Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Frost-fighting fan in a tea field

This photo, taken in the orchard of one of our tea artisans, shows a fan that protects the leaves from frost.


The fans rotate slowly, generating only a slight breeze, but that is enough to stop frost from forming on budding leaves.


This is especially important in early spring, when the daytime warmth wakes the plants from their winter slumber, but temperatures can still drop low enough for frost to form in the wee hours.





—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Clever and creative tea packaging

Coat hangers, origami, and cigarettes are not items one normally associates with tea, but they can be found in these clever ideas for tea packaging.


Still and all, this innovation may be the cleverest of all.



After brewing, you may feel pangs of conscience about throwing Mr. Birdie into the recycling bin.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hiroshige galore!

Here is a large, well-organized repository of woodblock prints by the amazing Hiroshige.



Illustration 13, "Namazu," in the Hoeido edition of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road series.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

5 years for O-CHA and a Cali tea field for Imperial

O-CHA Teahouse of Greenville, SC is celebrating its 5th anniversary, while in California, Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court has just acquired a farm where he plans to grow tea.


Tea in California—I think that is wonderfully bold, and I wish Roy the best of luck.



And now for something completely different: Winter Wonderland in Japan, courtesy of Alfie Goodrich.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Two books—tea espionage and the gardens of Japan

Read a review of For All the Tea in China, which chronicles the tale of an Englishman who stole the secret of tea from China in the 1800s.


Another book you may find interesting is The Gardens of Japan, which is reviewed here.



A landscape at the Adachi Museum of Art, which is one of the many featured in The Gardens of Japan.


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, March 19, 2010

Tea fields surrounded by the Mt. Aso caldera


In the background is Gairinzan, which means literally "outer rim mountains," as in the outer rim of a crater. Technically speaking, the Aso valley is a caldera, not a crater. In fact, the area's volcanic soil is one of the secrets of its delicious green tea.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The spring tea forecast—looking good!

Our tea artisans in Aso report that the winter there was a typical one climate-wise, and the tea plants are emerging from their dorman period in excellent condition—healthy, vibrant, and ready to yield up their succulent leaves for us soon.



That's Nekodake in the background.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, March 15, 2010

Happiness and the two selves

What your in-the-moment self considers happiness is entirely different from how your reflective self defines as happiness. The latter decides whether you consciously feel satisfied with your life, but it’s the former that determines whether you are truly happy deep down.


That is the conclusion that Daniel Kahneman suggests from his research into how we can feel very differently about an event when looking back than how we actually felt while experiencing the event as it happened.


For instance, have you ever looked back fondly on some past event or past era in your life and thought that you were happy but didn’t realize it at the time? That you wish you had lived more thoroughly?


Conversely, have you ever enjoyed an experience but then looked back on it, focused on some negative aspect, and then begun thinking of that formerly “good time” as a bad time?


This is what Nobel laureate Kahneman calls the conflict between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self.”


This certainly dovetails with the concept of mindfulness—focusing on the here and now—which is a fundamental part of the Philosophy of Tea. In other words, if our in-the-moment self is the one who truly determines our happiness, then would not focusing on the here-and-now as much as possible make us happier?


This is something worth contemplating over a cup of green tea—or would that not be in the moment?



You do not need to be in a place like this to be completely in the moment, although it definitely helps.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Memoirs of a Secret Empire

Part of the PBS series Empires, the three-part "Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire" focuses on the rise and fall of the Tokugawa shogunate.


Part 3, "The Return of the Barbarians," chronicles how the country's reluctant opening to foreigners revealed the shogunate's — and the nation's — technological backwardness, eventually leading to the shogun's overthrow and the beginning of Japanese modernization.






Re-enactment scenes from part 3, "Return of the Barbarians."


—Mellow Monk


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Friday, March 12, 2010

Tea across America: Springboro, OH and Park Ridge, IL

A Springboro, Ohio tea shop is targeting teens in addition to traditional tea aficionados.


Meanwhile, the proprietor of a Park Ridge, Illinois tea store is spreading the word by demonstrating tea's culinary versatility. For instance, she especially likes this Green Tea Panna Cotta recipe from Tonia George's Tea Cookbook:

Green Tea Panna Cotta

1 1/2 T Matcha powder

6 T whole milk

2 tsp. powdered gelatin

2 C heavy cream

1/3 C sugar

4 (5-oz.) teacups or small round cooking molds

Gradually mix the Matcha powder with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the milk in a small bowl until smooth.

Pour the remaining milk into a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle over the gelatin. Set aside for about 5 minutes, then place the bowl over a shallow saucepan of hot water and stir until dissolved. Let cool.

Put the cream and sugar in a saucepan and heat over low heat until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and pour into a large glass measuring cup. Beat in the Matcha powder mixture, then the gelatin solution. Beat until fully blended. Pour the mixture into the teacups or cooking molds. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours until set. The panna cotta should wobble but they shouldn't look as though they are liquid in the center.

If you have made the panna cotta in cooking molds, dip the bases briefly in boiling water, then invert onto plates and give one short, sharp shake to loosen them. They should drop out easily. If you've made them in teacups, serve as they are. Serves 4.


The sign of a traditionalist: The above recipe calls for real powdered green tea, not tea bags.


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, March 11, 2010

One of my favorite do-enka songs

This enka song, Roukyoku Komori Uta, was a hit for Hitofushi Taro in 1963. I love the rough, folksy feel created by the old-fashioned instruments (including what sounds like a shochu bottle being tapped with a stick):





(The "do" in do-enka, by the way, means something like "seriously," "hard-core," or "old-school.")


The song inspired a Sonny Chiba movie of the same name. Lyrics [in Japanese] here. Video of Hitofushi belting out the tune a couple of decades later on live TV here.


I can’t wait to sing this on karaoke in Japan!


Although undoubtedly many people can wait.


—Mellow Monk


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Green tea, ginger, and honey for a sore throat

If you're blue and you don't know what to do, why don't you go where fashion sits.


And if you have a sore throat and want to sooth it naturally, why don't you try green tea with ginger and honey?


Freshly grated ginger works best — and tastes best, too.


By the way, this yummy combination is great even when you don't have a sore throat.



A homemade cup of green with with ginger and honey — mmm, yummy!


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Folk tales and the Tale of Genji

Here is a smattering of Japanese folktales.


(And, for good measure my favorite Japanese ghost story.)


But the Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) is no mere folktale. Although written over a thousand years ago, it weighs in at one thousand pages and is considered one of the world's first novels.


(The book's protagonist, Hikaru Genji, is not to be confused with the '90s boy band of the same name.)


Many of the sites featured in the novel can still be visited today, although they may have changed a bit in the last millennium.



Kyoto's Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, said to be the tutelary shrine of the Minamoto (Genji) clan, to which Hikaru Genji belonged.


—Mellow Monk


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Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Monk defies you not to smile at the "Trololo Song"

From the Russian singing legend Eduard Khil — a.k.a. Edward Hill — comes "Indeed, I am very glad that I finally am returning home," a.k.a. the Trololo Song:





—Mellow Monk


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Friday, March 05, 2010

Jamba Juice to serve "heavenly" tea

The news from Jamba Juice is that its upcoming lineup of hot beverages includes "Heavenly Green Tea," made with matcha green tea, cane sugar, and vanilla.


I look forward to tasting one, although I will probably ask them to hold the cane sugar.


And with a bottle of vanilla extract, we could all make our own Heavenly Green Tea.



A farmhouse and its tea field. (Taken by yours truly in Kumamoto, Japan.)


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, March 04, 2010

99 kettles of tea on the wall ...

Cortney Wagner, who operates the tea blog 99kettles, was kind enough to review our Top Leaf Green Tea.


And speaking of kettles, ChefsChoice makes some nice ones — electric and cordless, and many with other nifty features.


For instance, the 688 SmartKettle not only heats water to within 2 degrees of the temperature you set it to, but also holds the water at that temperature and is twice as energy efficient as heating water in a conventional stovetop kettle.



Click for an extreme close-up of the mellow infusion.


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lamps and other authentic Japanese wares

Artcraft Japan carries some very lovely, very authentic Japanese products. These are clearly no touristy trinkets.



Even photos of these lamps make me feel so mellow.


—Mellow Monk


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