Monday, June 28, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A possibly perfect teamaker and "Terra-ific" teaware

Yes, I know — a purist brews with a teapot, strainer, or other manual mechanism that allows artisinal control of the variables of tea.

And usually, a purist brews only enough tea to be consumed immediately; he or she never lets brewed tea sit for later: Either all of the tea is poured into cups, or the cup in which the tea was brewed becomes the drinking cup as soon as the teaball or permanent filter is removed.

But even purist like us must admit there are times when convenience is ... well, very convenient.

Imagine, for instance, the relaxing time you could have at a tea party with the luxurious Breville One Touch Tea Maker: You simply drop in your green tea leaves, fill it with water, turn a knob, press a button, and brewing gets under way.

The Breville — which scores high points on all counts — beeps when it's done brewing and keeps the unpoured tea at just the right temperature until you and your companions are ready for more.

By simplifying the brewing of large amounts of tea, this teamaker allows you to devote more attention to chatting with your guests ... and not missing out on the snacks on the table.

But for the purist in all of us, I also present the colorful and conscientiously made teaware of Terra Keramik.

Keramik — founded and guided by eco-friendly craftsman Fexil Vogler — uses only toxin-free glazes (no lead or cadmium) for its quality ceramics. Pick up one of these teapots or mugs and you'll feel its surprising heft — this dense material will keep your tea nice and warm longer than typical teaware.

Products like those of Breville and Terra Keramik are obviously produced with the same artisinal dedication to quality as the artisinal tea crafted by our growers.

Doesn't this dedication make you feel nice and warm inside, just like a cup of green tea — whether it's brewed in a modern teamaker or in a traditional teapot.

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fruity matcha smoothie!

After much tasty experimentation, we at Mellow Monk have finally arrived at the ultimate recipe for a strawberry matcha smoothie!

Fruity Matcha Smoothie

(Makes enough for two.)
  • 2 cups frozen whole strawberries

  • 1 banana

  • 1 cup sliced fresh peaches (usu. 1 – 1 ½ large peaches or 3 – 4 small peaches)

  • 1 cup orange juice

  • 2 teaspoons Mellow Monk matcha

  1. Remove the green caps from the fresh strawberries, place in a ziplock bag, and freeze overnight.
  2. Slice up the peaches and measure off 1 cup of small slices. (You can use leftover peach slices as garnishing ... or eat them right then and there. Chef's choice!)

  3. Break a banana into two or three chunks.

  4. Add all the fruit to a blender, then pour in the orange juice and sprinkle on the matcha powder.

  5. Put on the lid and fire 'er up! Blend at High or Liquefy — or whatever setting your blender's instructions specify for frozen drinks — until the big pieces of frozen strawberry have all been broken up.

  • Using frozen strawberries eliminates the need to use ice cubes, which can dilute the smoothie. If, however, the final product is too strong for you, you can use unfrozen strawberries along with a cup of ice cubes.

  • Instead of orange juice, you an also try milk or soy milk ... or even brewed green tea, for extra green tea flavor! Be sure to use some liquid; otherwise, the ingredients will be difficult to blend.

  • Even with 2 teaspoons, the matcha taste is overpowered by the burst of fruity flavors. If you are a hardcore matcha aficionado, you can add 3 or 4 teaspoons. This will darken the smoothie's color, although the taste will be positively delectable.

—Mellow Monk

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tea and mochi in L.A.

If you are in Los Angeles at the right time, you can check out Kulov's tea festival. In the unlikely event you do not get enough to eat there, swing by one of the locations of Mikawaya, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

A a Japanese tea ceremony topped off the tea festival.

—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 21, 2010

A delectable green tea GABA rice

I love everything about green tea — how the plant is grown, how its leaves are harvested and then transformed into loose-leaf tea, how the joyous liquid is prepared ... and learning about the many ways in which the infusion is used other than drinking it directly.

Green tea is a natural antibiotic — natural compounds in the plant inhibit the growth of bacteria, especially (luckily for us) bad bacteria. The compounds that dispatch bad bugs probably evolved, it is thought, as a natural defense against mold, bacteria, and other wild beasties.

At some point, a very clever person figured out that these properties of green tea made it an effective and natural, healthy way to make GABA rice, also known as germinated brown rice.

GABA rice — so called because it contains high amounts of the super-healthy amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) — is made by soaking brown rice in water until it germinates. Adding green tea to the water not only imparts the goodness of Camellia sinensis to the rice but also zaps bacteria in the water, which then has to be changed less frequently during germination.

(You can read a previous post on GABA rice here and an overview on GABA rice here.)

The folks at Raitong Organics were generous enough to send me some of their jasmine green tea GABA rice, which is shown in the photos in this post.

In a word, Raitong's GABA rice is fabulous. The flavor is nutty and savory — very complex, but pleasing and with a clean, refreshing aftertaste. The aroma is smoky, redolent of roasted rice or wheat.

Because it is soaked in green tea, the rice also has a hint of green tea earthiness, but in a subtle, just-perceptible way. The texture is also wonderful — slightly crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. The result is just the right amount chewiness.

Even the rice "purists" among us were thrilled with this tasty experience. And we all agreed that Raitong Organics' green tea GABA rice is so savory and satisfying that it is a veritable meal unto itself — and of course it is also an excellent mate to any side dish that you would normally have with or over rice.

The goodness of green tea and GABA rice in a single package — now how cool is that?

—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Channeling Aso's natural beauty

The rural city of Aso — source of much of Mellow Monk's green tea — has its own Web TV channel.

The audio and text is in Japanese, but visual treats abound, too, such as Mt. Aso reflected in flooded paddies at rice-planting time.

Majestic Mount Aso, the geographic and spiritual heart of the Aso region.

—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Green tea as a mellow mixer

Green tea is not only deliciously refreshing on its own, but is also so versatile its deliciousness enhances many kinds of beverage treats, such as a milkshake made with matcha, a mango martini, and even alcohol-free cocktails, too.

—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 14, 2010

All sold out. Sorry.

As you can see on our TEA STORE page, we have sold out of all of our teas. We apologize for the convenience.

Do not despair, however. More fresh, delicious green tea from our artisan–growers is en route as you read this, and our shop should be restocked very soon — probably within a week.

Thank you so much for your patience.

—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two islands

A small island seen off of Hana, on Maui, Hawaii.

Turnip Rock, at Michigan's "thumb."

—Mellow Monk


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Friday, June 11, 2010

Tea horse trail and a tea house

For almost a thousand years, pack horses and human porters carried tea from China's Sichuan Province to Lhasa, Tibet, along the Tea Horse Trail (Chamagudao [茶馬古道] in Chinese). The "horse" in the name comes from what was exchanged for tea on the return trip — Tibetan Nangchen horses.

The tea transported along the 1,400-mile trail wasn't the loose, fluffy green tea that we know and love, but tea in a compacted, durable form known as brick tea. "To Tibetan monks, tea is life," says a modern-day monk. Then as now, this is true for many of us — not just monks.

And now we move from the Sino-Tibetan mountains to Japan, where Japan Dave sends us this wonderful photo of a quietly majestic traditional teahouse:

All this talk of tea has made me thirsty. Time to enter my virtual teahouse for a nice, relaxing cuppa.

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Matcha molasses mint ice cream

The Monk is in the midst of molasses mania, and matcha goes good on anything, so it seemed only natural to try both on my favorite flavor of ice cream — mint chocolate chip.

The result was a symphonic explosion of flavor: The earthy, slightly bitter taste of the matcha and the sweet, burnt taste of the molasses complemented each other and the minty chocolate taste of the ice cream perfectly.

Matcha also goes well by itself on plain vanilla ice cream, as a kind of easy-to-make homemade matcha ice cream. But then, matcha goes great on just about anything.

—Mellow Monk


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Monday, June 07, 2010

Two eco-friendly teakettles

The Cuisinart PerfecTemp teakettle has a built-in thermometer on the side, so that you can remove it from the stove right when the temperature is just right for green tea (about 75°C, or 167°F).

And if you live in the UK, you can order Ecokettle 3. Like some other electric kettles I have reviewed, Ecokettle 3 has multiple temperature-selection buttons and shuts itself off automatically when the chosen temperature is reached, avoiding heating the water unnecessarily high. Ecokettle 3 also saves energy with its clever dual-chamber design (see image on right): After filling the kettle's inner chamber, you can release only the exact amount of water you need into the outer chamber, where the water is actually heated.

Getting the right water temperature is so important to green tea, and reducing energy use is important, too, so it's nice to have a tool that does both for us — and in an easy and aesthetically pleasing way, too.

—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Spirited hot spring, otherworldly farmhouse

I blogged previously about the real-life hot spring resort that inspired animator Hayao Miyazaki in making Spirited Away. Now the Japan Times has an in-depth story with excellent photos — like that on the left — about that same hot spring.

And speaking of otherworldly — but real — places, Japan Dave brings us an amazing shot of one of the massive-roofed, multistory wood-framed historic farmhouses for which the Japanese village of Shirakawa is famous.

These farmhouses were declared World Heritage sites in 1995.

—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Are you on a happy patch?

Emotions have a collective existence, postulates Nicholas Christakis — meaning that we all affect and are affected by how those closest to us feel.

Looking at maps of human social networks — interconnected groups of friends, coworkers, relatives, families, friends of friends, and so on — Christakis and his colleagues found that happy people tended to be grouped together in clusters, like patches on a quilt.

They also found that the odds that any given person in a human network is happy can be predicted by how many "happy" people to whom he or she is directly connected — in other words, whether that person is on a "happy patch."

Are you on a happy patch?

If you are not, you can always move to one or transform the patch you currently occupy into a happy patch, because the positive changes that disseminate out from you will in turn flow back to you.

Even if you cannot reach out to others in person, remember that even a voice on the phone can be as soothing as actual physical contact.

The Japanese tea ceremony teaches us to focus completely on our guests when serving tea, and the recipient to focus on the host. Both are utterly in the moment, focusing on their interaction through the tea.

"Is my guest comfortable?" wonders the host. "Am I making him or her feel welcome? Am I preparing this tea as best as I can?"

The guest in a tea ceremony, meanwhile, thinks "Am I taking in the beauty of the tearoom? Am I focusing on the hospitality I am receiving?"

Thus, tea teaches us to not only be mindful, but to be mindful in a way that draws in others in a positive way, magnifying feelings of gratitude, hospitality, and togetherness — in short, making our patch a happier, mellower one.

—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Kumamoto tea master teaches Tokyoites

In this photo, Kumamoto tea master Kazuya Matsumoto pours tea at an event in Ueno Park to teach young people the joy of brewing tea the traditional way — with loose leaves and a teapot.

Even in Japan, many busy folks are opting for the convenience of bottled green tea, but like many who try it, the two lasses below no doubt quickly discovered that brewing loose-leaf tea delivers taste and aroma that bottled tea cannot even approach — and it is fun and relaxing, too.

See? That's all there is to it.

[Source: Nihon Nōgyō Shinbun]

—Mellow Monk


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