Experiment Number 2 in Cold Brew Coffee

5 04 2015
I first got into cold brewing after a visit to a tea shop in Hong Kong which suggested I could drench my tea leaves in cold water to let them soak before dunking them into hot water. I liked the flavour that produced and my further online reaearch suggested that I could actually go all the way and cold brew tea by soaking tea leaves in a cup overnight in a fridge. That produced a perfect flavour profile (strong, but just short of acidic) for a tea I got from Taiwan. It was convenient too, because I could leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours and drink it,  without having to pay attention to how long I was brewing it while heating the water.
I tried the cold brew experiment a month or two back with a bag of ground coffee from Highlander. I watched a couple of youtube videos, including the one on Jamie Oliver’s channel. I emptied an entire 250g of ground beans into the jar and topped it up with abotu 750 mls of water. I let the jar sit in the fridge overnight before the excruciating process of filtering the ground from the finished product. I used multiple Boncafe’s filters (the 4-6 cups one)  for the entire batch and ended up with a strong concoction (which, not knowing how to dilute, left me jumpy and tachycardic for the evening) it did keep me up for an entire night of partying though. What’s bothered me so far is how the cold brew (or anything short of a properly, foamy latte) lacks a kind of fullness to the sip, but I’ve given up trying to achieve that.
This time round, I decided to try it again, with the intention of using the coffee concentrate for something else. I used about 100gm of coffee power (Kaffe Kaldi’s French Roast) in around 800mls of water. Let it soak for 24 hours and filtered it out (nothing fancy, just a strainer and 6 pieces of filter funnels, consecutively) to come up with the final product that you see on my instagram. The difference between this batch and the previous one, I recall specifically that the KK grounds sank to the bottom while the Highlander ones were mostly floating on the surface. Again, since I do not recall the previous flavour profile, I can’t say for sure how that might have affected the taste.
Co-incidentally, Coffee:Nowhere was hosting a little fair at West Coast Plaza and had some of their cold brews for sale, so  I decided to buy a bottle for comparison’s sake. I cannot recall how my previous batch tasted like and I’m not the connoisseur to differentiate the subtle notes (apple, cinnamon, freshly cut rubber hose), there was something definitely different. My coffee had some bitter notes that were upfront lasted throughout. The bottled coffee (“Specialty Blend”, but no other details) had a gentler, smooth acidic note to it.
I’m not sure if cold brew is a hugely different beast from hot brew, because I have never made my own hot brew at home from grounds and when I’m buying some outside, I never have it black, nonetheless, having two samples to compare, the bottled once had actual flavour beyond the acidic note, while mine didn’t. I noticed the colours looked different, so I diluted mine a little and it toned down the bitter, but had basically, very little flavour otherwise. In retrospect, I should probably consider using the full 200g next time.
What am I going to do with my home made jar of cold brew coffee? Follow me on Instagram @csjjjj and see for yourself tomorrow.

Books : The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

9 09 2013




The National Library had this “mystery brown bag” scheme where you go to the book counter and pick out a small brown bag from a tray of bags and read the mystery book in it. I cheated. The first few books were some sappy romance novels so I kept putting them back until I chanced on this one.

Originally titled “Men who hate Women” I found Stieg Larsson’s thriller a little slow at the beginning. I had heard mixed reviews from different people. One friend hated it and stopped reading while another one was raving about it. It was dark, though once you get over the early part of it, you get a little desensitised and focus on the thriller/suspense aspect of it. I was also goaded on by Phillip Pullman’s endorsement on the cover so although I put the physical book down for almost a week, I looked up the library’s online service and borrowed the digital version (the Trilogy) to read on my iPad.

On one hand, it has a multi-layered complex plot, however, I did find myself questioning the plausibility of it sometimes especially with regards to the unlimited technological capacity of the protagonist. Nonetheless, this was a great read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who can stomach the dark themes. The universe also surprised me when I bumped into a Ms Salander later in the week 😉

Next up, I recently finished reading Subhas Anandan’s Autobiography.

#archive The 3 Secrets of Highly Successful Graduates

31 08 2013

This is a really interesting piece of career advice I bumped int on Facebook.

#archive Dangerous Ideas : Productivity is overrated

4 08 2013

Been getting a couple of wake up calls. Cal Newport cautions about being a productivity tips junkie here and reminds readers to focus of intensity.

Spoiler warning

The key to really getting ahead has nothing to do with productivity. From my experience with successful young people (and, as I writer, I have quite a bit of exposure to this crowd) what you need, put simply, is a drive to keep working, with a laser-like intensity, on something even after you’ve lost immediate interest. Tenacity. A grating thirst to get it done. These are the precursors of accomplishment.

Having good productivity habits compliment this crucial skill. They take this intensity and place it in a schedule. They keep small things from crowding your mind. They eliminate the stress of what appointment you might be forgetting or what vital errand has to be done. But productivity is not a substitute for this work.

This is a mistake I sometimes intuit is being made by young people with an interest in this community. There is a belief that if you get just the right system, with just the right calendar technology, and to-do notebook, and task management philosophy, accomplishment will come automatically. You can just turn the system on and watch it churn out what needs to get done.

#archive George Saunder’s Graduation Speech

4 08 2013

Don’t read further if you don’t want the spoiler. I thought of using the blog/tagging format to keep track of the important stuff I read. You can read the full article here.

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

Happy Nurses Day and a bit about Nightingale

31 07 2013

The week long celebration started on Monday. I haven’t been to the hospital the entire week, so I’m not entirely sure what is going on there nor have I been able to have a heart to heart talk with my nursing friends and colleagues.

I noticed, when I was in India, that they celebrate theirs on the 20th of May which is the birthday of Florence Nightingale. Although we grew up with the image of her as a self-sacrificial figure in the care of fallen soldiers, she was much more than that.

As an educated, empowered woman, she is, to an extent a feminist symbol for rejecting the suffocating expectations placed on an upper-class woman to be a baby-making machine. Instead, she decided to be a nurse, against the wishes of her her family. She was also known to travel widely and work with politicians, write extensively and do big-picture planning.

It is also easy to forget her role as a pioneer of the hospital  as a well organised system. Her experience in the Crimean War showed that many soldiers were dying from diseases apart from the battle injuries. She seems, from my reading of her Wikipedia entry, to be an early adopter of some sort of Evidence Based Medicine. Which, to put simply, is the use of scientific methods to understand if your treatment is working and to tease out the risks of it. Her background in statistics probably helped and she actually compiled data on her patients as opposed to basing her ideas on “experience”. The patterns she observed from this eventually led her to place great emphasis on sanitation.

The next time the ward sister reminds you the clean your hands in the MRSA ward, it’s Florence Nightingale speaking through her 😉

On a more personal note, although Nurses play a great variety of roles, my experience of them has largely been as “guardians”. Watching our backs, administering treatment, actually caring for patients, apart from merely treating them. Often, they take the brunt of the aggression from angry patients.

As a friend of mine often points out, I do wonder if they are under-appreciated by physicians, although there have been a lot of hints that the system could do better in taking care of them. Perhaps it is time to reconsider how nurses are remunerated? Maybe there is a need to clearly define, or perhaps redefine nursing? I do not know what the future holds and I don’t have immediate ideas. Nonetheless, I am greatly indebted to those nurses I have had to privilege to work with, both personally and professionally.

Happy Nurses Day!


And here is a picture of Nurses going on strike in Singapore in the 60s. It is still on the wall at SGH, I think 😛 Not that I am encouraging you to go on strike (we will all die), just that I have faith in the community to be resourceful and make bold reforms.

Nurses on Strike!

Books : Once Upon a Time in the North

27 07 2013
I have not been to the library in a while, much less read fiction. It was a surprise that I found this little book left lying around the marketing or finance books as I was lazing around. I am not entirely familiar with Pullman’s writing though I have watched the Golden Compass.

In general, it is hard for a movie to do justice to the ideas in a book. However, if my fuzzy memory serves me well, the flavour of the Golden Compass movie, seems consistent with the flavour of this little prequel. It is about Lee, a ballooning aeronaut, who finds himself on an Arctic Island and get’s acquainted, in a matter of hours, with it’s politics and out of nowhere, becomes a player.
I appreciate the themes of skepticism, questioning the status quo and the added layer of “magical realism” when it comes to people and their daemon’s. I like the fact that Pullman keeps the “magical” element subtle and minimal. Overall, the book is easy reading, as I read it exclusively over a few bus trips. It makes me rather curious to start reading the rest of the His Dark Materials series.
I am considering reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo next.

Perspective I

19 07 2013

While I was trying to channel my anger into something constructive, I ran into a bunch of pictures in a feature by FSTOPPERS on Tom Hussey’s Reflections. It’s an eye opening look at the elderly staring back at a reflection of their younger selves. Hussey has a great portfolio on his website and you can see the entire collection here.

This something I ponder about a fair bit, in conjunction with reflections on Death, partly because that seems to be the next stage.  I’m surrounded by the elderly at work, so I am rather surprised/ashamed that I haven’t had the Old Age and Death conversation with anyone. Perhaps it’s the language barrier, perhaps I’m just caught up with the routine. I’ll do that the next time I see someone who might be willing.

That’s probably me in 40+years. If I live that long.



Earworm of the Week #8 – Sound of Silence

4 05 2013

This song strangely has a very old feel to it with a fresh message. A mix of cheerful and somber.

And clapping, which spoils the mood.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence



Self Doubt and Medical School

3 10 2012

“During my initial years as a graduate student, I certainly didn’t enjoy an unshakable sense that I had found my true calling. The beginning of doctoral training can be rough.”

So goes a recent article I read on my friend’s Facebook wall. I felt guilty for going online two days before my psychiatry exam, but I’m glad I read it.

I always tell people the story of how I got into medical school. How I was going to be an engineer all my life (a computer one, I discovered in JC) and then in the military, my vocation allowed me to immerse myself in the medical profession and it occurred to me that perhaps, “medicine is just a different kind of engineering”. That line sure impressed the interview panel and I did get in. Though, that seemed like a misunderstanding  in the first two years, where they load you up with the “basic sciences” before they let you loose onto patients in the hospital.

In the first two years, nothing made sense (well, almost). It was literally Greek to me and my professor’s repeated insistence that “see, you don’t need to memorise, you just need to understand!” came across as nothing short of a lie. It isn’t downright wrong, I have realised, but you need to figure out a coherent way of reminding yourself of what you have understood. I started out at the bottom of class and somehow managed to make my way to a more acceptable, above average. I also realised that the trick really was to understand, and once you a) understand a bit of Greek and Latin and b) try to make sense of things, it a lot more fun to learn.

In my second year, it got worse in a sense. There was a crap load more content, tutors went on and on and on explaining how the immune system works, when they could have simply said, this works by a darwinian algorithm with a positive feedback loop that amplifies the appropriate signal. You can see how much geekiness that statement is loaded with. All this while, I had this sickening feeling that I was in the wrong place, everyone was better than me and that inauspicious amount (according to the Chinese) on my government bond which had a lot of fours in it, was a bad omen and I should go back to the familiar field of computers.

I have a lot less self-doubt these days. We do rotations in various hospital departments and if you draw a chart, it starts off at a medium height, then peaks much higher a few weeks into the posting when you realise the sheer scope of your ignorance. Slowly, as the exam comes closer and you’ve had more time to make sense of the subject matter, it takes a slight dip (or rise, depending on how well prepared you are). It then, at least during the exam, stabilises to a lower level.

Over time, I have come to accept some amount of self doubt as necessary for being rational and for the sake of progress. I think 100% confidence is something that generally does not exist in the sciences and although I can accept that we can assume certainty in a practical sense, we can never be 100% sure about anything and pretending to be that is either inaccurate, stupid or downright dangerous. Doubt is an interal part of the reasoning process an although you never get rid of it, I enjoy the practise of wrestling with it to come up with a final answer. As and extension of this, I have always tried to cultivate a healthy skepticism about what I’m being taught in school (one of my mentors drove this point home really well) and have tried to understand the limits of my abilities. The field of medicine has a history of falling prey to erroneous idea, but we take pride in being open to correction and improvement.

Early on, a couple of things were important in keeping me going. I realised that I came from a unique background and had a unique viewpoint which no one else had. I think I’m the only guy in class who asked “if you use Valium to treat alcohol dependence, can you use alcohol to treat Valium dependence?” That probably stunned the tutor for a minute. She probably thinks I’m a retard for asking that question, but I don’t care.

I had some really cool friends. My BFF and I would have these random speculations in class, it keeps us awake. I would say evolution, he would say design. I had these two friends in the hostel who really helped me study and understand stuff (yes idiots, I’m talking about you). We would stick to a particular accent during an evening of studying, which resembled drunk Greeks arguing rather than medics. Our exams ended later than everyone else’s so the other students in the hostel would mockingly ask us if we were studying for the next semester.

We got taught by some awesome tutors who had these vastly different personalities. This really convinced me that, because Medicine was such a big field, I could either find a nice spot where I fit in, or create one, or better still, I don’t have to fit in and that can be a strength.

Yet, one of the biggest lessons was when I was talking to my classmate in the lift one day. S/he was someone who’s at the top of his/her game. I cannot remember how the conversation went, but s/he just blurted out that s/he was worried about whether s/he was in the right place, doing the right subject and if s/he could cope. I’m confident that there are people who are sure, who, have wanted to be doctors all their lives, but I doubt these are the majority. You barely know what you are doing when you are 18, and I got lucky, even at 20, to say that I’ve made the right choice.

I have come to understand that this is the cooolest thing I could ever be doing. I’ve seen birth and death, in the same night, almost. I am looking forward to delivering babies in a few weeks. I’ve had my hands inside someone, while they were still alive. Probably saved a couple of lives already. Got bitten by a patient. Played cards with another group. Spoke to recovering drug addicts and people who were in the midst of a suicide act when they were rescued. Listened to a hundred hearts. Seen someone’s heart and breathing stop (in preparation for surgery). We had a tutorial where we discussed how to deal with a patient who feels his life being messed up “is God’s Will”. We spent an entire day talking about marijuana, booze, ecstasy, heroin. We talked about Dragons*, Angels, Pink Elephants and miniature humans running around in the wards. Next time I complain about how I can’t go partying with you, do remind me what a heck of a time I’m having.

Self doubt can be scary for some students who have had straight As since as long as they can remember. They get thrown into an uncertain, unforgiving environment, where things are not exactly black and white anymore. It’s uncomfortable, but I think that’s what makes medical school fun. I’m glad to have all these amazing classmates and I’m sure they’ll turn out fine 🙂

*Chasing the Dragon is a Euphemism for smoking heroin. Pink Elephants and Lilliputian hallucinations is what some alcohol addicts might report when they are going into withdrawal. Angel dust is a street name for a drug called PCP.