Chinese New Year & Valentine’s Day Gift Guide 2013

It’s already February, believe or not, and that usually means it’s Valentine’s Day but interestingly enough, Chinese New Year falls four days before it (February 10, 2013). If you are giving gifts to your Valentine or if you happen to celebrate both Valentine’s and give gifts to family for Chinese New Year, hopefully, this gift guide would give you ideas, ranging from spirits, non-alcoholic beverages to food items.


Owney's Original Rum

Bridget Firtle brings small batch rum back to New York from her Brooklyn-based distillery, The Noble Experiment NYC.

Owney’s Rum is named after Owen Madden, a Prohibition-era rum runner from Hell’s Kitchen. It is a very smooth, dry white rum made from high quality sugar content, all-natural, non-GMO molasses.

A sweet scent of banana, sugar cane and butterscotch leads to a dry, flavorful palate accented by hints of vanilla and earth. Owney’s is an excellent cocktail component, but can also be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. Available in NYC (and shipped) at Astor Wines $34.99.

Purity Vodka

Purity Vodka is a super premium vodka from Sweden. It is a vodka crafted with malted winter wheat, barley water directly from a deep aquifer and de-ionized water in a precise proportion to bring the vodka down to 80 proof. The distiller only uses a fraction about 10% of the entire distillation taken from a narrow cut from within the heart of the distillation itself (some distilleries use up to 30%) to create this vodka and does not filter it to preserve the taste.

I love its creamy yet spicy grain notes with the barley providing a nice backbone for the wheat notes. A almost vanilla bean, cream soda, smell with subdued traces of wheat alcohol based alcohol playing off the deeper barley notes. It would make an excellent vodka martini that stands up to an olive or twist. It makes a wonderful bone dry vodka and tonic. Retail: $42

Dulce Vida "Lone Star Edition" Añejo Tequila

Dulce Vida “Lone Star Edition” Añejo Tequila – an organic tequila distiller – collaborated with the Garrison Brother’s Distillery, a Texas-based distillery that makes small batches of bourbon. Dulce Vida is using 10-gallon Garrison Brothers bourbon barrels to age their tequila, and they’re then releasing the spirit in limited quantities — just 600 cases.

Dulce Vida Lone Star Edition Tequila pours a straw-gold in the glass and has aromas of agave, pepper and oak. On the palate it’s very woody, as the small bourbon barrels impart tons of oak notes to the spirit. There are some typical bourbon hints, like caramel and vanilla, plus lots of spicy heat — everything from habañero peppers to cinnamon — that mingles with some mild and cooling mint. The finish is long and dry, with savory notes kicking in toward the end.

Dulce Vida Tequila Añejo “Lone Star Edition” is a limited edition offering available only in Texas. Retails for $75

Crown Royal Maple Finished Whiskies

Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky ($24.99) is dark amber in color and looks like a bottle full of maple syrup. Maple syrup notes dominate the nose and are accompanied by rich caramel, vanilla, and the faintest hint of oak undertones. The entry is sweet maple syrup (think pancake syrup), caramel, and vanilla but it quickly transitions in the midway with a rich and deep oak spice accompanied by allspice and a strong cinnamon note. The spice reaches a peak toward the end of the mid-palate and then peters out for a long and oaky finish with a strong return of the maple syrup, vanilla, and caramel flavors. The maple lingers for quite a long time on the palate.


TCHO Chocolate bonbons and Mokaccino Serious Milk Bar

TCHO is an upscale small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate artisan based in San Francisco, California.

As of late 2012, the brand created the Mokaccino SeriousMilk bars ($10.95 for two 58 gram bars). It’s a collaboration with the Bay Area master coffee roaster (and one of my favorite coffee roasters) Blue Bottle to create this irresistible bar. When I tasted this chocolate, it tasted of roasted nuttiness and complex dried fruit notes from freshly roasted Blue Bottle coffee, blending seamlessly with dense caramel and cocoa notes found in the SeriousMilk chocolate.

The 16-piece winter chocolate collection ($44.95) is a delicious bonbon collection that would make any chocolate loving recipient happy. The flavors featured in this collection were “Classic” SeriousMilk + ground Piedmonte hazelnuts, “Fruity” PureNotes Dark + wild Morello cherries in liqueur, “Bright” PureNotes Dark + blood orange, Sea salt and roasted nib caramel + custom dark blend 85%, and Marshall’s Farm Bay Area honey caramel + TCHOpro 68%. All the flavors were wonderful but my personal favorites were the latter flavor and the sea salt caramel (I’m a sucker for well made caramel).

Various Fine & Raw chocolate bars - made in Brooklyn, NY

Fine & Raw chocolates are based in Brooklyn, New York. They are craft artisan confectioners using conscious ingredients and innovative low heat techniques to keep the chocolate’s raw vitality and flavor. Their chocolate bars (prices start from $7) are fantastic chocolates that have a slight toothy texture when you bite it because of the techniques used but you do taste the fruity, nutty nuances of the chocolate.

Food & Snacks

Boneless Surryano Ham Slices and Berkshire Jowciale (Smoked & Peppered Hog Jowl)

Surry Farms is located from one of the best ham producing states Virginia. Their boneless Surryano ham slices (3-4 ounce package for $34.95) American counterpart to European Prosciutto and Serrano hams. Surryanos are produced only from rare Six-Spotted Berkshire hogs and it has such a luscious, creamy texture with a wonderful hickory flavor. The Berkshire Jowciale (1.5 pound average for $20.96) is essentially a smoked and peppered hog jowl except it’s really fatty (in a good way, if you love pork fat like I do) and it’s a better substitute for the traditional bacon. It’s wonderful in pastas (after the jowciale is rendered) like I have made.

Flavored popcorns from Quinn Popcorn

Quinn Popcorn creates a better microwave popcorn than the ones you usually find in your local supermarket. They remove the chemicals and GMO ingredients (like the corn oil you’d find in commercial popcorn), and the popcorn itself is organic. The expeller pressed oils are high in omega-3′s. All of their delicious flavors I’ve tried – lemon & sea salt, parmesan & rosemary, and Vermont maple & sea salt – were balanced with sweet and savory and too easy to snack on. (3 boxes, 2 bags per box are $14.99)

Tea & Coffee

Long Jing and Thés des Songes teas from Le Palais des Thés

Long Jing ($30 for 100g tin) and Thés des Songes ($23 for 125g colorful tin) teas from Le Palais des Thés are great, elegant gift ideas for tea lovers.

The Thés des Songes is an oolong tea scented with flowers petal like safflower, lavender, and mallow, dried lemon peels, and other aromas. It is a medium-bodied, calming tea blend that has notes of dark chocolate, citrus and lavender.

Long jing tea (龍井茶, also known as “Dragon Well”) has a recognizable sword-like shape. It has a delicate fragrance, a slightly sweet flavor and a silky texture. The liquor is velvety and its chestnut aroma lingers for a long time in the mouth.

Hario Electric Buono Kettle

The innovative Japanese glass/coffee equipment company Hario recently released the electric V60 Buono kettle ($80). Like its predecessor, it still retains its shape, especially the graceful, long spout that controls the flow of the boiled water. The electric version easily boils the water to temperature by the press of a button (and obviously wait a couple of minutes) and the kettle itself is cordless so nothing would be in your way as you pour the water.

Able's Kone Filter

Able Brewing KONE Coffee Filter ($60) is a beautiful and stark, stainless steel reusable filter which allows for more oils and a fuller bodied cup of coffee than paper. The filter is cleaner than a mesh basket, and the photo-chemically machined holes let oils that would be absorbed by a standard paper filter flow through. It gives you the control of a Chemex and the tannic cup you get from a French press. This filter could fit into a Hario V60 size 02 or a standard 6,8 and 10 cup Chemex Coffee Maker.

The Espro Press

Espro Press ($70) was created by Vancouverites Christopher McLean and Bruce Constantine, started out as a Kickstarter project. It’s available in two sizes, one 8-ounce and one large 30-ounce. What sets the Espro Press apart is the filter: two levels of ultra-fine metal mesh, the inner much finer than the outer but both significantly finer than what you’d find in the typical Bodum or other French press. Those filter out even the smallest detectable particles of grounds, so nothing untoward reaches your cup.

It a sparkling clean French press cup, yet heavy. Laden with oils and flavors but without the particulates that occlude nuances and serve as a detractor for me in French press. The coffee comes out of the pot too hot to drink. At the end of the cup (12 minutes), I find the slightest trace of silt, minor enough that I wash it down with the last sip.

Brazen Variable Brewer and Willoughby's coffee beans

Brazen Variable Brewer ($199) is arguably the best automatic drip coffee maker in the market right now (the other very good one is the Technivorm). It’s sophisticated, beautiful and it’s simply amazing.

I grew up (before I “discovered” manual brewing several years ago) using those mainstream brands of auto drip coffee makers that usually produces mediocre cups of coffee. The primary reason is really water temperature. This company lets you customize the water temperatures (from 190-210 degrees Fahrenheit), pre-soak (or de-gas) time, and altitude. It overall produces a very accurate cup and coffee extraction with vibrant flavors from the beans.

Brazen Variable Brewer and Willoughby's coffee beans

Willoughby’s coffee beans are the beans I’ve used with the Brazen coffee brewer. Their Serious Select Panama Elida Estate Reserve limited edition ($16.99 per pound) coffee beans were swoon worthy. These beans produce a vibrant, brightly acidic cup of coffee with chocolate-y end notes.

Kenya AA Thunguri Auction Lot ($18.99 per pound) has pronounced vanilla aromatics. Thunguri is tart, puckery and dry on the finish. Clean, extremely complex and balanced. Subtle, deep, complex. Night-blooming flowers, black currant, coconut, roasted cocoa nibs, a hint of fir in aroma and cup. Very rich, round acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel.

Various coffee beans from Transcend Coffee

Transcend Coffee is a specialty, online coffee roaster based in Edmonton, Alberta, Cananda. Their business practices are what it’s now considered Direct Trade, where they visit various coffee farms throughout the year to establish meaningful relationships with coffee producers, not only affords us some of the best coffee in the world but it also ensures that our business dealings with coffee farmers is truly sustainable.

Michiti (12 ounce bag, $19) is an Ethiopian coffee bean that creates a medium-bodied, juicy and refreshing with hints of lime, dark chocolate and candied ginger.

The La Joya San Francisco (12 ounce bag, $18) are from a small family operation in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. This coffee was fully washed in their tiny micro mill and dried on African beds. This coffee highlights the attributes of a washed Costa Rican: crisp and clean with moderate complexity.

Santa Rosa Petite Bean ($35 for a 12 oz bag) originates from the highlands of Tarazu, Costa Rica. This coffee is really unique as it has been sorted into a new grade class called petite bean, which comprises of small bean sizes. The result is an intense cup profile, beautiful acidity, high fruit content (lime, passion fruit) and malt and molasses on the finish.


I shoot, eat, and drink. My full time job is a hospital administrator. Moonlighting as a freelance photographer and food and travel writer.