Infusion, Part 1 – Time for Tea

Since discovering that fermented food and drink causes an allergic reaction in my oesophagus, I’ve had to reconsider my drinking habits, which led me to a spirit-heavy refreshment portfolio, mostly consisting of vodka, gin and whiskey.  The latter two lend themselves mostly to serving in cocktails or simply neat, but vodka is the most libre of the three.  It’s the chicken of the drinking world – a perennial favorite that goes with everything, allows infinite mutations in preparation, and makes you feel great.

In that spirit, I’ve created my first vodka infusions with our old friend, Camellia Sinensis.

First, the foundation: vodka.  I like Tito’s and Chopin vodka – the former is a superb value for the taste and cost, comes from Texas, and is made from the crop every midwesterner knows intimately: corn.  Chopin is the fancy import, made in Poland from potatoes and finished by grim-faced Eastern Europeans (I assume).

Since this was my first attempt and all could go horribly wrong, I opted for a very inexpensive bottle of Svedka ($9.99 at County Market).  I tried to acquire said vodka at Hyvee, but since I recently turned 30 and haven’t renewed my driver’s license, the stout clerk (who obviously had renewed her license many times) refused to sell me alcohol.

Svedka in hand, I turned to the tea.  I chose two blends – Republic of Tea’s British Breakfast, a traditional black, English breakfast tea in sachets, and a loose leaf peach green tea. I started with the green tea, using a smaller 250ml bottle and about a tablespoon of loose tea.  I capped the smaller bottle, shook a few times, and turned to the remaining vodka in the Svedka bottle.  I decided to use four tea bags, which, in hindsight, was far too many.  I sealed the bottle and took both outdoors – the sun was powerful, and I thought it would improve the infusion process.

After a few hours of waiting, I had the results.  The black tea infusion was extremely dark, resembling ink in a huge capsule.  The green tea was much lighter, the color of whiskey.

I chilled them both, and tried the black tea first.  It had the taste of oversteeped tea – bitter in the extreme, with an added bite of alcohol.  The flavor was greatly improved by adding lemon and fresh mint, but it’s clear that I overdid the black tea flavor.

The green tea was next – without any doctoring, the flavor was very pleasant.  More peach would have been welcome, but might require adding actual peach fruit, since even the tea prepared with water doesn’t have a strong peach aroma like I prefer.

I want to continue experimenting with tea, and I think for the next batch, I will use better vodka and less tea.  Future blends will most likely include Rooibos, Earl Grey (PIcard would have loved a little vodka in his tea now and then), and maybe a modified black tea recipe.

Until then, it’s bitter booze for me.

Imagine There’s No Google

…it’s really hard to do.  I’ve been faithfully using Google services for years now, and watching their products leapfrog the stagnant competition in one arena after another.  Giddily adopting these services wasn’t so much a choice as a logical extension of the satisfaction I derived from their search- the mail service that offered gigabytes while others offered megabytes, the map software that let you see the God’s-eye view of your house,  the free photo management software that had cute animations and could read raw files – they all worked in concert to give one the impression that Google was a brilliant and benevolent force that had come to free us from the tyranny of inferior and expensive software.

All it really cost was being exposed to some textual ads- nothing about your erectile dysfunction or breast size, just ads that were contextually based on the contents of your email.  The lesson to the privacy-minded was quite simple – don’t write about anything that you wouldn’t want to see an ad for.

This strategy served me well for years – I didn’t mind giving Google some information.  My personal data and interests were meted out across several Google services, many of them recent acquisitions that at first barely fit in the stable of existing Google services.

Things started to go awry one day last Fall.  I was using Google Books on my Android phone, while listening to Google Music  (a truly marvelous accomplishment of technology), when it occurred to me that Google knew my location, what I was reading, what I was listening to, who was e-mailing me, what they were saying, and collecting recordings of my voice through Google Voice search.

Perhaps it’s just an excess of vanity, but it bothered me that Google had taken such a keen interest in my life.  No friends or family know all of these details of my life; and even I am scarcely aware of all of them all at once.  Yet I gladly surrender them to a company that I know only in the most superficial way- through the products that they market to me.

Even this uncomfortable arrangement might have lasted, were it not for the recent change in Google’s privacy policy – now, data I generate on any Google service is aggregated to provide me with the best possible experience.

There is something intensely disturbing about this; though it’s difficult to articulate exactly what I find so unpleasant about this policy.  Put succinctly, I don’t want to have to censure myself on an ongoing basis.  If I mention in a Gchat that I almost shit my pants when a car tried to run my motorcycle off the road, am I going to see contextual ads in other services for diapers and leather chaps?

Its a more gentle version of the Thought Police- I watch what I say, lest my words and actions be interpreted incorrectly by Google’s algorithms.

Suffice it to say, this thought quickly killed my Google boner.

Thus, in honor and in spite of Google’s new policy, I am migrating most of the Google services I use for personal needs to self-hosted or competitor products.  The list looks like this:

  • Email – self hosted through Dreamhost
  • Docs, Calendar, Music – Owncloud.org, also on my Dreamhost server
  • Pictures – Gallery 2 on Dreamhost
  • RSS Reader – FOSS android reader (non-cloud based)
  • Maps – Bing Maps
  • Search – Duck Duck Go (it’s not pretty, but I’m trying to get used to it)
  • Chrome – Firefox

Search has definitely been the hardest – my band-aid solution has been to use my browser in Private Mode while searching with Google, to avoid any messy cookie-mixups.

This is just the first step – next I have to convince everyone else with Gmail accounts to do the same 🙂