#2139 | Mocha Mondays: Graph Cafe, Chiang Mai

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Graph Cafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hey guys,

I must say, for all my food / cafe related posts on the blog, I’m not particularly a cafe person, which comes as a surprise to most people. I’m just not that kinda girl – I dont see the point of cafe hopping, your stomach fills up so fast, especially with coffee, it’s expensive, and I just dont get how you can see five cafes in an afternoon; it seems like a very practical exercise in the law of diminishing returns. But when I do find something I like, I never just like it, I love it – as seen from my affectionate odes to cafes and bars in Melbourne, Taipei, etcetera. And in Chiang Mai, the place that really hit the spot for me was an eleven seater hole in the wall called Graph cafe.

I was in Chiang Mai filming a travel video for Klook and Tourism Authority of Thailand, and part of the itinerary necessitated exploring cafes. Cafe culture is huge in Chiang mai city, and it’s only getting bigger. A lot of this, I think, is linked to the growing expat population in Chiang mai, and when I tried running searches online, I realised that said expat population had a huge hand in writing overly enthusiastic reviews for multiple places on Google and Tripadvisor. One could tell by the number of times the words “quaint” and “authentic” were used. As it was, I visited three extremely highly rated cafes in Chiang Mai, two of which I thought were disappointingly average. So much so that I nearly gave up – Chiang Mai has so many other things to offer, I thought, that it didnt need to have great cafes to stand out as a bucket list destination. But my flight back home was delayed, so onward we walked to the last cafe – it was in the area, no harm having an extra cuppa, at the very least it’d make for a nice break from walking in the hot sun.

On a tiny side alley sat Graph cafe, and it was full. I was super close to giving up and going back, but we were too tired to walk on, and really wanted to rest. So we perched on the little seats outside the cafe, waiting for a table to free up inside, and looked through the menu. This entire time there was a steady stream of people coming up to the cafe and being turned away due to a lack of space, but the sustained interest seemed a good omen to me. Also, another hopeful sign – the fact that there was no food on the menu, just different permutations of coffee. Good, I thought, grumpy from disappointments earlier in the day, coffee places should just focus on coffee.

The menu was fascinating – it read like a cocktail menu, but with coffee instead of alcohol. Between the three of us we ordered two coffees and one iced chocolate (Mabel doesnt take coffee), and then I got an extra to takeaway. I usually go straight for an Americano or cold brew if they have it, but I was so intruiged by the other options that I opted for something called a Monochrome, which is a short of espresso with activated charcoal, vanilla, and milk.

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135 BHT – 5.60SGD. Pretty standard coffee price for a cuppa in Singapore.

First impressions – IT WAS DELICIOUS. I actually am a huge fan of goma, and I personally think charcoal comes pretty close when it’s done right. The coffee was creamy but not too sweet, with a mild sweetness that came from the milk used. It wasn’t super strong too – I’m used to very, very strong coffee, so at first I couldnt taste the coffee in this, but it prevailed in the form of a lingering aftertaste. The best way I can describe it is it tasted like a very yummy melted ice cream without being cloying, and it was extremely drinkable. I downed nearly half of it in one go, and had to pace myself after that so I wouldnt be left with no drink whilst the rest sipped at theirs!

I also asked the other two to let me try their drinks so I could include them in my review. Aka an excuse to steal some of theirs. Well, it worked, so here we go!

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130BHT – 5.40SGD.

Lock, our videographer, got a GRAPH No. 29. It’s nitro cold brew mixed with pineapple and lime, mixed and served like a cocktail with a sugar-salt mix on the glass rim. Nitro cold brew features quite heavily in the GRAPH menu, and I think it’s a specialty of sorts. I love nitro because I think of it as the beer of the coffee world when done properly – smooth and golden, with a real kick. (The nitro cold brew from Starbucks is my to-go drink in Singapore.) And GRAPH is really on to something here, using Nitro as a base for a cocktail styled coffee! The drink was incredibly refreshing, and you had to have it with the salt rim and a mouth of coffee foam to really taste the different elements of the coffee harmonise. Yum. The cold brew method also shaved off the bitter edge of coffee that many non-coffee drinkers dislike, so I think even non habitual coffee drinkers would enjoy this!

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100BHT – 4.20SGD

Mabel doesnt drink coffee at all, so she went straight to the non-coffee section of the menu. There’s basically four things you can get – a matcha latte, a chocolate, a redberry secret, and a yellow glass weekend. Dont ask me what those last two things are because I dont know. She got an iced chocolate, and I had a sip of it. Theres not much I can say about iced chocolate – it’s either totally horrible and watery, or it’s really great, thick and frothy, like the ones from specialty chocolate shops. This one was a solid iced chocolate, definitely more towards the great end of the spectrum. Undiluted, chocolatey, and not so thick that you’d get sick of it in a couple of mouths. For a place that doesnt specialize in non-coffee drinks, I think this was a pretty damned solid iced chocolate!

I was so impressed by the quality of the drinks that I decided to get another drink to go, just so I could try more. It had taken me a ridiculously long time to settle on the Monochrome when I was ordering because there were just so many interesting things on the menu, so just as I was leaving I ordered something else I’d been considering – a cold brew coffee.

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This is the No. 8, Roses Stuff Coldbrew Coffee. 220BHT – 9.20SGD. Pricey, even by Singaporean standards.

It came in a little glass bottle that you could keep, I’m suspecting that adds to the cost. The cold brew’s claim to fame is a slow drip 24 hour brew, and it was very, very smooth, at a super low acidity. It had an incredible kick too, I was feeling the caffiene long after I’d finished the drink. I think the low acidity made it feel like there wasnt very much caffiene in it, which was the total opposite of reality because the cold brewing method creates an extra caffienated cup of coffee.

And the floral flavor really elevated the drink to a whole different level!! I know this is going to sound very, very weird, but it reminded me of my toner from Laneige’s calming skin range. The skincare line has litchi extract which calms the skin down and gives it a wonderful smell, and this rose cold brew was almost like someone bottled up the smell and gave it a taste.

I told you it would sound weird. It didn’t taste like roses, per se, more like a light lychee drink, and it left a pleasant cooling aftertaste on the tongue. It was so drinkable that I downed it in one go, which gave Mabel and Lock a huge shock because they were like, isn’t that too much coffee at a go? To which I replied, THERES NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH COFFEE! In retrospect I think the caffiene had already kicked in. Ah well.

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Pretty exterior!
Wearing: Her Velvet Vase dress, Fitflop sandals

The cafe is cash only, and has a few outlets around Chiang Mai city. The particular one we went to was tiny, I think the total combined capacity couldnt have been more than 15 pax with both indoor and outdoor seating, and it was pretty crammed inside. But I adored it! I only wish I had the chance to try more of the coffee combinations – I would have gotten more to go, but I was limited by the amount of cash I had left. Next time, next time. For now, I think: if you’re a coffee lover and visit Chiang Mai, you’ve got to check out Graph. You’re welcome.

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Haha self awareness level very high

Graph Cafe
25/1 ถนน ราชวิถี แยก 1 ตำบล ศรีภูมิ อำเภอ เมือง
Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Recommended: 10/10
WIFI: Yes
Payment: Cash only

X
Jem

#2111 | Mocha Mondays: No Bad Brunches – Hardware Societe Cafe Melbourne

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Hardware Societe Cafe, Melbourne
All pictures taken on the Nikon D750 with a 35f1.8mm lens

Day three of melbourne and I am convinced there are no bad brunches in Melbourne. Such a thing cannot exist – or if it does, I suppose it it ferreted away like a secret, away from the critical eye of this city of foodies. Yesterday was such a prime example of this that I now want to go into the cafe business – in an alternate universe where I actually can cook, of course.

Xiaoqi and I found ourselves at Hardware Societe Cafe because multiple people had recommended the baked eggs to us, and I cant lie, I love eggs. I honestly think eggs are the perfect survival food, and if one were stuck on a desert island with only one thing to eat for the rest of their lives, the best thing one could do is ask for an everlasting supply of eggs because they can be cooked like fifty different ways and they are an excellent source of protein and they are also SUPER YUMMY. And that was essentially what lured me in and had me commit to a twenty minute wait for a table, because from what I understand, Hardware ALWAYS has a queue.

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The queue when we reached

We put our names down and had a gander down the adjacent road, then came back just when our names were called, so the wait was actually alright for us. I dont think most people realised they could just put their names down and walk around (we asked), but in any case, you heard it here first!

Anyway, we finally got seated at the alfresco area cos there were only two of us, and we (totally over)ordered what was soon to reveal itself as the best brunch of our lives with the super friendly staff. There is no way to do this elegantly so I am just going to describe what we had:

We started off ordering drinks and a Cruffin. A Cruffin is basically a hybrid of a croissant and a muffin, and this is the second cruffin i have ever had, ever. The first I had was in a cafe in Bangkok, and I wasnt very impressed with it. However Xiaoqi spotted the cruffin in the window of the Hardware Societe counter and went straight for it and thank goodness she did because it was HEAVENLY.

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Matcha and Strawberry cruffin

This is the strawberry matcha cruffin which was the perfect mix of fluffy, crisp, and NOT TOO SWEET. The not too sweet part is important, i do feel that too often people make pastries way too cloying, and that ruins it for me because i dont have much of a sweet tooth. But this was really good – the server later said it was the best thing on the dessert menu.

Will I ever have a cruffin again in my life? Can anything ever live up to this experience? Look at that crisp fluff, that amazing dollop of matcha and strawberry.

Two mains: we ordered the famous chorizo baked eggs, and the salmon millefeuille.

First, the baked eggs. They come in two variants, scallop, and chorizo. We got the chorizo cos we were already ordering salmon for another dish, and we thought we should get one seafood and one non seafood dish. The chorizo variant comprised chorizo sausage, potato, piquillo peppers, queso mahon (a type of white cheese), toasted almonds, and aioli, which is essentially atas mayonnaise.

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Eggs r life

The baked eggs were pretty ace, but the bread it came with was what really impressed us – it’s the right amount of crisp without being dry, and complements the wet of the eggs perfectly. I particularly liked the almonds in the eggs because it added texture to the dish, and I could objectively recognise that this was delicious – but i just didn’t see how baked eggs with chorizo could differ that much from a standard taste. We suspect the scallop variant might have been better, but limited by money and stomach space, we regretfully did not try it. Perhaps a half and half next time? Still, it was a great dish that raised our eyebrows upon first bite. And we thought, jeez, melbourne. Is there any dish you can’t do?

That was until the Salmon millefeuille came, and we totally freaked.

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LOOK. AT. THIS.

Millefeuille, in addition to being a word i cannot pronounce, is a type of french puff pastry, which typically has vanilla custard or some kind of sweet paste in it. The combination of that light pastry structure with salmon tartar instead of a sweet layer was a stroke of genius. I am a huge fan of salmon, but I always hesitate to order it while dining out because it’s too easy to screw up and too often I’ve sat, disappointed, in front of an overpriced, dry piece of baked salmon. But this dish came with two forms of salmon and both were perfectly done, and when we ate it it was like everything was right in the world.

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LOOK AT THE CRISP LAYERS OF THE PUFF

Lets talk tartar. The salmon tartar (raw salmon, seasoned) was made fresh – you can always tell when it’s not because it’s slathered with sauce, and fresh raw fish should never be overwhelmed with sauce so that you can taste the freshness – with horseradish and avocado. The horseradish wasnt too strong – i think it might have been pickled actually – and it was served in very thin slices so it didn’t overpower the rest of the dish like i was afraid it might. Basically the perfect balance of this dish was essentially physics. The people behind this are scientists. I am convinced to my very bone.

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Look at that sear, look at the pink in the middle of the fillet T-T

And the confit atlantic salmon it came with??????? Was so perfectly cooked with the nice pink soft middle??????? I wanted to cry. I wanted to befriend the chef and move into her basement. Do her chores in exchange for meals. Give her a sticker that says Salmon Whisperer. Xiaoqi and I couldnt understand why the baked eggs overshadowed the salmon dish – i literally have heard no one mention the salmon millefeuille dish in any foursquare/yelp review (yes, i am the type of person to obsessively foursquare/yelp a place to figure out what best to order). This dish was the real MVP. After our meal as we walked down the alley I started hissing at random people in the queue ORDER THE SALMON. ORDER THE SALMON. I would have shouted it but i was too full and too shy. But there is no shyness on the internet, so. ORDER THE SALMON.

Finally – for drinks, we ordered the Matcha Maiden green tea latte and the signature hot chocolate mocha (aha! there you have the mocha monday in this mocha monday post) with 54% callebaut. They were individually good, but nothing mind-blowing, which kind of meant they paled in comparison to our food. The matcha is apparently the most popular drink on the menu, and it’s of the non-sweet variety which often means it’s legit matcha, so that’s good, but we didn’t finish it. The chocolate is extremely thick and comprises hot chocolate that you manually pour from a pot into a cup where a dollop of actual chocolate sits, and just based on that you can imagine how thick and rich it is. Pretty good, but again, it’s a heavy drink which doesn’t exactly complement a heavy brunch. No regrets ordering those, but we would have been ok with (free!) plain water too, methinks.

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Overall – a fantastic place. I can’t decide if I would come back because the memory of this is so perfect that I’m almost afraid that I will come back, have it again, and not have it live up to the vignette of my experience. In some ways this meal was like that bukowski poem i love – i loved it like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of. Straight up, I loved it. Poetry in my mouth, on my tongue. I recommend this so hard.

Hardware Societe Cafe
120 Hardware St, Melbourne VIC 3000

x
Jem

#2039 | Stunning Starbucks Showoff: Thong Lor, Bangkok

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imagesBangkok, Thailand

Some people collect stamps and postcards, I collect pictures of beautiful starbucks outlets around the world. Sound about right? Perhaps this is my starbucks addiction taken to a new level, but when I passed the Starbucks outlet in The 49 Terrace, Bangkok, I just had to pop in for a quick coffee stop…

Make that tea. Starbucks Singapore just launched it’s Teavana menu, which I adore for the matcha espresso creation, but I wanted to try the offerings in bangkok as well. Also – they were having a 1-for-1 when we were there! I got the Iced Shaken Black Tea with Ruby Grapefruit & Honey, which is also available in Singapore but which for some reason I hadnt tried back home. It was the drink i never knew i needed on a sweltering bangkok day. What can i say? Not all heroes wear capes..

PS. I also really, really, really wanted to take a picture where the lady is sitting in the picture above. But she just WOULDNT MOVE! I waited for about half an hour then gave up, and when i walked away i saw that she was watching some korean drama on her phone…….. ok, i cant blame her. If i’d settled in a spot like that I’d never give it up.

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The architecture of Starbucks outlets have never failed to intrigue me. It’s the biggest coffee chain in the world. Arguably the most successful. All their stores need to have a certain recognisable aesthetic – but they’re never exactly the same. How do you get twenty three thousand stores in the world to look the same yet different, and have them all be beautiful at the same time? That is – how does the most common coffee chain in the world differentiate itself as a unique product? I dont have an answer, but somehow they’ve done it. I’ve always made it a point to pop by different starbucks outlets whenever I travel, and they’ve always remained both staunchly recognisable yet subtly varying in terms of interior decor. The outlets in Shibuya, Tokyo, and Taipei’s 101 benefit from incredibly iconic city views, and the outlets in Singapore play with location as well – the outlet in One Rochester, for example, sits in a colonial-style black and white house, and the one in Fullerton Waterboat House offers a gorgeous panorama of our landscape. This one in Thong Lor reacts to its surroundings in a very different way, by making use of the most consistent thing thailand has to offer by way of weather – the sun.

Floor to ceiling glass windows? It’s hard to say if this is a coffee chain or my dream home. The same concept might not have worked as well in a different location, but Sukhumvit Soi 49 blooms with lush greenery that’s both zen-like and deliberately pruned to casual perfection. As a result, the open feel of the store creates a cool, air-conditioned bubble that sits you right in the middle of all that smoky sunlight and greenery without being subjected to the unforgiving humidity. Coming from the country that has mastered the art of getting the hell out of the heat, I can tell you that this is a winning formula.

And of course, it helps that this outlet is situated in the Japanese expat neighbourhood of Bangkok, meaning that it’s clientele often features young families, trendy freelancers working off their laptops, or older japanese people just looking for a place to rest while walking their dogs…

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… because who doesn’t want to go to starbucks and make a new friend? Say hi to พาหุรัด, a word i google translated from english. Because that’s what she’s called – a thai word which translates to bracelet. And she is the hugest, laziest dog ever. I have a feeling she and Athena would get along.

Starbucks, The 49 Terrace
20 Soi Sukhumvit 49/1, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

x
♥jem

#2030 | Matcha Mondays: Cha Cha Matcha

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Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

Apologies, guys, the Mocha Monday series that I was so enthused about at the start of last year seems to have taken quite the hiatus. The semi-regular in semi-regular feature being taken far too literally, if you will. But here I am again, and all I have to offer you by way of apology is this: a scathing sense of sarcasm, and also a gentle reminder that everything on this blog is free to read, FREE, i say! So, chill, yknw?

Anyway. I hit up Cha Cha Matcha on my last day in New York. It opened my last week there, actually, and immediately instagram was hit with a flood of pictures from the place, which looked like it was built to cater exclusively to hipsters and instagrammers. And indeed, when I stepped in, my first thought was: this is where hipsters go to die.

The first warning sign? Cha Cha Matcha is card-only, which means it doesn’t accept cash, at all. Because cash, ugh, you know? So mainstream. And in this cashless, trendy cafe, walls are decorated solely for the purpose of being backdrops to your perfect instagram photo – pink and green chairs, leaves, coffee cups. You can’t fault them for that: it’s working. People have been snapping this place nonstop since it opened, and it’s not tough to see why. The place is decorated like Malibu barbie’s pad on drugs. Like Katy Perry’s california girls song became a person and threw up all over the walls.

Was it too much to hope that a beautiful place like this would serve good matcha as well? Apparently so.

Came for the Instagram photo #honestinstagramcaptions #doitforthegram

A photo posted by Jemimah James Wei (@jemmawei) on

Our matcha tasted like nothing. It didn’t taste bad, you understand. It just didn’t taste like anything. Confused? So were we. We ordered both the classic matcha latte and the coconut matcha latte and they tasted exactly the same, which is to say, like an empty drink void of taste, that kind of left a little bubbly feeling on your tongue. The soft serve fared a little bit better, because you could actually tell it was matcha flavoured, if largely because it was half green. But if you’ve actually tried any decent matcha before, this brings nothing new to the table.

It left me wondering: what was it? Why were people raving about this place? Were they all brainwashed by the cute interior? Or had they simply never tried proper matcha? Or – best case scenario – were we the unlucky ones who got a dud batch, and did everyone else get heavenly tasting brews? Our answers were granted a week later, when another girlfriend went to CCM after seeing my snapchat. Jem, she texted me, Cha Cha Matcha sucks. Lol. Fullstop and all.

The real question, I suppose, is: does it matter? In an era where taste is fleeting and photos are forever, it seems that the six bucks you pay for a crap latte is really an entrance fee to the hippest photo prop for instagram right now. I sure paid my dues. Don’t we all? My only hope (and a fervent one), is that this doesn’t become a trend – substandard kitchen fare giving way to the perfect pastel paint job on the wall. Is it too optimistic? Or are we already there? Say it isn’t so!

When all is said and done, will one lonely pessimistic review on the net make a difference? Of course not. People will still flock to the place for it’s pink walls and green decor, and I don’t blame them. Ah, this instagram life! So be it.

Cha Cha Matcha
373 Broome St, New York, NY 10013, United States

x
♥jem

#2013 | Mocha Mondays: Starbucks Fullerton Waterboat House (noch ein mal)

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Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

The fun fact of the day is that noch in mal means one more time in German, drips and drops of the residual German I’ve retained from seven months living there a couple of years ago. And there you have the enrichment portion of today’s post – checked.

I’ve actually featured the Starbucks Fullerton Waterboat House in my Mocha Monday series before, so for those of you who havent seen that, here’s the TL;DR:


TL;DR
Starbucks on Fullerton Waterboat House
Famous for: BEING STARBUCKS
Seats: Plenty
Wifi: YES
Power points: YES!!

I went back recently to try out the new Starbucks lunch menu, which is basically a $9.90 set comprising one of their gourmet sandwiches with a tall-sized iced freshly brewed coffee or tea, running from 11am-3pm. The rest of the new items are available through the day, and what I’m really excited about is the additional food options for those of us who work through the night at one of the many 24hr Starbucks outlets – finally, something else substantial to munch on at 3am!

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My favourites from the set include the tuna sandwich, the country chicken pie, and the triple turkey pie, all of which are unreasonably good for a place that is mainly known for coffee and convenience. No complaints, though. Since trying the set I’ve been back several times to get the tuna sandwich, although opinions differ: most people prefer the meatball sandwich which I’m honestly quite half-half on. Team Tuna, you guys!

I also wanted to take the chance to sneakily introduce a new book recommendation: an extraordinary short story collection. Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon. The man makes the short story form look like an art. The ten stories are loosely connected, self aware, and sharp in their humour. For those of you who’d like a preview, here’s one of his short stories from the collection – the titular Love and Obstacles: read here.
(Also, if being featured on the New Yorker isnt a stamp of approval, what is?)

Till next time.

x
♥jem