Water Journal 3º

From the moment my eyes fall upon its intricate texture and I inhale deeply, filling my lungs with the ambrosial redolence, I am carried away to another world and I fall gently into a field with tall grass, graceful flowers, and balletic leaves that dance with the wind. Lemongrass and verbena mingle blissfully with lavender, mint, and sage—a beguiling synthesis evocative of a summer grassland. Airy and inspiriting.  Urban Koi

This is an excerpt from a new piece that I wrote titled: Tea. It is published in Water Journal - Volume 3º, released in June 2017. I reveal an ancient legend and the unique history of tea, as well as the different phases and classes of tea: white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh, tisanes, and matcha. I touch upon a soupçon of science in tea, including some interesting health benefits and properties that make tea so special. 

Order Volume 3º on Water Journal.


Tavalon Tea

I am sure most have come to realise that I am quite the tea aficionado—I consume more tea than I do plain water. As mentioned in a previous entry, tea is much more than a refreshment to me. It is a daily ritual, a precious moment to reflect upon my life—a rumination of self-improvement, contemplation, and quietude. Moreover, I find tea to be exceedingly versatile in terms of the infinite flavours which it can be blended, its countless methods it may be prepared, and its immeasurable health benefits. Needless to say, I hold a high standard and take my teas quite seriously.

However, tea is often eclipsed by the seemingly omnipresent coffee empire, so I find it especially rare to stumble upon high quality full-leaf teas. I am often disenchanted by the commercial brands prominent in the market today. Because the vast majority of teas are imported from across the globe, by the time the tea reaches your teacup, it could already be half stale. Over the years, I have discovered that most teas are undistinguished or extremely brittle and resemble the texture of sand—unnecessarily over-processed and frequently contain preservatives or artificial flavouring, often leaving a dry, chalky aftertaste on the palate. 

In this journal entry, I am unveiling the future of tea—Tavalon. I remember opening one of their beautiful canisters for the first time and being instantly put under a spell by the heavenly aroma of Earl Grey Reserve, a colourful spin on the timeless black tea blend entwined with bergamot oil and blue cornflowers. Tavalon's notable freshness and high quality are undeniable, which led me to explore other blends, and I discovered my favourite Tavalon tea—Genmai Matcha, a classic Japanese blend of organic green tea with partially-roasted rice, and dusted with matcha green tea powder, resulting in a sweet, slightly 'toasty' flavour.

One day, while buried in scientific analysis on my laptop at Joe Coffee on the corner of Columbia University, I faintly heard someone call my name, "Koi?" I looked up and it turned out to be John-Paul Lee, the Co-Founder of of Tavalon, who is also an advisor for Columbia Business students. We connected over our mutual thoughts regarding the current tea market, which are very much akin. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Tavalon teas utilise premium essential oils instead of artificial flavouring, and are blended and carefully hand-packed at the time when one places the order in the country of the order. This enables the tea to retain its properties and extend its freshness, increasing its shelf-life to the fullest.

I am pleased to share an all-time favourite—Tavalon. For a discount on your entire order, please use my code at checkout: urbanxkoi


Plum Rose Tarts

As a gastronomist, I have made it a tradition to bake a special dessert that I have never created before at the start of a new semester at university to symbolise the next chapter in life. The fruit tart is my favourite pastry, so I decided to design one with a striking flair—rustic plum rose and rice pudding tart—that is intricate and illuminates detail like an anatomical illustration.

Tea Solemnity

When I brew tea, it is much more than to hydrate or to have an alternative to coffee. It is a period of reflection—I envisage the past, the present, the future, and being at home within myself is restored. It is a rumination of self-improvement, contemplation, and quietude. To achieve the correct flavour, the correct colour, the correct consistency, the act of brewing tea requires artistry, patience, technique, and a precise scope of practise—it is an art. 

Loose leaf tea flavors are authentic; the petals and leaves are less processed and bear such transcendental beauty. From the moment my eyes fall upon their intricate textures and I inhale deeply, filling my lungs with their ambrosial redolence, I am carried away to another world and I fall gently into a field with tall grass, graceful flowers, and balletic leaves that dance with the wind.

A beguiling synthesis of Japanese Sencha and the enticing spirit of rose, accented with an embellishment of rose petals. It possesses a breath of grace and mystery. The chartreuse leaves of Sencha, fragile with accents of oceanic and verdant notes, harmonise with the lush fragrance of rose. // An exhilarant tropical brew of Chinese green and subtle Jasmine teas swathed within a haze of lush rose, marigold, and passionfruit. Reminiscent of an afternoon rain and the fever experienced with the rush of young love. // A refined and distinguished concoction of white peony tea and French lavender with revitalising notes of bright grapefruit. At once casual yet opulent, it dons its derivation lightly, floating delicately from morning until night. // A beautiful, herbal amalgam evocative of a summer grassland. Lemongrass and verbena mingle blissfully with lavender, rose petals, mint, and sage. Airy and inspiriting.

Each tea tells a story. Each one is a circadian reprieve of peace amongst the chaos—my solemnity.

City Kitchen

I am ecstatic to introduce City Kitchen, a new trendy food market that curated the best restaurants in NYC under one roof, conveniently nestled in the heart of Times Square next to Row NYC. It just launched last week on March 5th! It is a one-stop for all, featuring off-the-grid restauranteurs' most crave-worthy fare from every NYC neighbourhood from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side and everywhere in between. As a foodie, I am incredibly thrilled to share photographs to tantalise your taste buds. With sushi, tacos, burgers, and doughnuts for days, I can say without a doubt that I will be a regular at City Kitchen. I hope you revel in your City Kitchen adventures! It is best seen and tasted in person.


Azuki: For all your sushi, sashimi, shumai, gyoza, and kani salad cravings, the sushi chefs make all the sushi fresh right in front of you. They also have Thai iced tea! My favourite is the Azuki roll.

Dough - @doughdoughnut: Often rated as the best doughnuts in the country, Dough brings unique and unexpected flavors inspired by European and Latin American desserts. My favourites are dulche de leche and passion fruit.

Gabriela’s - @gabrielasnyc: Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Gabriela's provides scrumptious tacos of every flavor, shrimp rellenos, empanadas, seafood ceviches (my favourite), and of course guacamole and chips.

ilili Box - @ililibox: With take-away Lebanese dishes combined with modern Mediterranean influence, ilili Box serves Duck Shawarma, Falafel Korean, Manoushe Bil Jibne, and you name it. I always return for their Green Lemonade, made with mint and cucumber - so refreshing!

Kuro Obi: A brand-new ramen offshoot from Ippudo, Kuro Obi offers brand-new ramen flavors made specifically to stand up to takeout. The ramen is so savory and served pipping hot. We all know those long waits at ramen houses, so here is a new place.

Luke’s Lobster - @lukeslobster: Super delicious and quality lobster rolls, shrimp rolls, and crab rolls. Enough said.

Sigmund's Pretzel - @sigmundpretzels: With soft pretzels hand-twisted daily and always freshly baked in house, Sigmund's serves gourmet flavors of: salted classic, truffle cheddar, churro, everything, and feta olive.

Whitmans - @whitmansnyc: Grilling to perfection, Whitmans serves appetising juicy burgers featuring the Upstate Burger, Cheesesteak, and PB&B Burger, with beer and wines.

Wooly’s - @woolysnyc: Serving shaved 'snow', Wooly's features original, canned coffee, and matcha green tea shaved snow with endless toppings including various fruit, mochi, Pocky, and seasalt leche. This is one of my favourite vendors.


Omakase ソーシャル

I was graciously invited to an exquisite omakase sushi ソーシャル (social). The event was hosted in a Nomad loft space that was metamorphosed into a charming modern Japanese garden. For this set, I photographed using only an iPhone.

For the very first time, the notorious New York Times 3-star Sushi Yasuda took the restaurant out of its natural haven and displayed a rare and intricate experience guided by master sushi chefs Mitsuru Tamura and Tatsuya Sekiguchi in the art of sushi and its elegant tradition. To stimulate our palates, we were greeted with a sea bass, subtlety braised and punctuated with a small radish pickle. Various sushi plates were then gracefully ushered in one by one featuring tuna, ebi, yellowtail, salmon, fluke, mackarel, scallop, uni, fatty tuna with scallion, and sardine. The omakase was accented by a noodle dish with a light fish broth and genmaicha 玄米茶 (brown rice tea). My personal favourite of the day was the sea bass; it was decadent and savory.

The rice, feather-light and delicate with a sweetness and perfect stickiness, is transcendental. — Haidee Granger

The drinks were curated by Chizuko Niikawa (formerly of Sakagura) and provided a delicate balance to the delectable fare. The custom cocktails were mixed by 13th Street Cocktail Company and complimented the ambience and dishes well, leaving a lingering freshness after each sip. My favourite was the Josetsu 如拙, a perfect amalgam of green tea infused sake, cinnamon, shiso leaf, lime, cucumber juice, and 13th Street Cocktail kumquat bitters. This could easily be my ultimate favourite thus far. We were gifted with a lovely succulent terrarium and a beautifully illustrated "Japan-ophile's" New York City guide as a token to remember the occasion.

Thank you Sosh and Melting Butter for presenting such a charismatic and delicious event. 

Lime Pesto Farfalle Salad

In this recipe, I combined ingredients that are not typically served together to create a fusion of Italian and Asian essence. To me, it worked interestingly well—it generated a new earthy and stimulating flavor. Pesto is my favourite type of sauce to have on pasta, so I decided to experiment with other personal beloved constituents.

Farfalle Pasta
Bring water and a pinch of salt to boil in a medium saucepan, then add 1 cup of farfalle pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Lime Pesto
1 cup fresh basil
1 clove garlic
1/8 cup pine nuts
1/8 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt + pepper, to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Combine the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and lime juice in a food processor, and pulse until coursely chopped. Add half of the oil and blend until smooth. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto into a mixing bowl and hand-mix in the cheese. Add the farfalle pasta and mix thoroughly to ensure even coating.

Pickled Cucumber
1 Persian cucumber
1 tsp white vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Wash and cut the cucumber into thin slices. Combine the cucumber, vinegar, salt, and garlic, and mix well in a bowl. Set aside for 10-15 minutes. Before serving, mix in the sesame oil.

The Salad
1 cup artisan lettuce/fresh spinach
1/4 avocado farfalle with pesto pickled cucumber
1 tsp pomegranate seeds
roasted sesame seeds, pinch

Combine all aforementioned ingredients, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil or any left-over pesto, and serve.

Dona Chai

I will concede that I never quite fancied chai tea—that is—until I discovered Dona Chai. Upon arriving home from working overtime at the hospital on the medical-surgical floor, I winded down with a cup of chai with soy milk and the first sip was remarkably divine.

Dona Chai's slow brewing method exudes a dynamic harmony of flavors. There is a plethora of notes: cinnamon bark, cardamom, vanilla bean, clove, black peppercorn, cold-pressed ginger, and organic loose-leaf black tea. Dona Chai is beautifully formulated using fresh ginger that is cold pressed—a distinct process that conserves the purity of the ginger root. Not only does cold pressing instigate the retention of raw vitamins, minerals, and live enzymes, it also abates oxidation which maintains a bold and fresh brew to augment flavor, depth, and integrity.

I appreciate and respect when companies are transparent and value sustainability, so it was lovely to learn that after each batch of chai is brewed, all of Dona Chai's ingredients are composted locally at the Brooklyn Grange.


Christmas + Ren

This Christmas is unequivocally memorable. It was the first time I could spend it with my best friend, who I have known since high school. We do not see each other often, so we were ecstatic to celebrate—we both know that every time we spend time together, it will always be brimming with culinary adventures. 

We began our Christmas day sharing hot cocoa with homemade cloud marshmallows and a touch of peppermint while exchanging gifts. Ren utterly surprised me by bestowing the handsome Kickstarter limited edition Lomo'Instant camera. It is described as "the world's most creative instant camera system" and since I am an avid camera collector, I was beyond rhapsodic.

Bluestone Lane Coffee - This café is absolutely charming. It serves artisanal coffee and fresh Australian-influenced wholesome fare—truly delectable. The granola with yogurt and fruit, smashed avocado on toast, pumpkin fritter with smoked salmon, pickled beet root and arugula were delightful. The friendly service, in particular, is what won us over—the servers and baristas were so amiable, one of them was practically dancing around our table. This place definitely took us by surprise.

Breather - We escaped the cold for a bit and took a "breather" in this quiet and lovely space admist the chaos of the city. We enjoyed the minimalistic décor and their quirky books. I will surely return to explore more of their spaces.

Totto Ramen - I wanted to take Ren to an authentic ramen shop because he has never had authentic ramen before and I knew Totto would be open on Christmas. Sure enough, there was a seemingly never-ending line when we arrived; our wait was approximately an hour (in the cold), but it was worth it—so savory. Ramen shops are my favourite places to eat, especially in the heart of winter. Ren had a blast and noted that it was the best Christmas he ever had which was incredibly heartwarming and made me smile. I did not bring a camera, so I hope this iPhone shot will suffice.

Wollman Rink - It was so wonderful ice skating in Central Park with all the city lights at night. I have been skating for a while, however this is the second official time Ren went ice skating so it definitely was a fun experience. He was even sneaking a "how to ice skate" search on his phone, which he tried to hide from me. We sure had a good laugh.

The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory - For some late-night dessert, we chose the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for their award-winning green tea ice cream on sugar cones. It is a popular tourist attraction so we just wanted to try it out. We had ample green tea ice cream in the past, but their green tea flavor is certainly unique; we loved it. I did not bring a camera so here is a quick iPhone snap.

Sometimes, it is best to immerse yourself in the moment and cherish it with your heart instead of a camera.