“Mint Eastwood” Iced Coffee at the Paper Plane Coffee Company

My “Mint Eastwood” iced coffee from the Paper Plane Coffee Company was refreshing and full of surprising flavor.

It does seem that I am indulging in interesting, refreshing beverages lately. I think that blogging is encouraging me to seek out every day opportunities for novelty and adventure, so that I have interesting things to share with you. I had to see a doctor yesterday, and when I was done there, I remembered I was in the vicinity of a unique indie coffee place I had visited once or twice before, the Paper Plane Coffee Company in Montclair, New Jersey.

Paper Plane Coffee Company on Claremont Avenue, Montclair, New Jersey

The creative and unique name of the place is explained on their website. It is named for their coffee farm in Colombia, high in the plains of the mountain where eucalyptus is grown for the national paper company.

The paper plane motif was visible inside and out of the place. You can see the paper plane designs on the outside of the window front, and the word “Departures” on the door.

These knick knack shelves inside displayed various whatnots including some coffee paraphernalia — a coffee mill and what looks to be a percolator — and a paper plane in string art. Further down the wall, colorful 3D sculpted paper planes arrayed themselves along the wall. I really wanted to photograph these, but by then, another customer was behind me, and I didn’t want to worry her that the paparazzi was after her.

The fun place was selling a few gift items too, like these mugs with their name and paper plane design.

I knew I wanted to order one of their unique drinks that you can’t find anywhere else, so I looked at the central panel of their menu under the “Science” category.

After looking over these unusual offerings, I decided to go for the Mint Eastwood in the iced version. This was made up of mint simple syrup, milk and chocolate-cinnamon espresso. I have to admit that the punny name Mint Eastwood was part of the fun.

I didn’t really expect it to look so minty or green. When the barista put it on the counter, I said, “It’s so pretty!” She beamed and said, “Thank you!”

I told the barista, mistakenly, that I had tried the West Side Story coffee drink before. When she told me that this was another pretty one, in pink, I knew I didn’t remember right. It sounds just like something I would order, because I love the musical, but I have yet to try this exotic one with guava nectar, sweetened condensed milk and espresso. What I think I did try was the spicy Nam-Dam made with cardamom, sweetened condensed milk and cold brew.

I have never before this tried any food or beverage that combined both mint and cinnamon in the same recipe. Probably most have concluded that those wouldn’t mesh. (If you can think of another example where these flavors are combined, let me know in the comments.) Maybe, because of the way the liquids were layered in my cup, initially, I tasted that sweet pungent mint, and then, a little later, got the chocolate-cinnamon flavor. As I consumed more of it, the flavors were a little more combined. I don’t know why it works, but it does. I give it a definite thumbs up. My barista friend told me that all the “Science” drinks were worth trying.

Some of these coffee sodas sound intriguing too. I have tried a coffee soda perhaps once before but nothing as complex as these recipes seem to be. The one that interests me the most is the Vincent Vega with cherry, vanilla, Mexican Coca Cola and espresso. I’m not sure what I think of mango flavor combined with coffee. The combination certainly never occurred to me before, but whether it sounds tasty to you or not, I’m sure all the Star Wars fans can appreciate the punny Mangolorian name for that one.

If you’re a local or if you’re visiting the area, try out the Paper Plane Coffee Company. Even if you’re not a local, you can order some coffee products online, including wholesale products for your restaurant or cafe.

Watermelon Bubble Tea at Sonny’s Frozen Desserts

Watermelon bubble tea with mango popping boba,
from Sonny’s Frozen Desserts, Cedar Grove, NJ

My watermelon bubble tea was a refreshing treat and a welcome reward after running a lot of errands in a hot car.

After receiving my second Covid shot — hurray! — picking up a CD of an X ray and buying a few groceries, I was ready for some liquid refreshment and stopped at Sonny’s Frozen Desserts in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. This was not my first time getting a bubble tea and not my first time getting a bubble tea at Sonny’s, but it was my first time with this particular flavor combination.

This was a watermelon flavored bubble tea. I asked for popping boba instead of the usual tapioca pearls, and the only flavor option for those at the time was mango. My favorite bubble tea flavor lately has been Thai tea. Thai tea is orange in color, slightly spicy and sweetened with condensed milk. It is often spiced with star anise but can also be flavored with orange blossoms or tamarind. Also, previously, every bubble tea I tried has had the tapioca pearls.

(Stock photo — not from Sonny’s.) Missvain, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This time, I wanted the popping boba, these little bubbles (made with seaweed) that are filled with fruit juices and burst in your mouth. They seemed more refreshing and thirst quenching than the tapioca option. I then decided they would work best with a fruity flavored bubble tea.

My watermelon bubble tea reminded me, in a good way, of watermelon Jolly Ranchers. It was definitely recognizable as watermelon flavor but seemed significantly sweeter than watermelon is naturally. It was a milky tea as you can see from the photo. I was not disappointed in the popping boba. They did seem refreshing, a lot more so than tapioca would be. After the liquid disappeared from my cup, I had a big collection of boba left in it. I didn’t mind eating this alone, and, eventually, used a spoon to finish them off. Even though they were mango flavored, they didn’t seem to clash with the watermelon flavor and actually seemed to absorb some of that flavor. I was still tasting watermelon as I was getting the last bits.

Bubble tea is a trend that has been around in the U.S. for quite some time. It originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. It caught on first on the West Coast of the U.S. and slowly gained popularity elsewhere. It is a mixture of tea, milk, sugar, often fruit juices and, of course, the tapioca pearls. If you haven’t yet experienced it, it may seem a little strange to you. When I first learned about it, some years back, I was curious and intrigued but wondered if I would really like sucking up chewy solids in my tea. It may take some adjustment, but I’m sure you have experienced ice cubes and probably fruit pieces or other solids in drinks before.

Each bubble tea vendor may have a different menu of flavor options. At Sonny’s, you have your choice of Thai, chai, Earl Gray, mixed green, milk, vanilla milk, almond, taro, coconut, strawberry, honeydew, watermelon, peach, mango and chocolate.

The Sandwich Theory Review — Smoked Turkey and Brie Panini

smoked turkey panini at The Sandwich Theory

The Sandwich Theory offers a variety of specialty sandwiches, paninis, wraps and salads in a charming atmosphere.

The Sandwich Theory, Montclair, NJ

I visited the Sandwich Theory on July 3rd and ordered the smoked turkey and brie panini …

with some Dirty Chips mesquite barbecue potato chips and a Diet Coke.

My sandwich was very tasty. It was built on thin slices of multigrain bread that was full of seeds. I really enjoyed the nutty seed taste and the toastiness of the bread.

The inside was filled with stacks of sliced smoked turkey, a layer of melty brie cheese, thin slices of Granny Smith apple and Dijon mustard. Everything tasted fresh, and it all worked together beautifully. The turkey was smoky and a little bit salty, and the brie was buttery and nutty. The apple added freshness and a bit of sweet-tart, and the mustard added a little zing.

I enjoyed the chips quite a lot too. For a long time, I didn’t favor barbecue-flavored chips, and lately, I’ve been in a mood for the barbecue flavor almost every time I have chips. This Dirty Chips mesquite barbecue seemed especially good, but I’d have to do a side by side comparison to determine why.

I don’t have nutritional information or a calorie count on the sandwich, but it seemed like a fairly healthy choice. (It would have been even more so without the side of chips.) The seedy multigrain bread was healthy and full of nutrition, and so was the apple. The turkey was lean. The brie, of course, had fat, but the mustard added flavor without adding any additional fat.

The place also had a pleasant atmosphere. If the weather was nice, I might have eaten at one of the outdoor tables, but there was a drizzle of rain.

Inside, there was various nature photography, much of it featuring birds, hanging on the walls.

Nature photos decorated the area around this tea and coffee station.

And some abstract art featuring an apple graced another wall.

Mellow folk and rock music played throughout the place which I found pleasant when I was consciously listening and non-distracting when I was reading from my Kindle.

I only visited once and tried one item from the menu, but I definitely think it would be worth visiting again.

Il Laboratorio del Gelato Review

Carrot and fresh mint gelato with orange hibiscus sorbet at Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Il Laboratorio del Gelato offers a variety of surprising flavors in light European style gelato and sorbet.

I noticed the lines of people outside the Montclair, New Jersey location before I even noticed the name of the business on the awning. It piqued my curiosity. When I noticed it was a gelato place, I thought I’d try it out.

What is gelato? The establishment’s website offers an explanation. Gelato is Italian for ice cream, but that can mean different things in different regions of Italy. Southern Italy developed an icier version, partly because eggs and cream were less affordable and partly because an icier version was more refreshing. Northern Italy developed a creamier, custardy ice cream. Even so, gelato is generally lighter than American style ice cream.

Photo from Il Laboratorio del Gelato

The place offers more than twice the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins, and some very surprising ones too. As a first timer, I decided to go for novelty, choosing flavors I had not seen elsewhere. They did offer me some samples on a spoon, to help me with my flavor decisions.

a sideview of the Montclair, New Jersey location

I went for fresh mint and carrot gelato, a scoop of each, that is. Maybe, mint is not so unusual for an ice cream flavor, but the carrot certainly seemed different. I asked if it was like carrot cake, and the girl behind the counter said, “No,” as she offered me a spoonful. It doesn’t have the cinnamon or spice flavor of carrot cake. It might seem odd to many American minds, but when you consider that carrots have a lot of natural sweetness and that we already make a dessert from them with carrot cake, it isn’t quite so strange. My third flavor choice was an orange hibiscus sorbet, which, instead of being an orange color, was more of a deep burgundy.

Serving sizes were conservative to say the least, by American standards. I ordered three scoops in a cup. The photo, with all its zoom, might not give you much of an idea of size, but it is small. I would say it is less than half the size of what would be considered “a cup” at American ice cream chains like Baskin Robbins or Carvel. It was also $6 for that small serving, so this is high end gourmet fare.

I don’t know if this is more of a European sense of sizing or something else. I was reminded of two things. I was reminded of this kind of cliché we have about fine dining where there is a tiny serving beautifully presented on a large plate like below.

Photo by Elle Cosgrave on Unsplash

I was also reminded of an incident from when I was teaching English in Hungary one summer in the ’90s. With my very, very limited Hungarian and, holding one thumb up for “one,” I ordered a single scoop of ice cream in a cone. The girl behind the counter put in one scoop, and it didn’t even come past the edge of the cone. Hugely disappointed, I held up two fingers and asked for two scoops. That was definitely not an American concept of a scoop of ice cream, even if it was a literal scoopful. It’s not a scoop of ice cream until it is at least a mound on top of the cone.

So, the sizing was interesting, but read on. It was not an altogether disappointing experience.

The fresh mint was very refreshing and subtle without being overwhelming or seeming like candy cane. (They do have a candy cane flavor also, it turns out.) The carrot was sweet and carrot-like, but when I was eating absent-mindedly, I would forget it was a carrot flavor. It just seemed like a light, fresh and sweet dessert. The sorbet was icy and a nice, tangy sweet orange flavor with just a hint of the hibiscus.

In spite of the smaller size, I was also eating with a tiny spoon and savoring every bite. It wasn’t gone in an instant. When I was finished, it felt like just enough, and I didn’t feel guilty about my indulgence. It felt refreshing and satisfying.

There are only two more locations of Il Laboratorio del Gelato, and they are both in New York City, one in Greenwich Village and one in the lower east side.

I thought I would name a few more of the interesting flavors. The gelato flavors come in several categories such as cheese/savory, chocolate, fruit, grain/cereal, nut, spice, spirits/liqueur/beer, sweet, tangy and vegetal/herbal. Would you try a Grape Nuts flavored ice cream? How about cucumber, beet, basil, olive oil, cheddar cheese, pink peppercorn or wasabi? How adventurous are you?

Starbucks Review: Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino Plus Chicken & Quinoa with Black Beans and Greens

I stopped into a Starbucks this weekend and picked up a frappuccino and salad — something very healthy and something quite a bit more indulgent.

So, the frappuccino isn’t quite as healthy as my other choice. The air conditioning in my car isn’t working so efficiently, and it’s been hard for me to resist frozen drinks in the hot weather. The strawberry funnel cake flavor seemed to be a seasonal or maybe limited edition flavor, and I often go for novelty, so I thought I would give it a try.

I tasted a lot of strawberry and whipped cream and sweetness but not a lot of coffee flavor. You can see from the photo that the whipped cream and strawberry are both on the bottom of the cup and layered on top. I was wondering how you could really get funnel cake flavor into a coffee drink, but that mostly came from a sprinkling of funnel cake pieces on the top.

It was refreshing, and, if I forgot it was supposed to be a coffee drink, I found it enjoyable like a milkshake or something different. The lack of coffee flavor was disappointing in something that was supposed to be … coffee. I felt the strawberry flavor didn’t blend and seemed to overwhelm the coffee flavor. I probably wouldn’t order it again. The barista behind the counter told me that she had not tried it, but that customers seemed to like it. So, although this is my opinion, you might feel differently.

Above is my salad as it appeared in the case and before opening. Below is how it appeared when I removed the lid.

There were assorted greens, (specifically, lettuce, spinach, tatsoi and chard) with white chicken pieces, cotija cheese, quinoa, black beans, charred corn, grape tomatoes, julienned jicama and a tomato vinaigrette.

Here’s another pic after I added the dressing and mixed everything.

The tomato vinaigrette contains tomato puree and looked thick like a tomato sauce before it was drizzled and stirred in. That was a little surprising.

I liked it. I detected quite a lot of natural sweetness from the corn, tomatoes, jicama and dressing. This was the first time this Northeastern girl tasted jicama, but I liked it. In fact, the ingredient wasn’t listed too prominently on the label, so when I came across it, I took a guess at what it was. I later saw it listed in fine print on the label on the underside of the bowl. The sweetness was balanced with a little tang from the dressing and some of the more bitter greens. The label listed sweet chile in the dressing, which I didn’t detect so much, so the spice level was pretty mild.

The chicken was moist, tender and savory, and it was satisfying to have some protein in the mix. The black beans also added some substance. According to the label, this salad has 420 calories. I would recommend the salad … not so much with the frappuccino.

I’m sharing this with Life This Week.