling. It was both sweet and salty at the same time and so absolutely mouthwatering that we went back to Shouning Lu the next day and bought three boxes to take home.

Jianping pastry with pepper and sesame filling
Jianping pastry with pepper and sesame filling
Not sure what this is but it looks delicious
Not sure what this is but it looks delicious
Tsingtao Beer with Chinese food is a perfect combination
Tsingtao Beer with Chinese food is a perfect combination

For the final leg, we tried out some more noodle and rice dishes, pizza-like local snacks and barbecued duck-neck. All the dishes were naturally served with Tsingtao beer. With its fresh taste and low alcohol content It is the best partner for Chinese street food.

All in all it was an amazing tour. It was a shame that we did not have any more spare time as UnTour also organizes breakfast and dumpling tours. The guides speak both good English and Chinese (they are mostly westerners who live and study in Shanghai) and it was wonderful chatting with them about how it is to actually live in the city. I used to dream about an expat job in China you know. It is the place where a lot of the action is these days. Shanghai in general is a wonderful food destination. You can sample Chinese food from all the different provinces in China. It is as different as sampling all the different European cuisines. So if in Shanghai, don’t be shy to try out as many as you have time for. An organized tour is a good place to start.

Paloma Café, Shanghai – great newcomer on the specialty coffee scene

Barely visible from the street level I still managed to stumble across Paloma cafe when walking around Shanghai. There is a small sign about coffee outside and for some reason I felt inclined to have a closer look and saw that they had some quality coffee gear so I just had to try it. The friendly staff informed they had been open a bit more than a month so these are the new kids on the block. They are really friendly and super-enthusiastic about coffee and the cafe. The space is really nice and open. There are just a few tables in a large bright room with white brick walls and beautifully restored wooden details around the windows and stairs. Free wifi that worked pretty decently and pleasant atmosphere makes this a place to lounge for a long time.

They have 5 to 6 different beans to choose from, either hot or cold as well as espresso based beverages. All the coffee sampled was good, especially the Ethiopian came out really nicely. The coffee is presented very nicely, a cup of coffee, a small cup with cold coffee (on ice) as well as some of the ground beans. Really nice way of showing the coffee and how it differs if hot or cold and the scent when ground. The coffee is perhaps not yet top notch but I would keep my eyes on this place as they are doing a lot of things right.

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As in many cafes the food selection is limited to pastries, so while these are delicious (just saying Earl Grey Cheesecake) eating is better done elsewhere.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 4.5
Food: 2
Vs local competition: 5

Coffee Bar Review: Cafe Dan, Shanghai

It is Monday again and time for a coffee related post here on the winecurious. I am however also introducing some news: having realized that we have so much coffee related things to post on we are also launching a seperate blog for that so head to the The Coffee Curious to see what is going there. The coffee Monday posts will appear on both blogs but in addition there will be a lot of other coffee stuff on the Coffee Curious.

In the Tianzifang market complex that is a huge mess of different touristy shops selling various levels of useless gadgets, art, design stuff and other stuff there are also some restaurants and cafes. Most if not all are severely overpriced but we still decided to try Cafe Dan as they brand themselves as a specialty coffee bar, wine bar, restaurant and coffee roasting institute.

They do indeed have a large coffee selection, I counted more than 15 different beans to select from. All severely overpriced (a cup coming in at least at 70 yuan, approximately €11-12) but since we were there we still decided to go for some. We opted for some of the lighter roasts, the Kenyan and and Malawi Geisha coffee. Both came in very dark and clearly dosed in a way that no serious coffee place would make coffee. There were hints of nice flavors there but the coffee was so much to dark that it was not really that great. It still beats most of the coffee to be had in Shanghai but it has very little to do with specialty coffee. I am not sure how they roast their coffee here but I do think that there is some development potential. That said it was still drinkable and better than most regular places for coffee but at the price charged here it should be amazing to even consider coming back,

The food is however much better, it is more of a restaurant actually. The food is both decent value and good so would perhaps return for that instead of the coffee. Service was friendly, albeit a bit lacking in speed and English. That was perhaps not a big issue as the menu was still easy to understand and use (it was provided on an ipad). Free wifi was available and the place was rather nice to sit around in, spread over three floors and with a small outdoor terrace this place is a place that it would be possible to spend some time in.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 1.5
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 4
Vs local competition: 3

On Top of the World at Roosevelt House, Shanghai

After a week of recovering from our trip to Shanghai, it is time to start unwinding the wine selection of the city. As I explained in a previous post, my expectations were not high. China is a country for beer and local rice-wine (not something that caters to my champagne-loving taste buds). Luckily I was just living in the past. Apparently I forgot one of the most significant features of Shanghai, it changes and evolves faster than any other city in the world (as far as my experience goes). With an apple so big the natural place to start it the Roosevelt House, home to one of the most extensive wine cellars in the world

Roosevelt Wine Cellar located on the Bund (no 27) in the historical Roosevelt House boasts the largest wine cellar in the world with wines from over 4000 unique producers. We were unfortunate as there was an event the night we decided to visit, however the top floor restaurant and rooftop bar also serve the same wine list as the actual wine cellar. Not so unlucky after all. We sat down on the terrace with a marvelous view over the Yangze river. It is a unique sight and one of the best places in town to gaze at the contrast between the two sides of the city: the French style historic Puxi and the futuristic new center of Pudong. I think I spent more time trying to catch the perfect photo instead of drinking wine.

The view from the top of Roosevelt House
The view from the top of Roosevelt House

The wine list was vast, perhaps even too vast to review here to the detail. There was a clear preference to old world wines, especially from France (as mentioned in the post: five things you should know about shanghai and wine). The Champagne-list was impressive, but not great value for money as one can imagine (It is mainly the exchange rate killing us at the moment). They had their own private label champagne though that was closer to the price level we were ready to pay. I was also happy to see some half bottles on the list as sharing a full 0,75l pre-dinner can have hazardous consequences.

We tried ordering a half bottle of a cava that we had not before heard of, however it was, to our disappointment out of stock. The waiter tried replacing it with a bottle of Freixenet Gordon Negro (yuk), so we quickly turned to the relatively extensive list (10-15) of wines by the glass. We ended up with glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and a White Burgundy. Both decent and moderately priced (10-12 euros). It was hot and humid, so I was happy that the wines were properly chilled.

White Burgundy on the roof terrace
White Burgundy on the roof terrace

Even though we only got a glimpse of the actual bar and scratched the surface of the wine list I could tell this is the place to come for wine in Shanghai. I would recommend coming as a group so that sharing a bottle/few bottles is not too much, the most interesting wines are not sold by the glass. The wine cellar also has a restaurant, so one does not have to go out for food. All in all, I have been to better wine bars (around the world) with a selection more suitable to my taste as well as a price tag that my wallet can handle (and I was a bit phased at the Gordon Negro offered by the staff), however looking at what the local competition is, Roosevelt is at the top of my list for wine bars to visit in Shanghai.

Coffee Bar Review: Seesaw Coffee (Réel location), Shanghai

Our recent travels have taken us to Shanghai and even in a country where tea is the ruling drink there is some decent coffee. Most of the coffee here verges on undrinkable so I was almost set on just having the coffee I brought with me. After doing some research I did however find some promising places. The first on my list was the mini-chain of Seesaw Coffee. From what I gathered online they had three branches but when stepping into the one at the Réel mall the staff informed me that they now have five locations. The location at Réel is on the fifth floor is often, as often is the case with upper floors in malls in Shanghai, calm and surprisingly empty. They have succeeded in making the cafe feel fairly cozy and nice despite being in a mall. They fit well with the shops on the fifth floor as well as there are several stores selling small design accessories and such there as well.

Looking at the coffee they serve an impressive array of different beans, when I visited there were six different beans to select from for hand brews. One could also select the method and they also offered three coffees as cold drips and of course espresso based beverages (two different blends to choose from). I have on different occasions sampled three of the beans made as filter (V60), some cold drip as well as espresso based coffees. The quality is consistent and while not world class they are very adapt at making coffee. The Ethiopian was the best I tried, while the Kenyan was slightly to dark and the Yunnan coffee more interesting than great. The cappuccino was very good and the Panama cold drip was also pleasant. They roast their own beans (at another location close to Jinan Temple) and the roasting is done fairly well but I would prefer it slightly lighter as I believe the main improvement in the quality would be if they picked up the roasting quality level a bit they would be even better.

The food selection is very limited, basically no proper food just pastries. For those who do not like cheesecake the selection is meager (it can vary from nothing to one or two different cookies). For the lover of cheesecakes it is however great, usually a large range of them and very good ones. I am not really a fan (of cheesecake) but some of them are really excellent.

Service was very friendly, eager to show the selection and while English was not superb it was good enough for us to communicate and get a lot of information on the coffee. There is free wifi but as often is the case in China it is a bit slow and a lot of services such as Google, Facebook, twitter and others are not accessible, still it is possible to sit and slack and lounge. All in all a very good place (perhaps the best) in a city that has an average quality of coffee almost as bad as in Italy.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 2
Vs local competition: 5

Five Things You Should Know About Shanghai and Wine

I have been in Shanghai (and other parts of China) tens of times. It was my previous job as a chemicals buyer that brought me to the region and to be honest I saw more industrial estates than actual culture. So it was wonderful to get to know Shanghai again with a different pair of glasses – a wine enthusiasts eyes. My expectations were not low per se, but I was expecting big brands and high price tags to be the common denominator. I am glad that I was at least partly living in the past. Shanghai is a melting pot with expats and student from around the world mixed with the growing liberal and curious local upper and middle classes. Wine has already made its way to the city life and it will not take long for it to boom. Perhaps it aleady has.

The view from the top of Roosevelt House
The view from the top of Roosevelt House
White Burgundy on the roof terrace
White Burgundy on the roof terrace

M had done some homework and had selected around six to seven different wine bars to try out. We did not have time for all of them, but I will list them in the end, so anyone with an interest can go and check them out. However, there are some differences to the western wine-culture so here are the five things you should know about Shanghai and wine.

1. There is a clear preference to French wine. This may come with the history of French influences or the large expat community, but every wine bar in town is serving a wide range from France. Other wine countries include Australia and New Zealand, due to their geographical “closeness” and Italy with Prosecco as the less expensive bubbly on the market. Spain and Portugal were not widely represented, nor was America or South America and South Africa.

2. The prices for wine are in general high. This comes from a bunch of logistical and political reasons, duties etc. But mostly due to wine being a drink for foreigners. It is not often understood what is a reasonable price level for a tourist. Would you be happy paying 10-20 Eur for a mediocre glass of wine? We live in Stockholm where prices are also high, but due to the Swedish currency being weak, the prices in China are elevated for us. Don’t get me wrong, we found many places with some reasonable pricing, but in general one should not expect Shanghai to be cheap.

3. Smoking is allowed inside. If you were intending to have a nice relaxing moment with you glass of wine breathing in the beautiful aromas, you can forget about it. There will be at least a few people smoking cigarrettes next to you. It is not something I am used to, but knew in advance, so it was not such a big deal when someone took out their lighter on the table next to us. If you want to avoid the smokers, I suggest to find a nice rooftop terrace with a breeze.

4. Bars are (usually) open every day of the week, but have a plan B if your selected hangout is not open (or has suddenly moved). Sometimes the internet is wrong (or has old information).

Wine decorations
Wine decorations
The bar at Dr. Wine
The bar at Dr. Wine
Trendy interior at Dr. Wine
Trendy interior at Dr. Wine

5. Local wine is expensive, but that has nothing to do with quality. Local wines cater to local tastes. The wines are often sharp in taste, high in alcohol and have an oxidized character to them. I am not saying there is no good local wine, I have just tasted a few. But be prepared for a different palate than what we Eurooeans are used to. China has a lot of potential for future vinegrowing and I believe some day we will see great things happen. But today is perhaps not yet that day.

(6.) And here is an extra treat for you: The local saying “kam pai” (kam bei) does not really mean cheers in the same way that we understand it. In reality it means bottoms up. So if someone raises their glass to you and says these words, you are expected to empty the whole glass with one gulp.

Here is our list of wine bars to try out and visit. I will review the ones we had time for in future posts. Roosevelt Wine Cellar, Dr. Wine, Project Wine, Le Vin, Napa Wine Bar & Kitchen and Wine Must.