Friday, March 21, 2008

A little water project goes a long way

The Discovery Channel called it the best spring water in the world.

If that seems a bit hyperbolic, consider that it also was awarded the gold medal for best non-carbonated bottled water in the Berkeley Springs (WVa) International Water Tasting regarded as the Super Bowl of water competitions.

No matter the venue, it's pretty heady stuff for Tumai Water, a product that has been on the market only four months.

"The Discovery Channel honor might be overdoing it, but we'll gladly take the praise," said Bob Downey, a co-founder and president of Spero Group of Martinsburg, WVa, which bottles Tumai in nearby Alton, VA, source of the spring that is flowing gold for Spero.

Spero, Swahili for "to hope for," is an apt name for the company and both its commercial and philanthropic ventures. The company literature says it "was founded with the commitment of providing safe water, shelter, essential nutrition, and proper healthcare to those in need around the world."

While living in upstate New York, Downey teamed up with James Maddalone of Albany and Dan Magid of Schenectady to come up with a business model. Even though Downey left the area to return to West Virginia a year ago, the trio continued their collaboration. Downey runs the day-to-day operation for bottling and sales.

Spero's mission statement says portions of the profits from its water sales "will be alloted to non-profit organizations that share like-minded goals. This is done with the purpose of supplying those specific organizations with needed finances to enhance and expand their own mission and goals.

"Initially, at least 15% of profits will be channeled directly to these non-profits with additional donations made as Spero Group is able based upon net profits."

The company already has a strong presence in Africa, targeting improvements in communities living in abject poverty and people suffering from HIV/AIDS, the biggest health scourge on the continent. It is working with other charitable organizations, including Tumai: Bridge of Hope, the South African-based organization for whom the bottled water is named, Engineers Without Borders and Hands at Work.

Downey, who attended the Calvary Tabernacle Church in Schenectady with his wife, Michele, said he became aware of some of the needs of African communities through a sister church in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"There is so much to be done to help less fortunate people in other countries that we felt this was a way we could create a steady flow of assistance and work with organizations who had looked into situations and knew who was legitimate," Downey said.

Downey said Tumai Water was being sold in only five local outlets before the recent honors. That number now has jumped to 35.

"We're getting inquiries from all across the country, and even from the U.K.," he said. "We're about to finish discussions with a major distributor that will mean we have major availability in a three-state area" -- Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, which come together in the Martinsburg area.

Current recipients of aid from Spero include the Mpumalanga Christian Network orphanage in South African and Mozambique, and villages in South Africa and Kenya. Among the activities are resconstructing cyclone-damaged structures, providing educational supplies, medical equipment, sanitation facilities and drinking water wells.

The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last week reported that as many as a million Central Africans "do not have access to clean water and, therefore, are highly vulnerable to threat of deadly waterborne diseases because of the conflict threatening their country."

Only three of 10 projects designed by U.N. agencies or by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve access to clean water and sanitation across the northern Central African Region this year have received any funding. The situation is particularly acute because the dry season normally ends in April, and so does the window of opportunity for projects to be implemented.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The world needed a bottle opener/USB stick

Interested in combining beer or soda and a flash drive? Who isn't?

The Trekstor USB Bottle Opener offers precisely that with a new gadget you can out on the chain with your house and car keys -- an 8GB flash drive unit plus a bottle opener feature.

Trekstor is a German design firm specializing in electronic storage and audio devices. It already has won several awards for developing the USB stick.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

New brewed chocolate a mystical potion

William M. Dowd photos

Mara Krausz of Cabaret Foods doesn't view her Cabaret Brewed Chocolate as just any hot chocolate drink. She views it through more of a mystical prism.

A taste test of the product certainly verifies that it is far removed from the usual Swiss Miss, Hershey's or other such mass-produced hot chocolate drinks. I found it reminiscent of the beverages of childhood, longer ago than I care to admit and well before the U.S. market went on a sickening-sweet drinks kick delivered through sucrose-laden powders.

The company's whole bean brewing method, the result of two years of research, is credited with the new product.

"Brewed chocolate is nothing like conventional hot chocolate, primarily because it contains almost no fat," Krausz said. "It's a clean, delicate water-based hot beverage based on the recipes of the ancient Mexicans -- the first people to recognize the psychic pleasures of brewed chocolate -- but modified to appeal to modern tastes and demands for convenience."

Historians generally believe cocoa, from which chocolate is created, originated in the Amazon region of South American 4,000 years ago. It became a favorite of the Mayan culture in the 6th century A.D. Their word "xocoatl" -- bitter water -- became the word "chocolate."

The Mayan culture eventually covered Central America and parts of northern South America. In the Yucat√°n peninsula of what now is Mexico, the Mayans cultivated the earliest know cocoa plantations. The Aztec civilization also used cocoa for a thick, cold unsweetened health drink known as "xocoatl." Because sugar was unknown to the Aztecs, they flavored the drink with spices and cornmeal. In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed in what now is Nicaragua and found cocoa being used as currency as well as a drink.

Convenience is a byword for today's Cabaret style drink. The product is made from whole cacao beans, water and organic evaporated cane juice. Stir a teaspoon of the concentrated product into a half-cup of hot water and you have the drink. Even though each teaspoon is made with nearly a full ounce of whole cocoa beans, it is surprisingly light.

The Oakland, CA, company recently ran a Web-based call to test its beverage. A number of the respondents reported an energy lift "without any jittery quality," Krausz says.

I waited the recommended 30 minutes to see if I felt any energizing rush. I didn't. However, my companion taste tester and I did spend a relaxing quarter-hour discussing the drink. We agreed it had a vaguely coffee look to it, was far from the usual cocoa-y hot chocolate drinks, and was a pleasing change of pace.

Krausz said Cabaret Foods is trying to get a handle on "whether this product makes sense as a non-alcoholic alternative for bars and/or wine stores."

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Everyone in Waco is a Pepper this weekend

Waco, TX, is the gathering point for fans and collectors of all things Dr Pepper this weekend.

The nation's oldest major soft drink company, founded in 1885 when the soft drink was invented at a Waco drugstore, is being celebrated at the Waco Convention Center during the 24th annual convention.

According to the Dr Pepper Museum, the drink was first offered to the public at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist working at Morrison's, is believed to be the inventor of the now-famous drink.

"Alderton spent most of his time mixing up medicine for the people of Waco," the museum says, "but in his spare time he liked to serve carbonated drinks at the soda fountain. He liked the way the drug store smelled, with all of the fruit syrup flavor smells mixing together in the air. He decided to to create a drink that tasted like that smell. He kept a journal, and after numerous experiments he finally hit upon a mixture of fruit syrups that he liked.

"To test his new drink, he first offered it to store owner Morrison, who also found it to his liking. After repeated sample testing by the two, Alderton was ready to offer his new drink to some of the fountain customers. They liked it as well. Other patrons at Morrison's soda fountain soon learned of Alderton's new drink and began ordering it by asking him to shoot them a 'Waco.'

"Morrison is credited with naming the drink Dr. Pepper (the period in Dr. was dropped in the 1950s). Unfortunately, the origin for the name is unclear.

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Bite me

We've all heard the expression "putting a bug in your ear" when someone is trying to implant an idea. But the folks at Stella Espresso Coffee has gone to a different orifice to tell coffee drinkers in Italy just how strong their coffee is.

Curious to see the big picture? Or, pictures?

Just click here.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Pick your fruit waters, with or without calories

You can have it in no-calorie or 50-calorie versions. Whichever you choose, the Cott Corp. is counting on you liking its new Emerge vitamin water instead of just plain zero-calorie flavorless water.

Emerge contains water purified by reverse-osmosis then infused with such additives as B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and antioxidants, the company says.

Emerge is available in five natural flavor varieties with such names as Strength (dragonfruit), Clarity (tropical passion fruit), Immunity (mandarin orange), Protect (blueberry, acai and pomegranate) and Relax (green tea with berry). They come in single-serving 20-ounce bottles.

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Snapple adds yet more drinks to its line

Keeping up with the variety of soft drinks these days requires a calculator and a very large supply of batteries.

Among the latest from Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, for example, is a line of “good for you” juice drinks.

Snapple Super Premium Juice Drinks now offers flavor combinations from “superfruits” and contain all-natural ingredients with added vitamins. The line includes four flavors: Goji Punch, Peach Mangosteen and low-calorie Noni Berry and Kiwi Pear.

They are packaged in tall, slim 17.5-ounce bottles, retailing at a suggested price of $1.39 per bottle.

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Vimto marks its centennial year

It certainly doesn't have the name recognition of Coke, Pepsi or 7Up, but Vimto is a favorite soft drink among English consumers. Favorite enough that it is celebrating its centenary year with a limited edition bottle (seen here).

The limited-edition bottle will be debuted to the United Kingdom beverage trade industry at the Food & Drink Expo scheduled for April 6-9 in Birmingham. The 6,000-bottle project was designed to emulate Vimto's original crock bottle. Purchasing details are available online or on Vimto's own Web site.

This drink, born in Manchester, England,has survived the economic shambles of two world wars and the globalization of the beverage industry. While the container has changed over the years, the drink still is made from the original secret recipe. At first, it was sold as a health tonic called Vim Tonic, which soon contracted to Vimto.

By 1920, the drink became carbonated and began being marketed throughout England and several British colonies. Today, the brand is sold in 65 countries, and its most recent sales figures show a 6.7% growth year-over-year.

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