[For the Love of ‘Fee] 100% Freeze-Dried and Van Houtte Colombian Light Instant Coffee

“For the Love of ‘Fee” is one coffee-lover’s attempt to machete through the tangle of coffee beans and brews to find an awesome cup of coffee. Juan Valdez follows ME! 🙂

I can’t believe my luck. A colleague of mine on contract who is replacing someone on parental leave is from Colombia, and…wait for it…her dad worked in the coffee industry there. AND he knows Juan Valdez. That’s right, THE Juan Valdez. (Okay, the actor who portrayed Juan Valdez…still counts!) Her family knows coffee!

I’ve learned two things from her regarding coffee:

  1. The best coffee in Colombia is actually exported out of the country to places like North America.
  2. A lot of Colombians drink INSTANT COFFEE. Yep, they do.

That second one almost melted my brains. Really?? Why when they are surrounded by coffee, would they rather drink awful instant coffee?

Well, folks, the secret is in the type of instant coffee. My colleague says I need to look out for 100% freeze-dried instant coffee, not the average crystalized instant coffee like Folgers or Maxwell House that is predominant in the grocery store ’round here. She brought to me a jar of instant coffee straight from Colombia to “show and smell”. Turns out there are differences: the freeze-dried coffee appears lighter in colour, and more granular or chunkier than what I am used to seeing. Also, the aroma of freeze-dried is different – less acrid, more like coffee. She explained freeze dried is of much better quality than your average instant because of how it’s been processed.

Back in 2016, I wrote about my hatred for instant coffee in general. I even developed a hack to make it taste better! There wasn’t much of a choice around where I live with what was available. I had to deal with the instant coffee crystals of Folgers or Maxwell House.

Which brings me to this week’s food run…It was my usual night of grocery shopping that lead me down the coffee aisle for anything new. This is where I was delighted to find Van Houtte Colombian Light 100% freeze-dried instant coffee. The coffee is sold in a glass jar, and I immediately recognized the chunky look of the granules. Van Houtte is a Montreal, Quebec company and from experience, I know Van Houtte to make a pretty good cup of brewed coffee. To find freeze-dried instant coffee in the aisles without begging my colleague to bring me back a jar of Colombian the next time she’s home was great, but seeing the Van Houtte name was even better! I immediately put the jar into my cart.

Yesterday afternoon, I cracked open that jar and did the sniff test, comparing it to the Folgers we had stuck in the back of the pantry – of course, the freeze-dried smelled better! The Folgers smelled like someone needed to take a bath (to put it mildly). In the spectrum of instant coffee smells, the 100% freeze-dried is more like ground coffee, and definitely less acrid than coffee crystals. I made myself and the hubs a cup of Van Houtte following the directions on the jar (add boiling water or milk to granules). The results were pretty palatable. The hubs commented how smooth-tasting it was. I couldn’t help but notice the coffee smelled like COFFEE in the cup for once instead of some weird drink. After I finished my coffee, the thought crossed my mind that keeping some of this on-hand in my office would be a lot better than the Folgers I have sitting there collecting dust.

No doubt, I am not a big fan of instant coffee, but, to be constructively critical, if there was a type of instant to keep in the cupboard, 100% freeze-dried instant is the way to go…I’ve certainly tasted a lot worse in the instant coffee department! And Van Houtte Colombian Light 100% freeze-dried instant coffee is a good one.

 

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[Review] The Fall Trilogy Chapter 3: Revelation (PC)

The Fall Trilogy is a surreal three-game casual series from 2010 that is one of the best of its kind from that era. If you haven’t checked out my review of Chapter 1: Separation and Chapter 2: Reconstruction from the series, please make sure you do. Chapter 3: Revelation is the last of the series.

The plot of the Fall Trilogy starts with you, a man, who wakes up from a fall in a strange place, not knowing who you are or where you are. In Chapter 1: Separation, you wake up in an ancient temple, while in Chapter 2: Reconstruction, you wake up in a high-tech office building. You solve puzzles and mini-games around your environment to find your way out. At the end of each adventure, you learn a tiny bit about yourself – you are a family man with a wife and young son. At the game’s end you find the exit, only to fall again, which is where Chapter 3: Revelation begins.

In Revelation, you wake up in the hallway of an old house. It’s 1882 and you have been summoned as a doctor to look after an ailing patient in a bedroom upstairs. The patient is a man who is unconscious. You have to draw blood and come up with an elixir that will cure your patient. You explore the grounds of the home, which includes a cellar, shed and greenhouse. Tasks pile up and puzzles are there to solve so that you are able to get the proper ingredients for this life-saving elixir and save this man, who is…familiar somehow…

Full disclosure: I had never played Chapter 3 before, but figured since the first two were so palatable, the third ought to be good, right?

Revelation is the weakest and most unbalanced of the three stories. Although the graphics still looked great, the story was underwhelming. The puzzles started out pretty cool; being a doctor, you had to take blood and the patient’s blood pressure. In another mini-game, you had to look under a microscope at blood cells – that was pretty interesting…However, the majority of them were repetitive and uninspiring, as they boiled down to several instances of just finding all of x in one room, solving jigsaw puzzles or matching objects. What was worse is that your character continuously leads you through the tasks way too much. By the end, it was almost like the developers were as bored with this as I was.

I should also mention this game is short, even though it took me 4 hours to complete, but I blame bad graphic mapping for that. In certain puzzles, I’d click on an object knowing it was the right one, yet the game wouldn’t detect it until I hit the hint button, which slowed down the works…That was frustrating! It expanded completing this maximum 2-hour game to 4 hours!

In an attempt to end the boredom already, I sought a Let’s Play on the goggles to watch how this ended but couldn’t find a single one; obviously everyone who has played Revelation was so bored they couldn’t stand it long enough to complete it. So, I was forced to played this game to the bitter end because inquiring minds need to know why this dude keeps falling…And frankly, the conclusion of the Fall Trilogy was dismissive, simplistic and really just…dumb:

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS (highlight with your mouse below)

The man was in a coma as a result of car accident. What is linking him to these weird places are objects found in his hospital room (i.e. a Buddha statuette is found, linking him to the temple). He wakes up surrounded by family. The end.

END OF SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

I was disappointed by Chapter 3: Revelation, and I’m thinking we could have done without it. The plot needed expanding, and the game itself needed more variety of puzzles. Certainly not a favourite…

2.75 / 5

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 3: Revelation (PC)
Kheops Games
2010

[Review] The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction (PC)

The Fall Trilogy is a surreal three-game casual series from 2010 that is one of the best of its kind from that era. If you haven’t checked out my review of Chapter 1: Separation from the series, please make sure you do.

To recap on the plot of the Fall Trilogy, you are a man who wakes up from a fall in a strange place, not knowing who you are or where you are. In Chapter 1: Separation, you wake up in an ancient temple. You solve puzzles around the temple to find your way out. At the game’s end you find the exit, only to fall again, which is where Chapter 2: Reconstruction begins.

This time, you wake up in a parking garage of a high-tech 20-floor high-rise, still no idea as to you identity, other than you know you are someone’s husband and father. A phone rings for you; the man on the other end warns you there are security cameras everywhere which you need to disable to find your way out. You are then on a search to shut off the security cameras, dodge a guard who is watching the building and solve puzzles so you can make your escape again…to more mystery.

In Reconstruction, you explore three floors of the building which include the parking garage and the upper deck with an incredible view of a cityscape. But, predominantly, your time will be spent exploring the main offices of Spoehk, a mysterious high-tech chemical company that has a full suite of security cameras and its own chemical lab. Once you get all the cameras turned off (a mini-game in itself), you can explore the floor and complete puzzles as you find them. The puzzles are challenging, but mostly engaging and range from solving jigsaw-like puzzles of ripped paper, to cracking security codes, to mixing chemical elixirs, to actual MATH (not so engaging) where you have to add up tokens properly in a vending machine to get cans of soda (ask me if I enjoyed that…).

The graphics in Reconstruction are impressive for a game from 2010. However, as good as they were, I wasn’t as engaged in the environs as I was with the temple setting in the previous chapter, Separation; I think it had a lot to do with me spending my time in an office environment, dealing with security codes and high technology in my professional life all day every day, so that aspect was a bit of a slog. And overall, I enjoyed the gameplay in Reconstruction, but we didn’t really learn much more about our protagonist and what has been happening to him. I suppose this means that one would not need to play Chapter 1 in order to play Chapter 2.

Overall, The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction isn’t as engaging as Chapter 1: Separation, but it still has plenty of substance to offer to the casual gamer.

3.0 / 5

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 2: Reconstruction (PC)
Kheops Games
2010

[Review] The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation (PC)

The Fall Trilogy is a three-game series from 2010 that is one of the best of its kind from that era. Back in ’10, I was ripping through a lot of Big Fish Games’ try-before-you-buy-for-an-hour games, and The Fall was one of them. I’ll never forget how unique it was at the time. Of course now I’ve seen and played many more like it, but having replayed the first in the series, Chapter 1: Separation recently, I find it’s still a charming game with a lot of replay value.

In Separation, you play as a man who wakes up after a fall in a weird temple amid an oasis. Initially, you can’t remember who you are or what you are doing there, but early on you begin to piece together a sepia-coloured memory of your wife, Lisa, and son, David. However, you still can’t figure out what you are doing in this place. Soon, you discover the temple is a giant series of puzzles and games you must solve in order to leave…only to soon find out there is more mystery to your story once you exit.

The temple that you must escape is a series of rooms that stylistically marries ancient Egyptian and Hindu sensibilities. Some rooms are accessible, while others require you to complete a mini-game before you can proceed. The pleasant soundtrack is of birds and waterfalls, as well as the occasional crescendo of music when you get close to completing a puzzle. The challenging and fun mini-games range from hidden object, to matching tiles, to collecting items to create or assemble. The game mechanics are solid and not difficult to figure out. There was no timer on any of the puzzles (which added a casual atmosphere), and there were clue and hint buttons if you ever got stuck.

When I started the game, I had to change my screen resolution to 800 x 600, and this was likely due to the game’s age, but otherwise the game worked well with no hiccups. About the only negative review I can give with Separation has to do with the very lame and redundant task list (1. Find out why you are in the temple. 2. Find a way out of the temple. Really? Really??). As well, the on-board map looked like it was drawn in crayon, and did nothing to help you go anywhere.

The Fall Trilogy is developed by Kheops Games, makers of the adventure game, Return to Mysterious Island 2: Mina’s Fate (which I have not played). The graphics in Chapter 1: Separation are pretty good for its time; I mean, I have seen and played a heck of a lot worse in games released just a couple of years ago…By the looks of things, each chapter is sold separately and not cheap ($10 on Big Fish Games), but if you are so inclined and find a sale (bogo – the only way I could afford all three chapters…), Separation is solid. This game is distributed through Big Fish Games, so you can always play for an hour FOR FREE before ponying up the $$.

More to come…

3.5 / 5

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation (PC)
Kheops Games
2010

[Review] Shtriga: Summer Camp (PC)

I think it was the name ahead of the cheap price on Steam that attracted me to Shtriga: Summer Camp. Of course, this was one of my 2018 Steam Summer Sale purchases. But, it was the creepy summer camp theme that sealed the deal and made me want to play. A name like Shtriga must have a story, right?

You are sent to the property of an abandoned summer camp to investigate the disappearance of a young boy, Peter, by his mother who suspects he has been kidnapped. A month since the incident, and police are giving up their search. The mother, understandably frantic, says the boy was acting strangely a couple of weeks before he disappeared; she found evidence in his room that showed a strange attraction to the abandoned camp, and his eventual intentions to go there.

Through further investigation, you discover the reason for the camp’s closure: several summers ago, three campers went missing amid a terrible epidemic at the summer camp. Many died. Authorities quarantined the property, and swiftly shut it down. Those three campers were presumed dead as they were never found. Now, you must investigate the old campground to search for clues into Peter’s disappearance. While there, you discover there is an evil spirit, or Shtriga (an Albanian term for witch) that has taken hold of the camp, and is channeling these boys to come to her so she can do her bidding.

The story told in Shtriga: Summer Camp is pretty interesting. The game? Well, it was probably one of the easiest hidden object games I’ve ever played. The HOG scenes could be completed in 30 seconds or less, and no hints were needed. The other mini-games found were typical casual fare and just as easy. The whole thing could be completed in under 2 hours.

As for graphics, again, in typical form, the animated video scenes weren’t great, but the in-game graphics were pretty good. There were a couple of scenes, however, where it looked like there was poor rendering; no big deal, but I could see them…In another mini-game, something happened to the on-screen instructions…Not to critique too much about it, but it was there, and it did have me ask about the QC on this game. But, because the rest of the game was pretty well done, I can excuse this hiccup. Moving on…

Umm, what?

Overall, Shtriga: Summer Camp is a fair game. I managed to get it for $1.57, and got my money’s worth. If you see it and want an easy go on some casual gaming, feel comfortable throwing a twonie on the table.

3/5

Shtriga: Summer Camp
Alawar
2014

 

[Review] Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes (PC)

Wow! Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes is another heavy-hitting hidden object game that was under $5! I picked this one up back in June during the Steam Summer Sale, and I was not the least bit disappointed.

You’ve been called to a Monastery in Southern Italy by Archbishop Benedict to help find your estranged Grandpa, Abraham, who recently went missing. Abraham had been working with the church in Italy before he disappeared, and turns out was also a member of the secret society, the Order of Light, an important group tasked with keeping evil out of the world. But, he has been kidnapped, and evil is seeping in. You play as Vanessa, Abraham’s next of kin, and must find him before it’s too late.

People, I have not been this excited about a casual game since Adam Wolfe. This is one game I actually looked forward to firing up after a long day at work; and I haven’t felt that way about a HOG in a long time.

With over 6 hours of gameplay, Portal of Evil is quite a robust game with all the elements that I love – a compelling story, half-decent graphics, a variety of fun and interesting mini-games, and a pretty great map. About the map: you will need it. There are at least 5 different worlds with over 8 points of interest in each, but the map allows you to teleport to those places quickly. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to have to backtrack to those different places in the game, places you would think you are done with but aren’t. This game is LOADED with places to go. There was no need to backtrack here – just follow the map!

Love me the map!

The hidden object scenes in Portal of Evil vary between finding objects by a list of words, and pairing one object with another. Apparently the developer, 8Floor, recognizes not everyone sits at a desk to play casual games: it played smoothly on my Windows 10 machine in Widescreen, and for once, each hidden object scene in Portal of Evil looked crystal clear on my TV, with no need to utilize the magnifier at all in gameplay.

It’s important to emphasize I played the Collector’s Edition of Portal of Evil. The game came with an on-board strategy guide (instead of taking to the goggles to search for a half-complete one…). Gamers also get rewarded with a bonus story once they’ve completed the game; this extra gameplay fits seamlessly with the main story and adds another 30 minutes of gaming.

Yeah, the cut scenes are pretty bad…

About the only critique I’d give is to the cut scenes. You would think that with the attention they give to the gameplay graphics, the same attention would be paid to the cut scenes. People, they’re pretty cheesy. Why they gave the task to a first year college animation class, I have no idea* (*assumed by me, can’t be proven). And the voiceover work was pretty bad. Please, don’t base your decision to play this game on those terribly rendered cut scenes!

Do yourself a favour and get Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes. It’s currently $5 on Steam and is well worth your time and money!

4.5 / 5

Portal of Evil: Stolen Runes (PC)
8Floor
2015

[Review] Blue Tear (PC)

A letter is mailed to you that is pre-dated to the early 1900s even though you are living in today. Apparently, you inherited a mansion that cast a spell on your family back in the day, and only you can save them. You arrive to the dilapidated mansion with a group of friends. Your friends run past you and bust in. But, before you can enter, you are channeled by an ancient shaman; a white wizard. He says only you can save the world from the evil Black Wizard. You are the bearer of the Blue Tear – a blue diamond – and must find the ritual mask and amulet before entering the mansion. You then are given tasks to do to break the curse.

Combined with a look and feel of being in an exotic tropical setting, this first part, 2 hours long, was the most enjoyable part of Blue Tear. The visuals were gorgeous, and the puzzles were clever. I took pause at the cool acoustic guitar music with a Latino flair. This game wasn’t perfect, but based on the first part, I’d give it a solid score – 3/5. A bit on the short side, but once I completed it, I felt like it had a satisfying enough conclusion.

Obviously, though, I forgot all about the goal of the story, because when the first part finished, I was half expecting credits to roll. Instead, the game continued with your character gaining access to the mansion, and it was a disappointment for miles.

The second part started with an obvious reduction in production value (did the producers run out of money or what?). The graphics weren’t as polished. The sound effects and background music were super loud, irritating and unoriginal (can we get that squeaky floor a nail, please?). I pressed on, the story taking an odd turn where you are now chasing down an animated porcelain scary AF doll with screws for hair. Your task now is to find pins to push into a voodoo doll that would break the Black Wizard’s curse. In a confusing story arc, you find your friends amid the junk in the mansion half dead (possessed? I can’t be sure). Thankfully, the visuals improved from the first scene the further into the game I got. Blue Tear is quite a large game (I clocked in over 7 hours and still wasn’t done!), and the gamer explores every square inch of that property, with over 20 different areas to explore and puzzles to solve. And just when you thought you had seen it all, another part opens up to you. WOW, right?

I don’t think, in all my time reviewing hidden object games, that I’ve encountered a game quite as unique in its problems as this game. Blue Tear teeters on “HOLY SHIT!” to literal holy shit. Aside from the disparity in quality throughout the game, Blue Tear CRASHES. It crashes mid-play, losing progress. It crashes every time I log out of the game. It crashes CONSTANTLY. This is a documented issue with users on Steam, yet nothing has been done about it. The game’s recommended operating system is Windows 7 – perhaps it can’t handle Windows 10? In the end I could not finish the game.

And that is where I leave you. Blue Tear had promise in the first part, but because of its problems, I cannot recommend it to anyone. It blows.

1/5

Blue Tear (PC)
Mystery
2015