Sunday, July 25, 2010

Free Your Mind

The Tea Drinker & I truly enjoyed our vacation to Japan. We needed a break from our routine, and craved taking an adventure together. This getaway got me thinking- the Wife of a Tea Drinker needs a break, too. Therefore, I plan to put up my feet, give my fingers a rest, let my mind run wild, and enjoy the rest of the lazy days of summer.

I will return to blogging on Sunday, September 12th. The hope is to resume with a new look and lots of fresh ideas. I am giddy just thinking about the prospect of taking this break (after nearly two and half years of sharing glimpses of our lives). I trust you will also welcome this break! Reading and living tea, wine, and food each week can take a toll on anyone's psyche and waistline.

In my absence, please remember to drink copious amounts of Drink the Leaf loose leaf teas...and spread the word. Or else, I will come back sooner.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Farmer's Market Bounty

Last Sunday, I blogged (complained) about the effects of jet lag, I had no idea what was in store for us! Five more sleepless nights pushed us to the brink of insanity. The Tea Drinker and the Wife on lack of sleep is not a pretty sight. Stay away. No amount of caffeinated loose leaf tea in the world could cure what ailed us, except a night of uninterrupted sleep! This weekend so far has been restful and we are back in the swing of things: laundry, cleaning, yard work, farmer’s market, grilling, and sorting through our pictures from Japan.

Yesterday's romp through the Napa Valley's Farmer’s Market was great. As the Tea Drinker was at his booth waxing on about Japan, genmaicha and the like, I was out spending his hard earned money. I picked up a variety of fresh veggies and fruit for the week ahead. In Japan, we enjoyed lots of vegetables, most were pickled or preserved. The Japanese term is Tsukemono, meaning “pickled things”. They are served as a side or a snack. Vegetables typically are pickled in any of the following: soy sauce, miso, vinegar, salt, or even sake! We had plenty of pickled things in Japan, ranging from Takuan(daikon), cucumber, cabbage to ginger. My favorite pickled vegetable was Japanese Ginger (Myoga Ginger). It looks like a spring onion, with a slight red hue (photo pictured right). We had it mostly with sashimi. First time we have ever seen it, and will be on the lookout for this treat at Sushi Ran or Morimoto restaurants. Very flavorful, and not as spicy or pungent as the ginger we are used to. A popular belief in Japanese culture is eating too much of Myoga Ginger can make one forgetful—not to worry because you will forget this concern before your next meal, anyways.

With loads of fresh Farmer Market vegetables on hand, we decided to not pickle them this time around (much to the Tea Drinker’s dismay). Obviously, my sense of sarcasm has not waned from eating too much raw fish and pickled things. So, I laid out my bounty before me and selected a variety of treats: yellow squash, zucchini, grape tomatoes, red onions, basil, fennel, orange, red, and green bell peppers. Its summer, so we lit the gas grill, tossed our bounty (minus the tomatoes and basil) in olive oil, sprinkled a bit of salt and pepper, and charred them slightly. My mind wandered to my Dad’s garden (many moons ago) and to summer months of chopping fresh vegetables(cucumbers, peppers, onions and tomatoes) tossing them in apple cider vinegar, with a bit of olive oil, lots of salt and pepper. Tearing off a big slice of Italian bread to dip, soak, and slurp up the juices. Your mouth waters just thinking about it. Bingo! Perfectly charred vegetables came off the grill, chopped into bite size pieces, tossed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. Crumbled feta, sliced tomatoes, chopped basil were mixed in as a finishing touch. The freshly baked rosemary bread that I bought at the market came out of its bag and we settled into a lovely afternoon at home on our back patio. A tall glass of Drink the Leaf Citrus Rooibos Iced Tea was served. Simply blissful.

Farmer’s Market Salad
Variety of Organic Fresh Vegetables, Grilled or Raw, chopped into bite size pieces
Red Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt & Pepper
Favorite Crumbly Cheese
Crusty Bread
Drink the Leaf Iced Tea

Make it a blissful day, too!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jet Lag & Japanese Green Tea

We returned home to Napa yesterday after two glorious weeks of vacation in Japan. Our nine and half hour flight on ANA airlines went smoothly. Tokyo to San Francisco, non-stop. Unfortunately, we were not upgraded this time around, and subsequently wecwere squished into coach seats. We suffered through by watching movies (The Hurt Locker, and Invictus), playing a fierce game of Scrabble (I won), and eating Japanese rice snacks. We tried stretching our aching legs under the seats in front of us, to no avail. We both agreed that we got way more exercise then we expected on this trip. Let’s just say that the Tea Drinker has plenty of footage of me limping up and down the maze of stairs in every subway and train station in Japan.

We started to doze off as we descended to SFO airport. Just our luck! Upon arrival, we were able to whiz through immigration, and make it to our car in less than 30 minutes. The beauty of carry-on luggage! The immigration agent looked at us strangely after inquiring about our length of stay in Japan, and wondered if we indeed had all of our luggage. Yes, sir! We are efficient, and super travelers (see photo above). And, yes we are bit punchy from a combination of little sleep, a serious omega-3 overdose and lack of American junk food.

As soon as we hit Highway 101, we started planning our next American meal. Do not get me wrong- we absolutely loved the food in Japan. The fish is the freshest and most tastiest we have ever had. But, eating raw fish, miso soup and rice day in and day out, made us realize how much we love Mexican food, and cheese! The works, please. Sour cream and guacamole on top, too! We debated on whether or not we would need to make two stops: one for me at Villa Corona for the Taco Salad, and another for the Tea Drinker's favorite Tacos Laplayita's Pastor burrito. In the end, jet lag won, and we walked to the closest Mexican joint. It was delicious. First time we had ingested gooey cheese, salty tortilla chips, hot sauce, and refried beans in almost two weeks. That sets a record somewhere, I'm sure.

I must also admit that on our way home, I started plotting while the Tea Drinker snoozed in the passenger seat next to me. None other than The Wing Stop was on my list. You have heard me go on about this addiction of mine before; I just could not drive by without getting a combo chicken wing order (Original Hot and Parmesan Garlic). And, I wonder why the lovely people of Japan are all slim and trim?!

Jet lag is a strange thing. It's like altitude sickness- sometimes it renders you useless and another time you are left unscathed. We arrived home (5:00am Tokyo time), and felt like we could take on the day. We got right to work: played with the cat, started unpacking, put in a load of laundry, munched on chicken wings, called friends and family, and then hit the wall. We ran to our beds, and settled into a strange slumber for three hours where we dreamt of yen monies, sake, sushi, and subway schedules. I felt the sensation of being on a boat. A combination of a woozy and sinking feeling as I slipped deeper into some unknown bliss. Then, woke up craving Mexican food and a good bottle of wine. Mission accomplished. Then again, felt like I could take on the world only to crash a few hours later and sleep until nearly 1pm the next day.
Today, we are zoned out and fighting sleep at every turn. Trying our hardest not to look at our work inboxes as the email is mounting, and the schedule of next week is looming. Just one more day of rest, and then the sweet memories of Japan will reveal themselves as we settled back into our normal routine.

I am certain that drinking green tea can help minimize jet lag. I have read that of all the amino acids found in green tea (Genmaicha), the most prevalent is L-theanine, which induces relaxation. One should drink loads of green tea (Gyokuro)in the days leading up to flying across time zones, and avoid alcohol and sugary treats. Oops. And upon arrival, drinking green tea can help you stay awake, and focused, and at night can help you relax, and fall asleep. Again, avoid alcohol and fatty foods. Oops. L-theanine increases your serotonin levels, and can help you remain calm, and ease the jet lag jitters. Too bad, we are so darn tired that we can’t muster the energy to dig out our new Japanese green tea finds. It will have to wait until tomorrow or at least until after another nap.

Drink Drink the Leaf loose leaf green tea and reap the health benefits.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reporting From The Beautiful, Lush Country of Japan

Today marks the half way point of our stay in Japan. We are looking forward to six more days in this beautiful country. There is much to digest: from our days in the bustling city of Tokyo, to a relaxing day in the countryside of Hakone, and then onto an unbelievable rewarding time spent with a Master Tea blender in Shizuoka ( a premier tea growing region). This morning, we awake excited with anticipation of embarking on another day in Kyoto, the home of  many world heritage sites.

Comments, musings, and experiences thus far:
~ Japan is a very clean country. The streets, subways, train stations, hotels, and restaurants are spotless. Someone is always wiping done one surface or another.
~ The Japanese people are extremely courteous, helpful, friendly, and QUIET.
~ Cha(tea) is served at every meal, and is complimentary in all restaurants. What a great concept!
~ Tea bushes line the valley and hillsides of Shizouka- it reminded us of the vineyards back home in Napa Valley. The community was busy with the second harvest. We were able to visit a tea factory, and experience the behind the scenes of production. We were giddy as we took in our surroundings. The smell of fresh picked tea leaves was intoxicating. 
~ If you love seafood, you will not be disappointed in this country. However, open your mind and palate to new delicacies. It's eel season, after all.
~ Udon noodles are delicious, and the process of preparing your own treasure bowl is enlightening. All the flavors really pop( Japanese ginger, radish, green onion, sesame seeds, snap peas, and etc). Be prepared to hear lots of loud slurping noises going on around- it's common and a sign of appreciation.
~ Sashimi, and sushi (not an avocado in sight). We have consumed the freshest fish possible. Melts in your mouth. Hamachi, fatty tuna, salmon roe, urchin, unagi, and our personal new discovery: horse mackerel. Stay away from raw octopus. Let's just leave it at that!   
~ Don't be afraid to navigate public transportation. Subways, trains, and buses are an adventure in themselves, and you will save money. 
- Visit shrines, temples, walk down  alleyways, and peer into nooks and crannies- Japan is a maze of culture and history at every turn.
- I love fried food, and Japanese tempura served with my second love(flavored salts) is the bomb.
- Try out the Japanese language.  You will be well received, despite a few giggles. Konnichiwa, arigato,  and sayonara will do just fine.
 - Sake,  sake, and sake. Refresh palate with beer. Repeat.

Upon our return, we will post photos, and give a more in- depth look into our experiences into this amazing country. Pour yourself a cup of Drink the Leaf tea- make it a sencha, gyokuro, or genmachia! 

** excuse typos- writing on Ipad.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lift Off! Japan


At this precise moment, the Tea Drinker and I are settled into our seats on ANA Airlines headed to Japan (at least, I hope we are). Last night, I forwarded a detailed itinerary to our parents confirming that I am indeed neurotic. I went overboard a bit with listing every street corner in Japan, and the closest 'something or other' to it. But, I am a believer that one should know where the closest ice cream shop, bar, restaurant, bathroom, ATM machine, tea shop, historic monument, and subway station is located at all times, in any city. So, I have listed every detail, and I mean every detail.

Here is an excerpt from our itinerary: "TOKYO: Breakfast Ice Cream Treat: Kinozen located in Kagaurazaka-one of the cities popular kanmidokoro. Located just next door to Fujiya, Kinozen. Often has a line out the front door. Their signature dish is a modern mattcha babaloa. The babaloa made from Uji mattcha is delicate with tsubuan (chunky azuki) and whipped cream is a nice ensemble of flavors and textures. The kakigori in the summer of shaved ice colored with flavored syrups are irresistible and offer a despite from the heat and humidity. There is also a selection of items to go, including the mattcha babaloa”.

Not convinced? KYOTO: “Kiyomizudera can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 15 minutes by bus. Take bus number 100 or 206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, from where it is a 10-15 minute uphill walk to the temple. Start at Chawan-zaka(Tea pot lane), Kiyomizu-dera Temple(pg 338), then Tainai-meguri, and Sannen-zaka-(many tea houses/cafes), Ninen-zaka(pg 351), then Ishibei-koji( cobbled street) retrace steps continue north, passing Kodai-ji Temple(pg 351) on right up long flight stairs-to T intersection –turn right, keep left, descend into Maruyama-koen( park), see Giant Gion Tree, opposite tree, cross bridge(picnic?), head West(downhill) into Yasaka-jinja shrine to walk to Keihan-shijio station. Or head back to park. "

Certifiable! UJI : “To-kichi Nakamura cafe→Travel time:13:00 - 14:30. Established in 1859, this historic tea shop contains a cafe serving tea soba noodles and matcha sweets. Shop address: :10-1, Uji Uji-City. Access: 1-min walk from JR Uji Station. Tel: 0774-22-7800. Cost: around 1000 yen. Nearby a chicken shop that runs a sake cellar and offers a rich variety of foods that go well with sake. Stored near the entrance to the parking lot is the "Shirakusui" water which is used for sake, and visitors are welcome to try both the water and sake. Refreshing drinks to taste, if we have a have a few moments to spare.”

So, indulge me, and check back often for posts about Drink the Leaf's cultural and tea buying trip to Japan, or at least check in to see if I have finally gone bonkers. There are many highlights to look forward to:

  • Three days in Tokyo- a bustling city with many restaurants, shops, loads of people, a world-renowned sushi market, and the ever popular “cat” cafes(different building than sushi market).

  • A full day in the tea region of Shizuoka( producing 45% of Japan's tea) to visit a well known tea estate and meet with tea producers, farmers, and experience the wonderful lure of drinking Japanese green tea, such as Sencha and Genmaicha.

  • Five days in the mesmerizing Kyoto- a full itinerary of shrines, food markets, monkeys, tea, shrines, more tea, and even more shrines.

  • A side day trip to the Uji tea region to sip on Gyokuro.

  • Take the “bullet” to the city of Hiroshima to take in a sobering experience of our world's history. Recharge and rejuvenate with a visit to the neighboring majestic island, Miyajima for the night.

  • And, finally end our trip back in Tokyo for a day and evening of gastronomical delights.
Peak into the life of a Tea Drinker soon...


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reporting From High Altitude

Vegas is already a distant memory, as I swirl wine at this year's Aspen Food & Wine Classic. Not a tea leaf in sight; really a shame! The Tea Drinker and I used to live in this town of the rich and famous. We peddled wine by day, and lived for hiking, skiing, and biking on our days off. Then, wine won, healthy lifestyle took a backseat, and we moved to Napa to pursue our passion. Thank goodness, we have since introduced loose leaf tea into our life. Balance is so important in one's life.

The Tea Drinker is home recovering from the World Tea Expo (yes, I am being sarcastic-the altitude brings it out in me). Me, I am tripping down memory lane, and wishing I brought Drink The Leaf teas with me on this trip. This weekend in Aspen is all about wine,food,parties,sunshine,and fresh air. But, I do not feel complete without my tea (and Tea Drinker). Actually, I think I am just dehydrated from all the wine drinking, and goofy from lack of oxygen...

I have nothing more to report, as I have a party to go to-yes, I realize it's 10:00am. That's how we roll in Aspen. A perfect example of precisely why I should have brought tea (and the Tea Drinker) with me. Balance.

Drink tea today, and everyday

**I apologize for any typos-I am posting from my iPad!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, Baby!

Tea by day, wine by night. This past weekend, the Tea Drinker and I attended the World Tea Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Tea and Vegas—a sordid combination. To balance out all this craziness, we added wine, dining and The Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil to the mix. The World Tea Expo brings tea retailers, importers, distributors, specialists, and enthusiasts from as far away as India. Its a three day event packed with educational seminars, a vast trade show, and plenty of opportunities to taste tea from all over the world.

Each morning, we attended educational seminars ranging from exploring various tea regions, brand merchandising and packaging, obtaining organic certification, and tips on tea photography. Filled with knowledge, we headed into the trade show and tackled each row with a vengeance. This expo was our third, and we were much more prepared than in years past. With just over three years of experience as an on-line retailer, we were able to communicate more effectively with the distributors, and importers.

After a long day of slurping down too many teas to be counted, and live to talk about, I found myself with a caffeine buzz unlike any other. The Tea Drinker had to drag me away from some poor unassuming soul who listened patiently as I loudly compared tea tastings to wine tastings. Try drinking wine all day. Tea is a piece of cake. My victim looked at me unconvincingly as my voice was at a high pitch, my sentences were scrambled, and my eyes fluttered nervously back and forth. Like I said, tea and Vegas is a dangerous combination.

Drink the Leaf’s Top Five Highlights:

1) The History of Pu-er- After sitting through an early morning Pu'er seminar, I have a new found appreciation for this tea from the Yunnan province of China. The history behind this tea is rich with culture, folk lore, and tribute. There are two basic types of Pu’er tea: Sheng(raw) or Shou(cooked). Both unique in flavor and aroma. We sampled teas in both forms from a range of harvests dating back to 2004. Each year of aging brings on complexity and depth. Pu'er is also claimed to be loaded with medicinal value. In upcoming months, Drink the Leaf will add additional types of Pu’ers to the website. Have you ever had Pu’er that was wrapped in a tangerine shell or a bamboo stick? Simply amazing. Pu’er is pronounced POO- ARGH. It’s the Pirate’s tea.
2) Two Eggs in A Hole- As we sipped on chilled Sauvignon Blanc at Sage restaurant located in the Aria hotel at City Center, the Tea Drinker inquired out loud, “Did we really just spend $30 dollars on two eggs?”. The bartender overheard, and rushed over to assure us that they were really special eggs. And, they were. Slow poached organic eggs nestled on top of perfectly whipped mashed potatoes served with fried country bread. Two versions were offered: Shaved Black Truffle and Guanciale (Italian bacon). We had one of each. As egg yolk dripped off our chins, we proclaimed these the best damn eggs we ever had. If you go to Sage, and order this, be sure to drink down a Vegas-style glass of wine beforehand, it really does help your psyche when the bill arrives.
3) Learning Mandarin- We were delighted to take part in an impromptu teaching session during the trade show. We huddled around our brilliant instructor as he took us through the basic pronunciation of Mandarin. We learned various tea terms such as suan, tian, ku, la, zian, shou, dan, cun, yan, dao xiang, he xiang, shan cha, and you ji zheng ming shu. Any questions? Our instructor beamed as we bellowed out each word precisely. We mimicked him like good little parrots, feeling confident as spectators wandered by, envious of our knowledge. Then, the instructor pointed us in the direction of the Chinese tea farmers booths, and gave us homework. Go to them, converse with them. The Tea Drinker and I took one look at each other and ran the other way!
4) Dinner at Michael Mina- The first course set the tone: Caviar Parfait. Smoked salmon and Osetra caviar set on top of a potato cake. And, not just your ordinary potato cake. We were doomed, as course after course was brought to us. Check out the menu and the highlighted wine for the evening. Nothing short of spectacular. Work, work, work.
5) Shizuoka Tea Growing Region- We were able to meet the owners of two highly regarded Japanese tea estates, Maru Matu and Sugimoto. We scheduled tours of their farms for our upcoming trip to Japan. How exciting! We hope to bring you loose leaf tea from these two estates in the near future.

**If you head to Vegas, remember to hydrate with tea and water. Have fun, and be safe.