Amazon product recommendation – barista tools and coffee beans

My coffee adventure started with the purchase of a Krups espresso machine, which became the subject of some of my first few blog entries. The purchase of the espresso machine was triggered by the gift of a pack of coffee powder from Ipoh. You must be wondering how a pack of coffee powder from Ipoh (the traditional Kopi type coffee powder) can be used in an espresso machine. You’re right, it couldn’t. I actually did try, and, well, you can imagine the result you get with very coarse ground coffee in an espresso machine. Sadly, not too long after i had the machine, it went back into the box and got stashed away for more than 5 years. I guess my taste buds were not yet ready to appreciate coffee for what it is.

I don’t remember what was the motivation, but out it came from the box and it sat on my kitchen table top again, a year and a half ago. I decided to do it right this time. Now that i have proper filtered water (the absence of which was noticeably affecting the taste of the coffee previously), i was sure i will arrive at a better result. I got serious – i decided to upgrade the tools. Back then (yes just a year and a half ago), the only logical place I thought I could source for the tools was Amazon. Now, well, you know, anything can be found on taobao, for a fraction of Amazon’s price. My recent one day transit in Beijing has revealed to me that China is now a serious coffee consuming nation, so it’s no surprise that taobao has a proliferation of coffee related products.

The tamper definitely had to be upgraded. I’ve read more than once people referring to the plastic tamper that normally comes with an espresso machine as “silly”. Now that i’ve had some experience with tamping the coffee powder, i concur. I got myself a stainless steel tamper, because the ones with a wooden handle cost more than I was willing to cough up. Now that you can buy from taobao, well, nothing is really out of reach. So, contrary to the title of this article, when it comes to buying a tamper, i would suggest looking it up on taobao. The search term is 咖啡压粉器. Quick check on price – CNY 35 to 200.

The next item I thought I should get was a coffee bean grinder. I initially thought i should get an electric grinder. After reading some reviews however, i learned that a blade grinder may not be a good idea, since the stainless steel blades may impart a metallic taste to the ground coffee, and it may be difficult to get the exact grind size you want. Someone recommended that a manual ceramic burr grinder is the best option. I took the advice and got the Hario Mini, from Amazon. This product is sold at departmental stores in Singapore, but Amazon’s was slightly cheaper, even after factoring in the shipping cost. Now, however, contrary to the title of this article again, i doubt Amazon is the best place to get a grinder. You can find the Hario Mini at a lower price on taobao. Search for Hario or the general term 咖啡磨豆机. Price check – CNY 115 to 170 for the Hario. By the way, at this point of time, i am actually waiting for a new grinder to arrive. I must say that manual grinding can be a little tiring, but that’s a compromise i’m willing to make to get fresher coffee. There are electric burr grinders in the market, but the reviews are not so positive, UNLESS you’re willing to spend an equal or higher amount of money on a grinder than you do on an espresso machine, in which case you might get something decent.

The final tool I got was a pitcher for frothing milk. Ok, I must have got the name of my article wrong, because taobao is again the place to get the pitcher now. The term to search for in taobao is 咖啡拉花杯. Quick check on price – CNY 13 to 150.

baristatools
A group photo for my tools. The weight of the tamper helps. I would imagine that a wooden handle will give a more comfortable grip.

With the tools in place, there is one final item needed to make coffee – the beans! This is one item that doesn’t make sense to get from taobao, because China has to import the beans as well. Amazon is a good place to buy the beans, but there are some things to note. Firstly, coffee is not eligible for the free AmazonGlobal Saver shipping. You will have to ship via a forwarding service. Also, the coffee sold on Amazon may be more expensive than if you bought directly from the seller’s own website, so you will have to do proper homework before you buy. I must have sampled no less than ten different varieties of coffee from Amazon. I think I could recommend this one – Dark Guatemalan, good taste and good value. Coffee beans sold in Singapore are generally quite expensive (and they tend to be already ground), so I think it’s worthwhile getting them from the US, from Amazon or other websites.

Amazon product recommendation – breast pump

pumpinstyle

If you care about your child’s immune system, you will breastfeed your child for at least a year. From experience (contrasting my first and second child who received 7 months and 14 months of breast milk respectively), i can testify that breast milk does wonders to the child’s immunity to flu and viral infection. A breast pump makes breastfeeding much easier, and that certainly helps you persist longer with the chore of breastfeeding.

We went with the popular choice – Medela Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pump Backpack (also available in Tote Bag). Back then, this was sold in Singapore for S$639, which is quite a bit more than what it costs on Amazon (around S$270). Unfortunately Amazon isn’t a seller of this product, so you will have to pay for the shipment to Singapore, but you will still save heaps versus buying from the local distributors. You might be worried about the difference in voltage for appliances in the US (110V vs 230V here). Not to worry, you can get a compatible adapter from a shop in the basement of Sim Lim Tower for just S$15. If you worry about not having local warranty on this product, well, from experience i can say that the Medela Pump In Style is very reliable and i cannot imagine it will break down under normal circumstances.

pumpinstylestarter

Medela now has a Starter Set-Model for the Pump In Style Advanced, which i think is a very good deal, at US$135 (S$180). As pictured above, it is the bare minimum equipment for pumping breast milk. Since i travel every now and then, the standard package (backpack version, which includes a battery pack and a cooler bag) was actually more suited for me.

If you do get hold of a breast pump, you must also get a hands free breast pump bra. With this bra my wife would be able to fiddle with her phone while the pumping was in progress. I can’t imagine anyone having the patience to hold the pumps by hand!

Amazon product recommendation – Mason jar food sealer

masonjar

Ball Mason Jars are canning jars, intended for home canning of food. To do that, the traditional method was to heat the jar and allowing it to cool. Due to steam escaping from the jar, a vacuum is created when it cools down and this keeps the lid tightly sealed over the jar. The removal of air and thus oxygen in the jar prevents mold and some bacteria (which causes food to spoil) to live, allowing the food to last longer.

jarsealerziplockstarterkit

There is now an easier way to remove air from the jar. The FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer is an attachment that fits on top of the Mason Jars. It is a simple device that allows you to suck air out of the jar, and you don’t actually have to use the FoodSaver System (quite costly) to do that. I learned this from Salad in a Jar. You just need to get the Ziploc Vacuum Starter Kit.

foodmasonjar

I use the jars to store salad (keeps it fresh for a week instead of lasting just 2 days), honey lemon preserve (vacuum optional), sliced ham, evaporated filled milk, sauces, coffee beans and so on. They are almost infinitely reusable and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

I cannot understand why retailers don’t bring in Mason Jars to sell at mass market prices. A quick check on the internet shows that online sellers generally sell each Mason Jar at S$8! That is A LOT more expensive than the price on Amazon (US$17.90 for 12 jars which is only about S$2 per jar). Unfortunately Amazon no longer offers the free shipping to Singapore on this item. Thank goodness i managed to get the free shipping, but the 12 jars i have are barely enough to go around now. You still do get free shipping with the Jar Sealer and Ziplock Vacuum Starter Kit. By the way, the Mason Jars come in regular and wide-mouth versions. Get the wide-mouth version, which obviously has a wider mouth that makes filling or removing food from the jar easier.

Update 25/3/2016: i recommend getting this suction pump from Taobao instead of the Ziploc Vacuum Starter Kit.

Here are the links for your convenience:
Wide-Mouth Mason Jars

Wide Mouth Jar Sealer

Ziplock Vacuum Starter Kit

Amazon product recommendation – sonic toothbrush

I first came across a “sonic” toothbrush when browsing for a replacement powered toothbrush in a Watsons store. They had the usual rotary type of powered toothbrush, which i had been using before. Out of the blue, they also carried an Arm and Hammer Sonic toothbrush. I had no idea what a “sonic” toothbrush does, but took a chance and bought it.

The first time i tried it, i found it preferable. The brushing feels more thorough than the rotary type toothbrush. The Wikipedia entry on electric toothbrush explains how a sonic toothbrush works. Unfortunately, i think this type of toothbrush is still not very common in Singapore. Watsons no longer stocks (they had it for less than a year) the Arm and Hammer Sonic toothbrush. It could be that it was not generating enough sales, or possibly because Oral B dominates the market and had more say on who gets to stay on the shelves. Oral B also makes sonic toothbrushes now (probably forced to respond to the competition).

spinbrush

Anyway, after using the battery powered Arm & Hammer Spinbrush Pro Clean Powered Toothbrush for a while, i decided to upgrade to the Arm & Hammer Spinbrush PRO Clean Sonic Rechargeable Toothbrush (requires the use of a step-down transformer though). At that time, this was one of the cheaper sonic toothbrushes available.

rechargeablespinbrush

The other popular option was the Philips Sonicare range. Prices seem comparable now (but the replacement heads are still expensive). Having read the Wikipedia entry though, i think i will upgrade to ultrasonic toothbrushes in the near future. If you have not tried a sonic toothbrush, i recommend that you give it a go.

The other oral care product you might want to consider using is the Waterpik Waterflosser. As the name suggests, it flosses your teeth using water. It won’t replace a real floss, but certainly aids in flushing out food trapped between teeth, especially for the molars which are harder to reach with a floss.

Update

Check out my review on the new sonic toothbrush i am using now.

Amazon product recommendation – automotive parts

fram

I suspect not many people know this – you can actually buy automotive parts on Amazon. Many of these parts are eligible for the free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping. The prices are ridiculously lower. It’s a no-brainer, buy from Amazon!

At the very least, you can buy air filters which you can easily change yourself (just search Youtube to find out how). A generic cabin air filter costs me close to $30 from the workshop. The FRAM branded one pictured above (has added baking soda and carbon to freshen the air) cost US$15.99 (~S$21.60).

filterbyvehicle

Amazon helps you to refine your search results to show only those that fit your car, which is very handy, though it will sometimes filter out results that actually do fit your car, since the car model for the US market may be slightly different from those sold in Singapore (or it may not be available in the US market at all). Therefore, you should do your due diligence to find out the exact part number you want to buy.

For the Bosch Platinum IR Fusion Spark Plug pictured above, i was quoted S$85 for a set of 4 from a local shop. It costs US$7.72 each on Amazon, which comes up to US$30.88 (~S$42) for 4, so it’s literally half priced! By the way, i could feel a difference to the engine performance with these spark plugs.

To be honest, i don’t know much about car parts. If it didn’t occur to you before, i trust that now, you, car expert, will be most delighted to source your parts from Amazon. For me, brake pads is next..

iHerb product recommendation – toiletries

This may sound crazy but i often ship toiletries from the US through iHerb. I mean, why not, since, for a flat fee of US$4, you can ship up to 6.3kg worth of stuff each time? Some of these products are simply cheaper on iHerb, and some are just not available in Singapore. Take for example, Method All Purpose Natural Surface Cleaner (US$3.82 ~S$5.23) which i like to use on the dining table and kitchen countertop. The price in Singapore is $7.90.

RedmartMethod

ecover

Ecover Natural Stain Remover (US$3.80 ~S$5.20) which is very effective on my kids’ soiled clothing. Price in Singapore? $10.90.

ecoverredmart

There are plenty of choices (especially environmental friendly ones) on cleaning liquid for dish washing, kitchen and bathroom.

tomsofmaine

I also buy toothpaste from the US. I especially like Tom’s of Maine Antiplaque & Whitening Fluoride-Free Toothpaste. It leaves a very clean and refreshing feeling. The price on iHerb for this product is a little steep though, and i usually buy 4 pieces at a time to get a volume discount of 12%.

Check out iHerb.com now for products you will be using day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – flour and baking needs

Believe it or not, i often ship flour from iHerb.com. They carry flour mostly from 3 brands – King Arthur Flour, Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills. If you’re into baking, you would have come across the acronym KAF when you browse forums on baking. After a while you’d realize that KAF stands for King Arthur Flour, a highly regarded brand for flour. Naturally, you pay a premium for this branded flour, and unfortunately iHerb only offers the much-more-expensive organic variant (US$9.20 per 5 pound/2.27kg bag). The Market Place supermarket, and sometimes Cold Storage sells the non-organic 5 pound bag of Unbleached flour at S$10.30, so if you swear by KAF, the Market Place supermarket is your best bet (just for comparison sake, it’s only US$3.98 ~S$5.45 on Walmart).

BobsAP

Any self-respecting baker will recommend the use of unbleached flour. While i can’t confirm this, i presume that most, if not all the local branded non-organic flour are chemically bleached (since they do not state otherwise) Update: they now label their flour as unbleached. If you care about eating non-chemically treated flour, you could, again, buy from the Market Place/Cold Storage supermarket, or iHerb. The Market Place/Cold Storage sells Pillsbury Best (from USA) Unbleached All-Purpose (S$7.40 S$8.05 for 5 pounds) and Waitrose branded (from UK) range of flour. Update 4/3/2016: Fairprice Xtra or Finest also sell Pillsbury Best Unbleached, for only S$7.20. On the other hand, the cheapest unbleached All-Purpose flour on iHerb is this one – Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached All-Purpose White Flour (US$5.64 ~S$7.75 for 5 pounds). These unbleached flour are just slightly more expensive than the local branded flour, definitely recommended.

iHerb offers a very extensive range of Bob’s Red Mill products. While they are also sold at Cold Storage, iHerb’s is probably more comprehensive. You can have fun trying them out – whole wheat pastry flour, kamut, spelt, flax seed meal etc.

buttermilk walnutoil shortening

Other items you might be interested to get from iHerb for baking are buttermilk powder (saves you a lot of hassle from having to buy the fresh ones from the supermarket which you may not be able to use up each time), oilshortening (don’t use Crisco!), vital wheat gluten and baking powder (i find that the local brand Bake King Baking Powder has a tart taste, and more importantly, it does not state that it contains no aluminium, which poses a health risk).

Update: it appears iHerb may not ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour anymore. It is forever out of stock, but when you check the stock availability with your location set to the US, you will discover that it is available. I suspect it is due to exclusive distributorship agreements, whereby iHerb is no longer allowed to ship to Singapore. Anyway, since unbleached all purpose flour is now readily available from local supermarkets, and the price is reasonable, there is no need to buy from iHerb.

Update 24/3/2016: I managed to ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour from iHerb again. I find that it smells and taste better than the Pillsbury flour sold in local supermarkets, which is also imported from the US.

Update 16/8/2016: I think my shipment of Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour in July was the very last one. iHerb has discontinued the product, as well as most other flour products for Singapore customers.

Update 2 Mar 2017: My current favourite flour is CJ Beksul, which is sold for S$2.10 per 1kg at NTUC Fairprice. I have no idea whether it is unbleached, but it tastes pretty good to me and is actually cheaper than those local branded flour. Anyway, here’s an interesting experiment on comparing KAF and Beksul.

CJ Beksul

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – spices and foodstuff

If you’re ordering stuff on iHerb.com and have spare capacity for the shipment (up to 6.3kg), you might want to consider getting herbs and seasoning. There are plenty for you to choose from. Even if you don’t have anything in mind to get, you could try searching for the best rated or best selling herbs to see if anything piques your interest. That was how i ended up getting the Drogheria & Alimentari Organic Provence Herbs Mill which is made up of some of the commonly used herbs in French and Italian cooking. It works great in pasta. The pricing on iHerb is competitive (or cheaper in some cases) with what is found in local supermarkets, so if you want to try products from a different brand than those commonly found here, you can do so through iHerb.

A sample of other herbs i have gotten from iHerb:

chives
Frontier Natural Chopped Chives US$3.87 (4g), tastes close to fresh chives, handy and probably a lot cheaper to have it in dried form.

nutmeg

Drogheria & Alimentari Nutmeg Mill US$3.29 (40g), cheaper than what is found in the supermarket. Going to try making steak marinade with this.

taco

Frontier Natural Taco Seasoning, Salt-Free Blend US$2.93 (66g), for a Mexican/Spanish taste occasionally.

If you’re a health freak (i’m somewhat one), try Himalayan Pink Salt. The pricing on iHerb doesn’t compare favourably with what you find on Amazon (still within reasonable range though), but Amazon doesn’t ship Himalayan Pink Salt to Singapore, so iHerb is still your best bet (definitely cheaper than what’s available in Singapore). The best value Himalayan Pink Salt are Aloha Bay Himalayan Crystal Salt, Coarse US$5.90 (510g), which requires the use of a salt mill, and Fun Fresh Foods Himalayan Pink Sea Salt US$10.70 (909g) which comes in fine crystal form.

alohabayhimalayan funfreshhimalayan

Or try Celtic Sea Salt, which is “Doctor Recommended Since 1976”. I buy the ‘Light Grey Celtic’ version which is coarse and i grind it directly onto food for seasoning. You do have to bake the crystals to dry it before use because it comes in a slightly moist form.

celticseasalt

The other food product i recommend getting is Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey US$17.86 (1.36kg). This is an organic, true raw honey. It isn’t the best honey available out there, but it is probably the best value. It is super thick and creamy, doesn’t smell nor taste so good on its own actually, but great when made into a drink, with lemon for example. Once you’ve gotten used to this you may not want to go back to those processed and watery honey.

rawhoney

These are just a small sample of herbs and foodstuff on iHerb. Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – kids and babies products

brownriceceral

Baby products are easily available in any departmental store, where they usually devote a large section to housing baby products (lucrative business), i know. So why buy online from iHerb.com? Well, for me it’s the convenience factor, plus the availability of brands that are not generally found here.

iHerb.com carries supplements, snacks and toiletries for kids and babies. In my previous post, i have mentioned fish oil as being a good buy from iHerb. Besides that, you may want to get baby’s first solid food, like Happybellies Brown Rice Baby Cereal (US$4.99 198g). I have the impression that the baby’s food found in the local supermarket have a tendency to be sweeter, and they are expensive, given that i normally expect products sold in the supermarket to have a more “mass market” pricing. Just for comparison, here is a comparable brown rice cereal product from a local supermarket:

ntucbrownriceceral

iHerb sells this product as well, for US$4.99 ~S$6.83, but due to regulations, it cannot be shipped to Singapore. As you can see, for the price you pay here, you can get a superior product from iHerb.

earthsbestoatmeal

Another healthy baby snack i like to get from iHerb is Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Oatmeal Cereal ($US 4.13 227g). It promises no added salt and sugar, nor Artificial flavors, Colors or Preservatives.

Other items i recommend from iHerb are Weleda Children’s Tooth Gel (US$6.14 50ml) and RADIUS Pure Baby Toothbrush (US$3.59). Weleda is a very reputable brand which is not widely available here. The RADIUS baby toothbrush is made of 100% Vegetable Based Bristles, which just sounds so safe to me.

weledatoothgel  radiustoothbrush

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – fish oil

Nordic Naturals Prenatal DHA. This was the first product i bought on iHerb.com. It was while searching for fish oil for my then pregnant wife that I came across someone recommending to get this product, from iHerb.com. We opted for this instead of the one from the gynae as this seemed better quality. If my memory doesn’t fail me, the fish oil sold by the gynae was extracted from tuna. This one is from anchovies and sardines. To be honest i don’t know if that makes it much better, but anchovies and sardines do have much lower levels of mercury than tuna. Anyway, as the name suggests, Nordic Naturals was founded by a Norwegian (from the land of salmon and cod fishes), and focuses on making fish oil. I think the products can’t be worse than those from typical large pharmaceutical companies.

While nobody can make a conclusive statement about the benefits of consuming fish oil for young children, a lot of people would err on the side of caution, as did we. And so we bought Nordic Naturals Baby’s DHA, which we dutifully fed our first child, but by the second child we got lazy, and of course my second child displays absolutely no sign of being inferior in any way. If you’re thinking of fish oil for your baby, you can give it a try.

I personally take fish oil as a supplement as well, after being diagnosed with having borderline high level of cholesterol (since years ago actually and i did nothing about it). I decided to do a little experiment by taking fish oil for 3 months and do a lipid screening at the end of 3 months to see if things improved. To my amazement my cholesterol level fell within the normal range. Again, i can’t conclude that this is fully attributed to taking fish oil, as i also consciously avoided high cholesterol food during that period, but i’m inclined to think that it did play a part. The fish oil product i used was Now Foods Super Omega 3-6-9.

There are many fish oil products on iHerb.com. Among the cheapest are Now Foods Omega 3 Cardiovascular Support (US$9.95 for 200 Softgels) and Madre Labs Omega-3 Premium Fish Oil (US$4.95 for 100 Softgels). At this kind of pricing, i think everyone can afford to take fish oil as a daily supplement.

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.