Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Fistful of dollars, mouthful of tea

The first part of the title above is the name of a Clint Eastwood movie; the second is what can happen when you use a bare-bones, emergency tea brewing technique that we call "Put the Leaves Right in the Cup." (How are the two related? They aren't. We just liked the title.)

If you find yourself with no teapot, no strainers, and no filter, you can simply drop a good-sized pinch of tea leaves in your tea cup, then pour in boiling water. In 5 minutes you'll have a cupful of nice, brisk green tea. The tea leaves will settle on the bottle of the cup, so you won't get a mouthful of tea leaves . . . at first. As you get to the last of the tea, you will have to start practicing the art of using your mouth as a filter.

Think of this as the green-tea equivalent of "camp coffee" in terms of technology -- but not in terms of taste! Green tea brewed the way we just described doesn't taste all that different from tea brewed in a teapot, etc. Just slightly more bitter. (Whereas camp coffee, if you've ever tried it, can be an unpleasant experience indeed.) But the full-bodied (in the extreme!) taste is a nice change of pace sometimes. And just think of the boost you're getting in antioxidants and other good stuff. (And caffeine, too, so take care if you're not in the mood for too much of that.)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Scientific evidence of green tea's cancer-fighting properties

The news agency Reuters on March 15 reports a story about scientific findings that shed light on how green tea prevents certain types of cancer. (This story was appeared in many newspapers and on many news websites, such as MSNBC.) The finding were published in the journal Cancer Research.

Some highlights from the story:

  • A compound called EGCG in green tea prevents cancer cells from growing by binding to dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), an enzyme that is a recognized, established target for anti-cancer drugs.

  • Green tea has about five times as much EGCG as regular tea.

  • Says one scientist involved in the study, "EGCG is probably just one of a number of anti-cancer mechanisms in green tea."

  • EGCG is structurally similar to, and can kill cancer cells in the same way as, the anti-cancer drug methotrexate.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

How green should my tea be?

Mellow Monk green tea is green. Make no mistake about it. That greenness is a sign that oxidation has not destroyed all of the polyphenols and other anti-oxidants in the tea, as happens in black (or English) tea or oolong tea.

But some of you may notice that Mellow Monk green tea is not as deep a green as some mass-market green teas. Why is that, you ask?

It's because Mellow Monk isn't artificially colored. Believe it or not, many green teas are. Artificial coloring is what makes the infusion of some teas a bright green, so bright it looks like someone left a green highlighter pen in a glass of water.

But that's unnatural. Green tea isn't supposed to be that green. Besides, that artificially bright, deep green color has nothing to do with freshness or how much "punch" the tea packs in terms of antioxidants. It's just coloring.

If you're used to the highlighter green of some green teas, then once you get used to the natural green color of Mellow Monk, you'll probably start to see the artificial colors for what they are: artificial.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

And the new leader in Japan's soft-drink market is . . .

. . . tea! Unsweetened, bottled or canned tea, that is. This according to a recent article in Japan's Sankei newspaper.

"Well, then what was the market leader before?" you may ask. The answer, surprisingly, is coffee. For years, the most popular drink sold out of Japan's ubiquitous vending machines was coffee, served either chilled (in the summer) or hot (in the winter), almost always sweetened and "whitened" with nondairy creamer.

(Vending machines, incidentally, are still the primary venue for soft drinks. Most people in Japan don't buy soda by the case, like we do here in the U.S. Instead, they buy soft drinks by the can from vending machines. These vending machines are everywhere-- train stations, bus stops, parks, shopping malls, even hospital waiting rooms. Some old Japan hands say that you're never more than 5 minutes from a vending machine in Japan.)

Recently, however, beverage giant Suntory announced figures that showed that the unsweetened tea segment (which includes green tea) has finally overtaken coffee as the largest segment (26.8%) of the country's total soft-drink market.

And showing the largest year-to-year growth in the unsweetened tea segment is . . . (Drumroll, please) . . . green tea! Green tea is staging a comeback in a country where it's been traditionally consumed for thousands of years but had been forsaken for a while by urban consumers who were lured away by sweet, Western-style soft drinks.

What could be responsible for the recent resurgence in the popularity of green tea in Japan? The article doesn't venture why, but a big factor could be all the scientific data about the health benefits of green tea that have come out in the past few years.

Paradoxically, however, this renewed popularity has not always helped Japan's own tea producers, who are mainly family-owned and -operated farms, like the Nagata family, who supply our Monk's Choice" and "Top Leaf" teas. This is because the big beverage companies that are cranking out ready-to-drink teas by the truckload are turning to cheaper overseas sources of tea in order to keep their costs low and profits up.

(By the way, we've tried many of these bottled and canned green teas, and they're pretty awful. And this isn't just sour grapes -- or sour tea, in this case.)

Hopefully, the next phase in green tea's resurgence in Japan will be young people's rediscovery of the joys of honest-to-goodness loose-leaf tea produced the old-fashioned way. It's happening here, so why not there?

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Happy Girl's Day!

Today (March 3) is the annual Japanese holiday known as Momo no Sekku (the Peach Festival) or Hinamatsuri (the Doll's Festival). In English, it's also known as simply "Girl's Day," since the main idea of the holiday is to offer wishes for the health and prosperity of young girls. (Boys get their turn on May 5, known as Kodomo no Hi, or Children's Day).

People celebrate by putting out multi-tiered displays of small dolls dressed in traditional clothing (hence the name "Doll's Festival"). (See pictures of dolls here. If that link doesn't work, try this one.)

Families with daughters still living at home usually have a small celebration at home, inviting friends and relatives for a traditional meal complete with amazake for the kids -- and, invariably, regular sake for the adults. Some families also make a visit to the local shrine to offer their wishes for good luck.

In Hawaii, which has a large population of Japanese-Americans, Girl's Day has become a universal holiday. In fact, in the days leading up to Girl's Day, TV and radio stations air ads targeting "men who are looking for that perfect Girl's Day present for their wife/girlfriend/daughter/mother/mother-in-law/secretary."

Oh, well. Any holiday that involves good food, good friends & family, and good times can only be good!

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