The Saddest Coffee Aisle in the World

Image credit: WeGraphics

The Saddest Coffee Aisle in the World

On occasion my wife and I gather with a group of friends on Sunday for “Dim Sum”, the Chinese equivalent of lunchtime tapas. In Cantonese dim sum literally means - “touch the heart” or “order to your heart’s content” and the small serving sizes of the dishes lend themselves to ordering en masse.

What is important to this story is not so much the food (which was to die for), but in my case the Chinese grocery store next to it (For those in Illinois - the restaurant in question is Triple Crown, on 34 & 83). For it offers many an adventure in sight, sound and taste.

Since my wife and I are in the process of adopting from China, and the group we were with was comprised wholly of people either waiting to go, of who have always gone going to this grocery store is almost as anticipated as the dim sum.

On most occasions it gives me an opportunity to bring back various treats for the guys I work with. Spicy seaweed found its way to work one day, a chex like mix that included tiny dried up minnows another, and after this last weekend, squid on a stick jerky (brutal).

I don’t know why any thoughts of coffee never entered my head before, but this time I was determined to see what Chinese coffee had to offer. What I found was the saddest coffee aisle in the world.

Chinese Coffee

Walking down to the “Coffee & Tea” aisle I kept waiting to get to the coffee. Ninety-nine percent of the aisle was tea, one percent coffee. Of that one percent, one hundred percent of it was instant coffee. Not a whole bean in the lot!

But I just couldn’t resist trying some of it. I decided to buy the Owl brand White Coffee Tarik, it had after all been established in 1956, and longevity of production can’t be a bad thing when it comes to Chinese coffee.

Interestingly enough, every one of the coffee products sold at this store were what is called a “3 in 1″ product. Literally meaning that each package includes coffee, creamer and sugar. I noticed that some of the teas offered also had this option, although the vast majority of them were more traditional.

What intrigued my was the name, what was “White” coffee? What was “Tarik”? It sounded exotic, and I immediately began conjuring up images in my head.

The “White” as it turns out can only be used to describe the included creamer and the rather nice foam that accumulates on the top of the coffee when stirred.

Interestingly enough, tarik refers to a method of making tea in Malaysia (Teh tarik) where the tea is poured from one pot to another to produce a frothy top like that of a cappuccino.

Faced with scalding hot coffee, I decided to opt for the slightly less dangerous “vigorous spoon” method to obtain somewhat of a similar effect.

It took me a long time to put a finger on the aroma of this coffee. In my exploration of Chinese cuisine and products I have found that the smells, spices and tastes are often very different than what I am used to experiencing.

The aroma reminded me of almond cookies. Its funny to me that I have finally come to this conclusion because during my tasting of the coffee I rated it as mildly sweet with a cooked almond aroma. One of my co-workers went so far to say that he thought it smelled like charcoal just to give you an idea of the aromic extremes we found ourselves experiencing.

I really expected it to have a bad taste, it was instant coffee after all, but the 3 in 1 combination somehow pulled it off and its slightly sweet, almond and mocha taste was not bad to be honest. I gave this coffee a 2.5 out of 5 rating for its unique nature. If you find yourself in China and you can’t find a Starbucks, hopefully you will remember this review.

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