30 Apr 2017

Inspire Aspire - ASMR

Before you pop the $100 question, here is the four-word answer (and I cheated for it!): ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. As cryptic as it appears, it is even more cryptic to explain it. Basically it involves the senses but is no pseudo science - merely sensations that are triggered by a relaxation technique. A word of warning: it may come out woo-woo to some of you. Or you may finally be able to put a name to that sensation you have experienced for years (maybe since childhood) under certain circumstances. Call it goosebumps, but more generally felt as a tingling, kind of a hot tickling, that radiates from the crown of the head down the nape, across the shoulders and down the spine. A fuzzy head, feeling cosy, comfy and sleepy, almost in a meditative state.

A feast for the eyes and more! Certain sight, sound and/ or smell trigger ASMR.

It appears that the sensation (or state) which is probably as old as humanity, has only been officially reported, documented and researched over the best part of the last decade, and debated in earnest by the wider online community. Some individuals have even become internet sensations (pardon the pun) and household names in the process, and have spread the word. From being unacknowledged altogether until recently, ASMR has turned into a juicy lucrative business on dedicated YouTube channels and the likes. Maria at Gentle Whispering is an ASMR phenomenon and the go-to ASMR personality! She clocks 925,000+ followers and some of her videos have garnered more than two million views within the space of three months, and a staggering 10 million views over 12 months! In my eye, Maria is the best ASMRtist out there! Her videos are relaxing and send you tickled up to sleep!

Now the very first time I came across ASMR as such was through YouTube astrologer Karen Lustrup who had recorded a short relaxation video back in 2014, aimed at lulling insomnia sufferers to sleep. I realised straight away that I had indeed experienced ASMR before, for many years but had no idea this had been recognised and identified under some name.

Tyndall Figures, Lake Hoare, from "Gondwana" (2012), photography by Diane Tuft

Actually as a way of relaxing in the evening and basically fall asleep I find certain astrology channels to be conducive to this state of relaxation with all the tingling effects that go with it. Therefore sometimes astrology as a topic becomes secondary to me, if all I seek is a little respite that sends me to Nod.

Anything soft, delicate or muffled may trigger ASMR.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of ASMR triggers. First and foremost, anything soft, delicate or muffled is a potential trigger:

  • Sound triggers: light breeze rustling tree leaves windcharms, the harp, bells and other twinkling sounds rain drizzle, gently tapping against a window pane or a car roof, ocean waves crackling woodfire, flickering candle twigs cracking underfoot in the woods certain TV programmes (cookery, make-up, wildlife, gardening, cultural visits to châteaux and art museums) and this depends entirely upon the programme and the personality of the presenters, their demeanour (poised and relaxed, thus no Megyn Kelly material!) and voice (calm, serene, soft, slow, empathetic and mellifluous) cool jazz music, slow, moody classical music, ambient electronica light office environment (typing, rustling paper, muffled sounds, humdrum of printers, phones and other electrical equipment) guided meditation, yoga ― whispered conversations (un-)wrapping gifts and sweets, etc.
  • Sight triggers: slow, meticulous, detail craft work (knitting, embroidery, dress-making, drawing, painting, calligraphy, jewellery-making, ikebana, bouquet-making), baking, clothes ironing, etc.
  • Smell triggers: perfumery/ beauty counters in department stores, aromatherapy (essential oils, depending upon personal preferences and susceptibility) percolating coffee, frothing up cappuccino, home-baked cake straight out of the oven, etc.
  • Touch triggers: light warm breeze gentle beauty and wellness treatments (facials, head and body massage, jacuzzi/ bubble bath) and hairdressing soft materials (silk, sateen, lace, fur, feathers) touch (caress, stroke, tickle), etc.

Oftentimes a combination of triggers work out the ASMR. Not everyone is aware that they experience ASMR, yet if they do, might dismiss it. Approach the subject with caution with your grandma or your boss: you might get a funny look or two!

4 Apr 2017

Watch Out, There's a Hipster in Your Coffee!

I can't quite figure out how it came about. As my spoon cuts into the foam of my cappuccino and the cocoa constellation dissipates into the milky way of my cup, I look up across the packed out café and smile absent-mindedly. I vividly remember the turning point. At the turn of the millennium, the coffee revolution took us almost unawares and I welcomed it with open arms and a big kiss. In one swell swoop, it swept aside the shameless kettle and Nescafé combo, the gritty coffee pot at work whose treacle-like substance would be laced with lashes of full fat milk and a spoonful of sugar to tone the bitterness and general malevolence. The conservative coffee machine would not fare any better either if you were to self-proclaim coffee maestro. And tumble would the slightly higher-brow cafetière (French Press) that only ever had pride of place in those households that vacationed in France and Italy.

The London Coffee Festival 2015

At that point, coffee had ceased to be that monochrome, low budget, one-dimensional, nonchalant affair, black or white, one sugar, no sugar. Strong and you call it espresso like you're in the know. Weak and you call it Americano, once again if you want to flaunt your two words of Italian (three if we add 'pizza').

The London Coffee Festival

Coffee would be and it would be much more: a coffee named desire. Coffee was going to finally exist, express itself, albeit with attitude and a price tag that yells out indulgence. The Italian vocabulary would expand, and be re-invented should its linguistics become suddenly too limitative. Enter Frappuccino, the foam-at-the-mouth, shirty, expansive creation that makes the paltry espresso look like a size zero, deflated, monastic model. Savvy marketers gave themselves carte blanche to jazz up, sex up, amplify and yuppify coffee and make it indispensable under its new guises. Under the new paradigm, coffee became art creation, indulgence, a liquid brunch - and a neat, no-questions-asked multi-billion-dollar endeavour at the check-out.

The London Coffee Festival North 2016

The revolution would redefine coffee to the point where it would take a long sentence to define your drink to the barman, sorry the garçon, sorry the barista. Just so you can listen to yourself saying it in that all-knowing encompassing 'I'm in the club' way while the punter behind you in the queue quietly rehearses their prose before their grand finale, a brief, sudden verbal diarrhea of a purchasing interjection, cured by a fancy drink that costs a pretty penny.

The London Coffee Festival North 2016

Along with that morning white that suddenly became a long Ethiopian roast skinny decaff latte, the staff behind the counter would be redefined too. Enter Barista, full steam ahead, the busy body that is all arms, concentrated like a strong coffee! They whizz their magic within a few square feet perimeter on the other side of the counter like a storm in a teacup, precise, repetitive movements, attached to shiny expensive machinery with pumps and gaskets, and through the steam, the pulls and the metallic thuds, you would be forgiven to believe they're operating the Orient Express. They add the drama that you bought and paid for to your humble cup, tick boxes and scribble ancient codes on it, spin a thousand variants and combinations around coffee like they're the key to the Graal's safe, so many of them, they've morphed into algorithms. They froth up a hot beverage like a coiffeur teases a curl, with painstaking dedication. And if the impermanence of coffee art weren't fleetingly irrelevant, you have latte art to ponder about.

Now to the crux of the coffee is that correlation of late between fancy, jazzy, niche-market coffee from the café in the know, and the hipster. If we are to believe the hype, it's being percolated to us like it's non-negotiable.

Coffee has become art and science, especially in its percolation. Coffee is edgy: it has become the new absinthe. And in its heyday, absinthe was the poison of choice to the creative mind losing its mind in the buvettes of Montmartre. Modern creatives or wannabe creatives display their edge by drinking connoisseur coffee, a safer healthier option! They still look like the 1890s never quite went away, bar for the rolled-up sleeves displaying elaborate tattoos on their forearms. They wear the bushy beard, checkered shirts, suspenders. Unroll the sleeves to hide those arms, and the chaps wouldn't be out of place on those long-forgotten family photos circa 1890. But why, oh my, did fancy coffee and hipster become an item, if only for the fact that both are stuff of a fashion trend? I doubt I will eat my words on this one: fancy coffee will outlive the hipster but for the time being, chance is you'll spot them together like two coffee beans in a pod behind the counter, about to squeeze into that ristretto.

Hurry up if you wish to catch a gulp (sorry, a slice) of the action! The London Coffee Festival is taking place in a couple of days, 6th to 9th April, Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London.