What’s So Great About a Thermal Carafe?

A good cup of coffee. It’s something many of us look forward to. And, that first cup in the morning is usually delicious. But as time goes on, the rest of the coffee in the carafe becomes condensed and burnt. If we try to avoid that by turning off the coffee maker, then we end up with cold coffee.

The reason for this is that coffee is usually kept hot by a hot plate, and this hot plate is set to such a high temperature that it burns the coffee. Coffee makers whose hot plates are not so hot that the coffee burns may not be able to keep a full carafe warm enough.

So how do we avoid this? In the last few years, home coffeemakers have come into production which use a thermal carafe, similar to the type used by some restaurants. Have you ever noticed how in many restaurants, they can serve you a piping hot cup of coffee that is not burnt even though they have a huge carafe they’re pouring from? They can do this because they are using thermal carafes. Thermal carafes work on the same principle as a thermos jug — they use insulation to keep their contents at the right temperature, rather than relying on a steady input of heat from the outside.

A home coffeemaker which uses a thermal carafe will drip the coffee in through a closed lid, so you do not need to transfer the java from another container. This allows it to retain as much heat as possible. This, along with the insulation, allows the coffee to remain hot for hours even without adding extra heat to it. Therefore, your coffee does not burn nor does it get cold, even after sitting for hours.

Coffeemakers which come with thermal carafes tend to cost a few dollars more than the old-fashioned hotplate variety, but it is well worth it. Not only are you insured of having a good cup of coffee for a far longer period of time, you are saved from either wasting the cups which are at the bottom of the carafe or enduring drinking those cold, burnt end cups you would otherwise end up with.

So next time you need a new coffee maker — or are finally fed up enough with the old one to replace it — get yourself one with a thermal carafe. Like all kinds of coffeemakers, these come in a variety of price ranges from mass-market level to gourmet, so there is sure to be one to fit your tastes and budget.

February 13, 2012
Posted in Food and Drink — Knowledge Buff @ 5:11 PM

Getting Clean Water from the Air

World climate change brings many water issues. One way around them is to use desalination. Another is to get water from air! Many products are in development or are on the market already. You watch – this trend will change into a tsunami. Global warming causes water deficits thru droughts and vanishing glaciers. It also causes polluted water sources when there are floods, like in the result of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Indeed several reports on the impacts of global warming suggest the chance of wars between countries over water. So there’s a great and growing need to relieve water deficits and for clean drinking water. There are a few approaches to harvesting humidity in the air around us. Dr. Max Whisson has been called the Water And Wind Magician of Oz. He has patented the ‘Whisson Windmill’, or ‘Water Harvester’, as he favors to name it. It gets water from air. How? Well, Dr Whisson was provoked by a little African beetle which collects the early morning’s condensed water from its own body. As Dr Whisson has put it, “The quantity of water available in the air is for all foreseeable practical purposes unlimited. The bottom one kilometer (in the atmosphere) alone contains about 1.000,000,000,000,000 liters of water and that’s turned over every couple of hours.”

The ‘Whisson Windmill’ or Max Water from Air device will give the chance to get acceptable water anywhere at any point, drought or no drought. The water you see picking up on the ground under your car’s air conditioner is an example of the same condensation process that Whisson uses. The Whisson windmill is largely a wind turbine which is hooked up to a refrigeration compressor. A refrigerant cools the blades of the wind turbine, after which it is returned to a compressor.

The ‘free’ power from wind drives the cooled blades of the turbine and water is then condensed from the ambient air. This water is then picked up. This extraordinary invention is under development with the College of Western Australia. Its units are on the market now, with capacities starting from 28 liters (seven gallons) every day to 5000 liters a day (1321 gallons).

Water assimilation by salt: This approach harvests water from air by pushing air thru a liquid lithium chloride salt solution. This compound pulls water from the air, after which it is removed and filtered thru table salt which acts as a natural disinfectant.

The final step is to filter this water thru a carbon filter, adding taste. These units can make up to 1200 gallons of drinking water per day and have been acquired by The Australian FESA for emergency relief purposes. Is water from air the Holy Grail? As you see there are some pretty engaging developments under way that guarantee clean water.

February 11, 2012
Posted in Food and Drink — Knowledge Buff @ 12:05 AM

How to Drink Scotch (Without Looking Like a Boor)

There are common drinks, and then there are drinks which have evolved a “proper” way of drinking them. Knowing the proper way to enjoy a spirit marks you as being cultured; you’re not some peasant who happened to buy a bottle of “booze” but a connoisseur of fine spirits. Fine Scotch malt whiskey is one of those drinks where how you drink it is generally as, or more, important than what brand you’re drinking.

You should never put ice in a great Scotch, because that kills the taste and aroma. The glass, properly known as a tumbler, which is designed to be used with fine malt whiskey is very wide at the top and slopes in toward the bottom for the precise reason of making it hard to add a bed of ice.

Good malt should not be mixed, and goes bad with soda. However, it is acceptable to add a dash of bottled mineral water, which can soften the malt’s edge without clashing with its flavor.

Malt whiskey is a very strong spirit, with 40-60% alcohol. It will definitely wake up an inexperienced whiskey drinker! Putting in the mineral water not only calms Scotch’s aggressive nature, it allows the whiskey to “open itself up.” This term describes how the aroma is released when a few drops of water are added. Even the most experienced malt drinkers enjoy this release of aroma.

The great thing about cask-strength malt whiskey, which has about 60% alcohol, is that it can be toned down to the alcohol level which suits personal taste.

Scotch malt whiskey shouldn’t just be swallowed. It should be taken in small mouthfuls, and then swished around the tongue long enough for it to settle. This is the only way to get the full flavor and experience the fine nature of the malt.

After you swallow, it is said that it is possible to determine the maturity of the malt by how long the flavor stays with you.

When purchasing a malt, the price speaks to the quality. There are many cheap whiskies which can give you a buzz, but the fine version should always be sipped and enjoyed.

Of course, it is possible to drink whiskey in all kinds of ways, but if you’re aiming to impress, use the “proper” way: In a tumbler, no ice, no mixers, and sipped rather than drinking it like soda. And of course, make it fine Scotch malt whiskey.

February 8, 2012
Posted in Food and Drink — Knowledge Buff @ 4:47 PM

How Scotch is Made

When looking at fine Scotch whiskies, one may wonder what it is that makes them so fine, and therefore so costly. Of course, the distiller’s skill is a big part of whether its Scotch will be enjoyable. But part of the reason for the expense is in the process itself, and how long it takes to produce a proper Scotch.

First, barley is placed in deep tanks with water for about three days. As the moisture in the barley increases, the barley starts to germinate. Once it has germinated, it’s time for it to be turned into malt. The barley is moved into the distillery’s malting area, also known as the malting floor, where it is placed into drums.

Germinating the barley converts its starch into fermentable sugar. This sugar will feed the yeast during fermentation. During malting, the barley is turned frequently to keep its temperature constant. Wooden shovels known as sheils are used to turn the grain if the traditional method is used. If the temperature goes above 71-72 degrees, the grain will die, and that will stop the malting process since the starch will no longer be converted to sugar.
Once the malting has gone on long enough, the grain is put into a kiln to dry up the water and stop the process. This kiln is no small oven! It’s a 2-story tall building with vents at the top. The vents allow the heat to leave once it’s time to cool the grain. The roofs of these kilns have a distinctive, pagoda-like appearance. Once the grain is dry, it gets its characteristic peat-like smell. Distillers must take care not to overheat the malt. If it goes above 158 degrees, the malt will be destroyed.

Most modern distilleries don’t make their own malt anymore; they buy it from specialized malting companies. A few, however, still do it the traditional way and make it themselves.

Once dry, the grain is milled into grist, combined with water, and heated to 140 degrees in what are called mash tubs. During this “mashing” period, sediment is removed by at least four changes of water. The result of this mashing is a product called “wort.” The wort is cooled, and then put into a “wash back” container mixed with yeast. It is essential that this container is not filled to the top, since the carbon dioxide produced by this process causes the wort to froth.

After just two to three days, the buildup of alcohol kills the yeast. The end product of this part of the process is called “wash.” It only has an alcohol percentage of 5-8%.

Now it’s time for the wash to go into the most famous part of a distillery: The stills. The stills are made of copper and are made in a specific shape for proper distillation. Most commonly, the stills will be run twice for a batch, but some companies do three, and sometimes even more.

Once distilled, the brew goes into casks, usually oaken, where it will sit for a minimum of 8-12 years.

As you can see, it takes a lot of processing and a lot of space-taking sitting before a fine malt Scotch whiskey is salable. Next time you’re taking a sip of good Scotch, lift your glass to the distillers who have the patience to undertake such a time-consuming endeavor.

Posted in Food and Drink — Knowledge Buff @ 4:47 PM

The Six Scottish Malt Regions

Like wine, Scotch malt whisky varies according to the region it comes from.

Scotland has six big malt-making regions. Each of these areas produces a different malt, and has different methods of distilling it. Raw materials, methods of production, and the climate all have a role in providing these regions with their uniqueness. These regions are Islay, The Lowlands, Speyside, The Highlands, Campbeltown, Islands, and Highlands.

Islay is just a small island off Scotland’s west coast, but it’s the site of many great distilleries. They have a lot of variations in their malt, but the noted ones have a taste which can be described as tangy, smoky, and peaty. The number of distilleries in operation there varies, with as many as 23 in 2005, to as few as 8.

The Lowlands, as its name implies, is a flat region without mountains. It is situated in the southernmost region of Scotland. Their malt is not so smoky or peaty, and has less salt than most of Scotland’s other malts. Its taste is a bit fiery, yet it is smooth despite this.

Speyside is the prominent region when it comes to Scotch. The Spey River runs right through the area, and most of their distilleries use its water to make their whiskey. Malt characteristics vary in Speyside compared to the Highlands, but technically it is in the Highlands in the geographic sense. If someone is looking for “traditional Scottish malt,” Speyside’s rich but relatively mild taste is what they are looking for.

The Highlands holds the crown of being the largest malt-producing area in Scotland. A Highlands brew is smoky and quite rich. Contrary to Lowlands malts, most Highland distilleries have differently-tasting malts. This is due to microclimate differences. Also, the Highlands distillers have varied their production methods and include a variety of different raw materials to make their malts unique.

Campbeltown used to be Scotland’s prime distillery site, but it has since been overtaken. In 1886, there were 21 distilleries, but now there are only three. Despite this, Scotch malt historians still consider Campbeltown to be a separate region.

The Islands. This region is sometimes confused with Islay, but it is actually made up of the islands of Arran, Mull, Orkney, Jura, and Skye. The malts produced here are often enjoyed by experienced Scotch drinkers.

Choosing a Scotch malt whisky can be daunting to someone who is not familiar with the beverage. Hopefully this guide can provide some clues as to what type of taste to expect with Scotches from each region.

Posted in Food and Drink — Knowledge Buff @ 4:37 PM

Best and Worst Snack Foods

Our eating and snacking habits may harm our smiles and exchange them for pained frowns caused by tooth decay. How can we improve our eating habits to keep our teeth healthy? The answer seems simple: Choose better snack and meal choices with the aim of improving dental health. But, some of the food choices for this aren’t so obvious. Everyone has probably heard that a lot of sugar is a way to get a lot of cavities. But sugar isn’t the only food that plaque loves.

Bad Snack Choices

Everyone occasionally gives in to the desire to have a candy bar or other sugary treat. And, they probably know that it’s bad for their teeth. What makes sugar so bad is that plaque loves sugar, too. The bacteria in your mouth literally eat whatever you do, and when you eat sugar, they get a great meal. When they metabolize the sugar, they produce wastes. These wastes are acidic, and it is this acid which corrodes (“rots”) your teeth.

What may be less known is that plaque bacteria also loves starch. Starchy foods include bread and french fries. Starch, along with being great plaque food, is also sticky. Therefore, the plaque/starch mix stays on your teeth, which increases the damage potential.

Cakes and cookies combine the best of both worlds. “Best” by the bacteria’s standards, that is! They have lots of sugar, and lots of starch (from the flour). Bread which is sweetened falls into this category, as well.

About the only way to render eating a lot of sugar or starch harmless to teeth is to brush right after eating these things. But for most people, that is not going to happen. Avoiding these foods as much as possible is about the only realistic solution. And, a fluoride rinse which is left in the mouth can help re-mineralize the teeth after an occasional snack. Long-term eating of sticky sweets and starches, unfortunately, usually will cause the cavities to win in the long run.

Good Snack Choices

On the other hand, there are many snack choices which are great for oral health. A side-benefit is that these are usually healthy for the rest of the body, too.

The best choice is to chew sugarless gum with a high amount of Xylitol in it. Xylitol is a natural sweetener which plaque bacteria generally cannot metabolize, and, it tastes great. Often what seems like an urge to snack is actually an urge to just chew something. Chewing a couple of pieces of sugarless gum will satisfy that urge, and deprive bacteria of nutrients which they could turn into acid. Sugar-free gums can even help clean your teeth by removing some plaque and debris as you chew. Chewing gum also increases saliva flow, which interferes with plaque’s ability to adhere to teeth.

For an actual snack, you should look for high fiber, natural foods like apples or oranges. These have just the right amount of sweetness to allow you to override an urge to eat less-healthy snacks. Their fiber content will keep you full longer, too.

Many vegetables also help curb your appetite while providing vitamins and minerals. Sweeter vegetables like carrots can even satisfy some people’s desire to eat sweet things (although it’d never make it past a true chocoholic’s radar!).

Eating the right things is only part of the picture. Plaque will still eat whatever you do, even if it’s not too “thrilled” about it. So you will still need to brush and floss in order to maintain a healthy smile.

February 5, 2012
Posted in Food and Drink — Knowledge Buff @ 6:35 PM