Friday, July 30, 2010

A house in the country. And a bike, too

Bastish blogs about a hiking trip to a small hamlet near Nagano's Otari Village.

This blogger is also involved in One World Japan, which organizes bike tours in rural Sakae Village, also in Nagano.

A leisurely cycling trip through rural Nagano sounds like an immensely mellow thing to do, and if any of you have had the chance to do so, the rest of us would love to hear about it.

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grow it and they will come

A recent segment of “This American Life” records the laments of an aid worker in Haiti whose simple, low-cost idea to help smallholder mango farmers became hopelessly entangled in the labyrinthine procedures of large nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the poverty-stricken nation.

The simple idea was to help the farmers get more of their fresh, juicy mangos to eager buyers outside of the island by giving them plastic crates in which to store and transport the mangos to the docks for shipment.

A simple idea, but not so simple for a large NGO to implement: You need, the aid worker was told, land on which to build a center where the crates can be stored and cleaned and where the farmers can come pick up the crates and learn about fruit-packing. And the land had to be donated to the NGO, not sold or loaned. Even after willing donors were found, the legal work to transfer title was long and complex.

And then after the horrible earthquake in Haiti, the NGO — like many others there — began focusing more on the big picture: What's the point in helping farmers crate and warehouse fruit if distribution and shipping channels need updating, too? And the nation's financial infrastructure is badly in need of fixing, too.

Soon, a year goes by, then two or three, and the mango farmers still don't have their crates.

I am not knocking the big NGOs. Their noble, self-sacrificing volunteers do much-needed work — and big things, too, far beyond the scope of small fry like Mellow Monk.

And yet sometimes, a big transformation starts with small changes. Starting at the grassroots level, these changes spread outward and upward organically, instead of being imposed artificially from above.

This is precisely the philosophy to which Mellow Monk subscribes. This bottom-up approach could be called "Grow it and they will come."

Remember the movie where Kevin Costner hears a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield? "If you build it, he will come," says the voice.

Since then, the phrase Build it and they will come has come to mean "Just do that good thing now, and soon word will get around, people will see what you've done, see how good it is, and flock to you."

This is the philosophy seen in grassroots organizations like Kiva (which Mellow Monk supports wholeheartedly) — and exactly the approach that Mellow Monk and our growers are taking: They produce their amazingly delicious, wholesome, healthy, and authentic green tea, and we provide a way for tea aficionados outside of Japan to find it.

So you could say that Mellow Monk is like a plastic crate: the growers use us as they see fit, and as more and more tea drinkers discover their wonderful tea, the change will follow, rather than trying to do it the other way around.

From the top-level perspective of global tea production, this means: Don't try to change the way tea is grown or distributed. Don't try to reform massive, eco-unfriendly agribusiness. Instead, find tea that is already being made responsibly, then create new ways to get that tea to those who want it.

Grow it and they will come: That, in a nutshell, is Mellow Monk's strategy.

I would like to thank all who have supported us on this journey so far, and I welcome the rest of you to join us, too. After all, has such a wonderful cause ever been this tasty or this good for you?

Two grower–artisans toast to another successful harvest.

—Mellow Monk


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Monday, July 26, 2010

Cold-brewing matcha in a bottle

Here is an easy way to make cold-brewed matcha:

  1. Into an empty bottle, put a small amount of matcha (only about a third of a teaspoon — a little bit goes a long way).

  2. Add a tiny bit of water to the bottle (only a couple of capfulls).

  3. Fasten the cap and shake vigorously. The goal is to make a thick, even matcha paste in the bottom of the bottle. Otherwise, the matcha will form stubborn clumps in the next step.

  4. Add the rest of the water, fasten the cap again, and share vigorously.

  5. Enjoy! (If some settling of the matcha occurs before you finish it, simple fasten the cap and shake again.)

The photo below depicts a really great idea that a tea grower in Aso showed us while we strolled through town: making cold-brewed matcha from the stunningly delicious water from one of the town's natural spring water drinking fountains.

On a hot day like that, there is nothing like nice, cold green tea. It really gave us the energy to keep exploring the sights.

This is right-from-the-mountain spring water that the city provides for everyone — locals and visitors alike. The water's taste is pure and clean and exquisite yet subtle, and it's body-chillingly cold in a reassuring way. You feel like you've got a direct line to Mother Earth's own water cooler.

—Mellow Monk


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Friday, July 23, 2010

Holy fire festival!

When one of our tea growers in Aso took me to the fire festival (Hifuri Matsuri) at Aso Shrine — which was walking distance from his tea estate — I thought I had stepped into another world . . . a world where people swing burning bales of hay around them to the oohs and aahs of an awestruck throng of visitors.

What's really cool is that anyone can pick up one of the burning bales and start swinging away.

The festival began as — and still is — a ritual to welcome the "bride" of the new harvest. Taking place right around rice-planting time, which is also when tea plants enter their season of rapid growth, the festival is a community prayer for a good harvest and a gesture of gratitude for nature's bounty.

As we walked back to the grower's tea estate, I left with a renewed appreciation not only for the bounty of nature, but also for traditions through which a community publicly expresses its gratitude for this bounty.

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dancing fish at a hot hotel

The head chef at the Sayuri hot spring hotel — where I sometimes stay when visiting tea estates in Hitoyoshi — is a man of many talents: Not only does he prepare simply spectacular food, but he's an artist as well. Here is one of his works of sumie and shuji on display in the hotel restaurant:

The title is "Kawabe River Rapids Dancing Sweetfish."

—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Matcha donuts from Peeples

Yesterday I feasted on Pepples positively delicious matcha donuts at their San Francisco Ferry Building location.

Did I mention that the donuts were delicious? (And they are organic and vegan, too!)

(Pepples doesn't use Mellow Monk Matcha, but some day, who knows...)

I can't wait to try more of Pepples' wonderful treats. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by the Pepples kiosk. You will not be disappointed.

—Mellow Monk

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Matcha poster "blenz" images

To conclude my Blenz Matcha Latte series of photos — see the previous two postings — I give you a photo of the eye-catching poster that the Canadian chain of coffee and tea shops used to to advertise its matcha lattes.

After seeing this poster, it was hard to resister ordering one of those tasty concoctions. And sitting near the poster while sipping enhanced the experience, too.

—Mellow Monk

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Matcha smoothie from Blenz

Here's another green tea treat I enjoyed in wonderful Vancouver — a Blenz matcha smoothie.

It was so delicious — like their matcha latte not too sweet, with a strong matcha flavor, and a nice fruity bouquet on top of an almost chewy banana base.

(Because what would a smoothie be without a banana?)

This cool, thick smoothie was like having a meal and a cup of matcha at the same time — and just as satisfying and uplifting. It really gave me the energy to carry on exploring — just like a good cup of green tea should.

What a nice, chilly treat this was.

—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Green tea latte in Vancouver

My journeys recently took me to Vancouver. The tea I enjoyed there included a matcha latte at Blenz.

I liked their matcha latte concoction better than most — it wasn't too sweet, and had a nice brisk matcha flavor. After that nice, warm cuppa, my traveler's load felt just a bit lighter, and Vancouver seemed just a bit prettier.

Which is exactly what a good cup of green tea is supposed to do.

Sweet, foamy, and yummy!

—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Parfait, ice cream, and cupcakes — oh my!

Here are three tasty treats made with matcha.

First, Made in Kitchen presents a recipe for some positively scrumptious-looking green tea cupcakes, an irresistible example of which you see here on your left.

Notecook gives us another recipe to satisfy our green tea tooth and our sweet tooth at the same time — the "easiest green tea ice cream recipe."

Finally, the glorious creation you see below is a matcha parfait from Great Leaf, in the greater Chicago area.

The restaurant, located in the food court in Mitsuwa's Arlington Heights store, does not give out the recipe, so you will have to reverse-engineer it by consuming one of these confections yourself.

Happy desserting!

—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tokyo nights and other nocturnal views

Photographer extraordinaire Christopher Tierney has a fabulous series called "Tokyo Nights," which begins with some wonderful views from Tokyo Tower.

An example is displayed below, along with a couple of other mellow nighttime shots from elsewhere in the world.

—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mellow out by taking in the good

Many of us have, at one point or another, been accused of focusing too much on the bad, when we should be accentuating the positive.

Well, it turns out our minds are hard-wired that way — to accentuate the negative. Psychologists call it our negativity bias, which shows up in a lot of ways:

  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.

  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.'

  • Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

The solution to a brain that is "tilted against lasting contentment and fulfillment," however, is exceedingly simple: consciously focus on the good things in your life (which probably outnumber the bad). Think about the good. Take in the good. The author of the Psychology Today article linked to above breaks it down into three simple rules:

  1. Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.

  2. Really enjoy the experience.

  3. Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you.

You will notice that a common theme running through these rules could be called mindfulness, which happens to be a cornerstone of the Philosophy of Tea.

Mindfulness means focusing exclusively on the right now — what we are doing now, what is happening around us now. Mindfulness is about not interpreting what is happening, but rather simply observing what is happening: By not filtering these occurrences through our "negativity filter," we are then better able to see the positivity in them.

The green tea break is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness — to relax, shut out all thoughts and feelings, to calm down and simply experience — not interpret — what is happening around us. The luscious aroma, clean taste, and comforting warmth of the tea gives us something mellow to focus on. (And it has ingredients to induce mellowness, too.) After your tea break, you will find yourself more relaxed — and better prepared to take in the positivity around you.

Another simple way to remind ourselves of the good in our lives is to start your day by vocally reciting all the good things in your life, like this unstoppably positive little girl does:

—Mellow Monk


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