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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Drink of choice

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Tamarind, sorrel, and ginger drinks for sale in Harlem.

The World's Cups
Published: June 21, 2006

W HEN Charlie Sahadi was growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in the 1950's, other neighborhood children set up lemonade stands on hot days. Charlie and his brother sold rose- and violet-flavored drinks at the end of their driveway instead. Their great-uncle was Ibrahim Sahadi, who came to New York from the fertile Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, and began importing Middle Eastern food to New York City in 1895.

Fruit punch with condensed milk from a cart on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens.

"Fruit syrups — mulberry, apricot, almond — are a very ancient tradition over there," said Mr. Sahadi, who works at Sahadi's, the family's store on Atlantic Avenue. "They mix them with cold water or seltzer. That's what people drank then in the summer, before everyone in America started drinking iced coffee."

New Yorkers used to mock the Californian habit of never venturing outside without a bottle of water or a huge iced coffee in hand. No more. The tall, cold drink has been adopted as a fashionable accessory and, at this time of year, a cooling necessity.

It may also be a statement of national identity. This month, summer weather and World Cup soccer arrived simultaneously, and as a result New York has undergone an uncharacteristic flowering of cafe culture. Normally hardworking New Yorkers are whiling away their afternoons in restaurants, watching and arguing and drinking their national drinks, like coffee frappés at Greek cafes in Astoria, Queens, and cold barley tea in Koreatown.

"What quenches your thirst depends on who you are," said Dr. Barbara Rolls of Pennsylvania State University, an expert on the mechanics of drinking. Temperature, variety, color and childhood experiences can affect what people reach for when they are thirsty, she said.

"At my school the Chinese kids go for bubble tea after school, the Puerto Ricans get batidos and the other Latin girls like the helados from the street cart," said Shirley Wong, an eighth grader at a parochial school in Chinatown.

For some, it may be as simple as a young coconut from a Chinatown street vendor, peeled and pierced to give up the fragrant, lightly sweet juice inside. After Friday prayers at the Masjid Aqsa, a mosque in Harlem, vendors set up shop outside. The West Africans who pour out refresh themselves with strong ginger beer and a sweet yogurt that comes from Africa's tradition of cooling, nourishing fermented milk drinks.

Coolers may be fruity, sweet, salty or sour; thinned with lemon juice or thick with avocado; soothing with milk or jittery with caffeine, which generates cooling sweat.

"Every group that comes brings its own specialties," said Mr. Sahadi, whose current best seller is a Polish sour cherry syrup. "That's what makes New York so much fun."

Cafe Kolonaki, in Astoria, is one of New York's most authentic Greek cafes and a destination for lovers of the frappé, Greece's addictive national drink.

"Greeks drink frappés all day and all night when it's hot outside," said Stefanos Lintzeris, an owner of the cafe, which stocks special shakers and a kind of Nescafé instant coffee that is made just for the frappé.

Made from cold water, instant coffee and sugar, a frappé is distinguished by the thick mocha-colored foam at the top of the drink, produced by violent shaking. There is no milk in it, but a creamy foam is the mark of a well-made frappé. (The word is French, pronounced frap-PAY, even though the drink was invented in Greece in the 1950's.)

"I drink them all day," said Fernanda DaSilva, a Cafe Kolonaki waitress in a "Brasil" tank top on the first day of World Cup play. "By the afternoon I am running up and down the stairs and bouncing off the walls."

posted by Steve @ 1:28:00 AM

1:28:00 AM

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