Friday, April 29, 2005

Traditional Japanese inns

CNN.com recently ran an article about how tourists in Japan are discovering the joys of staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan (inn). The airy rooms, wooden structure, large baths, lush gardens, and attentive service are a welcome change from the cramped rooms, concrete-and-steel structures, and aloof feel of modern hotels.


To see the article, click on the picture below.








—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tip for making iced green tea

Taking a hint from Newsweek columnist Gersh Kuntzman's recent article on iced coffee, I tried making iced green tea using ice cubes made from green tea instead of water. To some, this may seem like a lot of trouble, but the resulting brew is wonderful. Instead of being watered down by the melting ice cubes, the green tea retains its distinctive taste and aroma while cooling the bone with a healthy chill.


A couple of links: a previous posting on making iced tea from freshly brewed Mellow Monk green tea and brewing instructions from the Mellow Monk website.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's never too late to learn Japanese

This article in the Washington Post (registration at the Post is required but free) is about recent studies have found that learning a foreign language is possible even in old age. These results overturn conventional wisdom, which held that the ability to learn a language peaks early in childhood and subsequently declines and finally peters out in early adulthood.


In fact, linguist Robert M. DeKeyser says that many people who start learning a language in adulthood become proficient enough to become FBI translators. "Otherwise," he says, "we would have to close whole branches of the government."


In conclusion, if you're thinking of learning Japanese (link to Amazon.com), then don't let your age stop you!


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, April 22, 2005

"Tea that smells/tastes like seaweed," redux

Earlier in the week, a reader asked about a tea she had that tasted like seaweed. I replied that I had never come across such a tea. However, whether by coincidence or because her question made me more aware of such tastes and aromas than I usually am, the same thing happened to me while putting a competitor's tea through the paces: I brewed a cup of tea by putting the leaves directly in the cup and let it sit awhile.


When I finally drank it (especially the last of the brewed tea, which had by that point been steeping for a half an hour or more), lo and behold, I did detect a slightly "seaweedy" smell. I hadn't detected it when brewing it in a teapot or cup.


When I used an over-the-cup strainer for the first cup, I let the tea brew for only five minutes. After removing the strainer and taking a sip, the tea had the taste and aroma I'd expect from a green tea.


So what could be responsible for the difference?


The strange aroma could be because:


  • the water was too hot the first time. ("Cooking" the tea could alter it somehow, just as coffee kept in a thermos for too long tastes different than freshly brewed joe.)

  • I used too much tea. (Although I sometimes brew super-strength green tea but have never noticed a strange taste or amora.)

  • I let the tea steep too long. (For instance, there could be unpleasant-tasting substances that take a long time to seep out of the leaves.)


Oh, there's one more possibility: I went too long without washing the cup!


If anyone has had similar experiences, and has an idea of what the cause of the strange aroma was, please drop me a line .


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—Mellow Monk

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Comment on "Great article on green tea in "InsideBayArea"

Today I received a question from Penelope about green tea that smells like seaweed.



I found you folks by searching for a name to put on the green tea I had a sip of (and then threw out the rest of my cup of) that had a very strong seaweed flavor to me. I want to know what to avoid -- I've run in to that flavor in green tea a few times, and don't like it at all. It's not what I expect from any tea, or what I'm looking for when I get a green tea. So is that flavor a sign of old tea, or something else? And I see now I'll have to read up on your teas.



This is what I wrote in response.



Thanks for your question.



First, I have to say that I've never had a green tea that tasted like seaweed, so I can only speculate as to where that taste would come from.


Our green tea has a grassy or "earthy" flavor. This is a sign not only of quality tea plants, but also of a tea that was processed right after harvest and so underwent minimal oxidation and fermentation. These break down the catechins and other polyphenols that occur naturally in tea leaves.


In other words, a grassy taste means that the tea has plenty of good stuff in it.


I have found, on the other hand, that some green teas don't have that grassy flavor, possibly because they've undergone some oxidation or fermentation due to some aspect of how the tea is processed after harvest. (But they still don't taste like seaweed to me.) For instance, I've had a green tea whose leaves were green but which produced a brown infusion that tasted nothing like green tea to me.


Most of the green teas I've had that I would call just plain lousy (but, even then, not "seaweedy") are mass-marketed bagged teas. In that case, the causes are (1) the low-quality tea (know in the business as "dust") that's in the bag and (2) how long the tea's been sitting in a warehouse or who-knows-where.


If you remember the brand of tea you had, please let me know, and I'll try to do some research. Maybe I've been fortunate to have never run across such a tea, or maybe it's something I've grown accustomed to and don't even notice anymore. That's why I was so surprised, in reading that article, to hear green tea in general described as tasting like seaweed.



—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Green tea in the Coffee Capital of America?

Here is an article, from the Seattle Times, about the growing popularity of tea in America—even in Seattle, a city considered the Coffee (Drinking) Capital of the U.S., and where Starbucks in headquartered.


The author, Providence Cicero, describes how many people are trading coffee for tea, and that the increasing popularity of tea is due not only to increasing awareness of tea's health benefits, but also to the desire for a simpler lifestyle.


This article also provides pratical tips on brewing, including the "Five Golden Rules" for preparing tea.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Green tea and prostate cancer

Here's an article, from Forbes (of all place), about another study that found that green tea may curb prostate cancer in men.


In the study, conducted at the University of Parma in Italy, researchers held a trial with two groups of men, both with a pre-cancerous condition that normally progresses to cancer it 30% of men. One group was given a placebo to take, whereas the second group was given 600 milligrams of green tea catechins a day, "equivalent to 12-15 cups of green tea infusion, that is about two times the average intake in Asian countries."


Nine out of the 30 men given the placebo group developed full-blown prostate cancer, a rate of 30%. But only 1 man in the gren-tea group developed cancer, a rate of only 3%. In other words only one-tenth the rate of those who didn't drink green tea.


Said the scientist in charge of the study: "To our knowledge, this is the first study showing that [green tea catechins] have potent in vivo chemoprevention activity for human prostate cancer." He also said that a collaborative study involving U.S. and Italian researchers on the effect of green tea on breast and colon cancer rates is in the works.


—Mellow Monk


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Green tea and diabetes: An article from a scientific journal

Every time I write a posting about an article exalting the virtues of green tea, I say to myself, "Alright, I'm writing a lot of postings about articles like this. Time to write about something else." Then, sure enough, I run across yet another such article that's so compelling, I just can't resist. So here it is.


The first paragraph of the article, from a website called SciScoop.com, ends thus:


[Tea] could provide a simple and inexpensive way of preventing diabetes and its ensuing complications, including cataracts.

The article refers to research findings published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. In this research, conducted at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, researchers found that rats fed green tea had decreased glucose levels and significantly less cataract formation compared to a control group. This difference is probably because high levels of glucose "accelerate diabetic complications such as cataracts."


This is similar to what I reported in the blog posting Dr. Nicholas Perricone on green tea (from The Oprah Winfrey Show).


Someday, perhaps, scientists will find some afflication that green tea doesn't help prevent.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Our ad in The New York Review of Books

We recently ran a short ad in the Classifieds section of The New York Review of Books (March 24, 2005 issue).


Did any of you order from us for the first time after seeing that ad? (We're experimenting with effective, low-cost ways of "getting the Mellow Monk message out.")


If you did, would you be so kind as to send us an email to feedback@mellowmonk.com?


Thanks!


--The Mellow Monk


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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Great article on green tea in "InsideBayArea"

I ran across a very interesting, very well-written article about green tea—its popularity, health benefits, and the various "spin off" products out there.


I take issue, however, with a couple of things the article says:


"It tastes like grass, smells like seaweed …"

Seaweed? What kind of green tea are they drinking? Not ours, that's for sure!


The article quotes a spokesperson of a certain tea company:


"A lot of people don't like green tea because they haven't had good green tea."

Yes, so far so good. But then the spokesperson continues:

"If you drink last year's tea … you will get a much more grassy, astringent flavor."

Wait a minute. The "astringent" part I agree with, but a grassy aroma and flavor are signs of a tea chock full of antioxidants and other good stuff, which are greatly reduced by the fermentation and oxidation that take place in the making of oolong and black teas.


Referring to another company's "foil pouches of dry instant tea powder," the article states:


Because of processing methods [used in making this powdered tea], caffeine levels don't multiply quite as fast as the benefits — one concentrated cup of green tea delivers 45 milligrams of caffeine, or about half that of a cup of coffee.

Traditional loose-leaf green tea already has less than half the caffeine of coffee.


But the article closes with a great quote from green tea expert Diana Rose, author of The Book of Green Tea (Story Books, $16. 95). This quote concisely states one of the founding tenets of Mellow Monk:


"Tea offers people what they need. It makes us slow down. We can't rush tea. We have to wait for the water to boil, then wait for the tea to steep, then we have to allow time to sip it. I think people forget that slowing down is also beneficial to their health."


I couldn't agree more! As I said in a previous post ("DOUBLE your green tea's health benefits!" Feb. 23, 2005), tea has traditionally been a drink to be enjoyed serenely, or as part of a friendly, laid-back conversation (the traditional "tea break"). Since emotional health is a major part of overall health, taking the time to enjoy the brewing process and the actual drinking of the tea—the aroma, color, and flavo—can double the tea's benefits.


This article also has green tea recipes!—something you don't run across too often.


--Mellow Monk


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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Dr. Nicholas Perricone on green tea (from The Oprah Winfrey Show)

The following is part of the transcript of Oprah Winfrey's interview with the popular anti-aging guru, Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of such books as "The Perricone Promise," which hit the No. 1 spot at Amazon.com late last year:

Oprah: Now I've read in your book that you said if I just replaced coffee with green tea instead, that I could lose 10 pounds in six weeks.

Dr. Perricone: Absolutely.

Oprah: Now really. How could that -- what is the big deal about this?

Dr Perricone: Coffee has organic acids that raise your blood sugar, raise insulin. Insulin puts a lock on body fat. When you switch over to green tea, you get your caffeine, you're all set, but you will drop your insulin levels and body fat will fall very rapidly. So 10 pounds in six weeks, I will guarantee it.

Oprah: I'm gonna do that. OK. That is so good! Whoo! That is great.

-- The Oprah Winfrey Show: "Look 10 Years Younger in 10 Days" - Nov 10, 2004


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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Cherry blossom guide for D.C.

If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, the Washington Post has a "Cherry Blossom Guide" at its website. (You may need to register to view Washington Post web pages.


There's even a very cool interactive panorama of the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in D.C. (I got it to work the first time, but, strangely, not the second time.)


--Mellow Monk.


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Book review: "Confessions of a Yakuza"

This is my first book review on this blog, and it's a doozy. It's Confessions of a Yakuza, the English translation of Asakusa Bakuto Ichidai (The Life of an Asakusa Gambler). ("Asakusa" was one of the largest entertainment districts in prewar Tokyo.)





This book is a "memoir" of sorts, a biographical tale of a retired yakuza as dictated to his doctor. This man is a "yakuza" in the word's original sense--a professional gambler, not the organized gangsters that the word is used to refer to today.


The ex-yakuza in this story, as he tells his tale over the months, knows he is slowly dying. He starts to see the doctor, a general practitioner in a quiet suburban neighborhood, when he realizes that is body is really starting to fall apart. His doctor knows the man's in a bad way, but he replies with optimistic predictions when his patient asks things like, "I don't have much time left, do I?"

Over several visits, the doctor realizes what a hard and amazing life the man has led. He asks to interview him for a book, and the yazuka agrees. The doctor then deals with a range of emotions: a desire even he doesn't understand to record the man's tale and tell it to the world, a sense of urgency due to his knowledge of the man's health, and an awareness of the need not to pester the old man with daily visits and long interviews. (This hesitance may arise from a healthy respect for the still-formidable old man.)


Anyone looking for graphically violent and prurient tales about modern-day Japanese gangsters robbing banks and shooting at each other will be greatly disappointed--although there is some violence. The most fascinating aspect of this novel is its portrayal of how people interacted with each other so much differently back then--ways we would consider cryptic today, hiding their emotions, putting up with insults, acting with almost subservient humility to save face for their companions or organization. Putting on a brave face when faced with amazing adversity.

(Plus, even though this book is a translation, you'd never know it. The translation is seamless, and written in a style that's perfect for the story.)


An interesting aspect of the book that is interspersed among the remembrances and also propelling them along are brief passages that describe the situation in which a particular day's interview was conducted--for instance, whether the ex-gambler was in good spirits that day, whether his wife was in the room, whether it was late at night.


The book is also fascinating for its portrayal of the reality and inevitability of getting old. There are sharp contrasts between the young man's boundless courage and energy and the old man's labored breathing and creaky joints.


Finally, what's touching about the story two men's shared desire to get his story recorded and told. The doctor told his patient right from the outset that the reason for the interviews was to write a book about them. So many of the old man's acquaintances were dead, and he didn't seem the type to want to impress people anyway, that it's unlikely that fame or recognition were his motivations. The old man often points out how "we yakuza were just gamblers then; we didn't do anything but gamble. No real yakuza sold drugs, loansharked, or extorted money. In fact, they took great pains to get along with their shopkeeper neighbors, and often made "gentlemen's agreements" with other organization--and honored those agreements at great risk or even great detriment to themselves. They were also a "mutual support" organization in which gambling joints that were bringing in a lot of money put people on the payroll from places that were hurting.

All in all, this is a fascinating look at a way of life that is completely different from what we know today and which doesn't exist anymore--even in the exact locations where the old man's stories took place.


Incidentally, Bob Dylan apparently borrowed lines from this book in a song from his 2001 album, "Love and Theft." For details, just do a web search for "Confessions of a Yakuza" and "Bob Dylan".


Or, you can read other reviews at Amazon.com.


--Mellow Monk.

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Friday, April 08, 2005

Comment on "How green should me green tea be?"

I recently replied to a comment that a reader posted about "How green should my green tea be?" (March 11, 2005). With the blog-hosting service I use, it isn't exactly intuitive how to find replies to comments that readers post, so I thought I'd put it up on the blog as an ordinary posting.

"Anonymous" wrote:

>Hi Mellow Monk. Great blog you have here. I plan to read
>it often.
>
>I have to take issue, however, with your assertion that
>green tea necessarily has to be green. That's a bit of a
>misnomer, isn't it?
>
>I know this isn't up your alley since you sell only
>Japanese Green, but the Chinese Dragon's Well is
>traditionally not green at all. It's a pale yellow
>or tan color.
>
>I don't think that indicates any oxidation. It's just
>the natural color of the tea, no?

I replied:

Hi, and thanks for your comment. You're right -- a color other than green doesn't necessarily indicate a lower quantity of catechins or other antioxidants. And I'm not sure how the content of these antioxidants vary among the various types of green tea. However, some Chinese green teas are allowed to ferment slightly before steaming or pan-frying, and this does lower the antioxidant content and result in a brownish or outright brown infusion. Dragon's Well could be higher in some antioxidants and lower in others (e.g., the type responsible for green coloring, such as polyphenols). So, the key factor with any type of tea is how quickly the leaves are processed after harvesting to stop oxidation and fermentation. But this is definitely something I need to research further. Thanks for pointing that out. And thanks for taking the time to comment! I was starting to feel lonely out there in cyberspace!

--Mellow Monk.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Article and photo of green tea plantation in Korea

We found an article on South Korean green tea accompanied by a beautiful photo of terraced rows of tea plants. The article is of the tourism-promotion sort that focuses more on a certain tea-growing region of South Korea, rather than on Korean green tea, but the photo is quite stunning.


Enjoy!


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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why brewed green tea sometimes changes color

A customer recently emailed to ask why brewed green tea turns brown when kept in a thermos. We thought others may have experienced the same thing, so we are posting the reply below.

>I have a serious green tea question. When I brewed my green tea
>in my stainless steel thermos it turned a red color. I tried
>letting the tea cool down a little and "breath" before capping
>it and this did not change anything. The flavor was also
>different. Is this because of the heat or a reaction with the
>stainless steel or both? Have you ever heard of this?
>Thank you....


Thanks for your question. I've had the same thing happen to me -- brewed green tea kept in a thermos for too long first turns light brown, then eventually reddish brown. The problem is the constant high temperature at which the tea is kept in a thermos. For instance, a cup of brewed tea left standing won't lose too much "greenness," even overnight. A teapot full of tea, however, will take on a slightly brownish hue. That's because the pot holds the heat in longer than a cup. A thermos, obviously, retains heat much, much better.


Tea that turns too brown has lost much of its antioxidant content. That's why green tea is healthier than oolong or black (English) teas, which are brown because the leaves were dried in the sun after harvesting and then allowed to ferment. Sun-drying allows an enzyme in green tea (called polyphenol oxidase) to oxidize (i.e., combine with oxygen in the air). The oxidized enzyme alters the disease-fighting catechins, which give the tea its green color. Fermentation also causes the catechins to be oxidized. Oxidized catechins give black tea its distinctive aroma and flavor but don't have the health benefits of catechins in their natural state.


Consequently, when green tea is harvested, the grower's first concern is to get the leaves to the steaming or frying vat as quickly as possible. This stops oxidation and fermentation, locking in green tea's distinctive earthy flavor and aroma -- and preserving the catechins.


But green tea's catechins also begin to break down after brewing. (And sustained high temperatures, as in a thermos, only accelerate this process.) This is why I always recommend that people drink their green tea within an hour of brewing.


(And think of how long bottled, ready-to-drink green tea has been sitting around! Without artificial green coloring, it wouldn't be green at all.)


I hope this answers your question. Please drop me another line if you have any other questions or comments.


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