Monthly Archives: March 2011

Matcha Matcha Man…I Want to Be a Matcha Man!

Matcha Powder
by The Republic of Tea
(Order it online at their site.)

Like a loyal citizen, I subscribe to The Republic of Tea’s TeaChing e-mails. They feature new or popular teas and give a description, health benefits, and steeping instructions. When I saw powdered green tea leaves, Matcha, I was hooked. (This post turned into a long-winded monologue. Fair warning. There’s a special offer for anyone who reads the entire blog. Keep reading to find out.)

Matcha is made by grinding Japanese Tencha tea leaves into a fine powder. You’ve heard of Sencha leaves, the Tencha isn’t actually intended for direct tea consumption. It’s the unused leaf product from batches that are prepared for making Matcha. So Tencha tea would be a little more rare. Harney & Sons sells it packaged for drinking, but it’s quite expensive. Tencha leaves are grown in shade, as opposed to the direct light given to Sencha leaves. Supposedly, it gives the leaves a deeper, darker appearance and a sweet taste. Matcha is used to flavor and color additive to some Japanese foods, including Matcha ice cream. Are you now thoroughly confused by all Japanese words ending in “cha”? Good, so am I. Moving on.

Matcha is definitely green. Green tea leaves are a dark green color, and when you brew it, it has a light green tint. But Matcha is GREEN.

It’s unlike any other tea I’ve prepared. Green tea is typically steeped in water that is hot, but not fully boiled (because of the tender leaves). Matcha should be prepared the same way. Because you have a powder, instead of leaves in a strainer or a tea bag, it will need to be mixed in to the water. Heat the water until boiling, but not a rolling boil. (If it’s in a kettle, the kettle shouldn’t whistle.)

It’s conveniently stored in a plastic bag inside the tin, so you can keep it dry.

Resealable bag inside the tin

Then pour the water into your cup and add a teaspoon of matcha. If you’re using a bigger cup—not sure why you’d want a huge hot-chocolate-sized mug of matcha, but just in case—you’ll need to use about 1 teaspoon per 6 ounces of water. I’ve given you a close-up of the powder, so you can really see the out-of-this world green powder (at least, out of this country). It looks like you’re going to make yourself a nice cup of green cocoa. (Remember green and purple ketchup? Those didn’t last long. I knew kids who wouldn’t touch it because it was a different color.)

Then you’re supposed to use a tea whisk to froth it up before drinking. Well, I don’t have a tea whisk. I don’t usually drink traditionally prepared Japanese tea or hold tea ceremonies. When I read about Matcha, I knew I had to try it because it looked strange. Overwhelmed with curiosity, I perused Republic’s offerings of the powder. The regular size (what most people would order from Republic) is a little more expensive than bagged or loose. I didn’t want to spend $16 plus shipping if I didn’t know what I was getting into. I chose the $7 sample size: the price to satisfy my curiosity. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to find myself a tea whisk just to try this tea.

But what was I supposed to do? I had a large balloon whisk (not going to fit in the cup) and a smaller whisk attachment from the blender. I chose the blender whisk. Instead of whisking in the cup, I boiled the water in a small pot and added the powder into the pot after removing it from heat. (I filled my cup with water and added a little extra to decide how much to boil—in case I lost some as it evaporated—but you can also measure 6 ounces.)

Whisking matcha in a pot

After all my whisking efforts, I wasn’t able to get it exactly frothy. I’ll have to look into this tea whisk thing. I’m sure you could use it for chai lattes, etc., too (in my American way of repurposing things). Here’s the tea whisk I ended up ordering.

The taste of matcha is grassy and slightly sweet and what you would expect from green tea, but it tasted grassier. Maybe it was a psychological combination of smelling the powder, dropping it into a pot, and whisking it that made me think I was eating soup or some kind of soupy sauce instead of tea. (Frothing with a tea whisk will produce better results, and what is intended.) Regardless, it tastes like a health drink. (You don’t eat whole grain wheat bread because it’s the sweetest, fluffiest bread you’ve ever tasted. You eat it because it’s healthy. Although, I do like whole grains. As a kid, I liked eating things that made me feel like a rabbit foraging for food, or a cow chewing something tough—I did eat compact sticks of grains meant for cows on a ranch once—but that’s another story.)

I would urge you to try Matcha tea, if nothing else, to satisfy your itching curiosity to try a powdered, bright green tea. It has less caffeine than regular green tea (which is less than black tea) and it has high amounts of antioxidants.

Drink to your health!

P. S. (Like I’m writing a letter to my pen-pal.) I thought I’d comment on the Republic’s choice of packaging.

ExpandOS!

I opened the box and found, to my delight, a bunch of cardboard triangles. The Republic’s usual shipping fodder consists of the trimmings from their tea bags, so this was something new and exciting (probably because I’m a geek). As you can see in the photo, they’re called ExpandOS. I’m guessing they come in a flat cut-out and are assembled before packaging to make little triangle air pockets (preferable to plastic air pockets or Styrofoam peanuts). I had to know what this was, so I checked out their Web site (yes, they have a site). Using tea bag trimmings is an eco-friendly way to avoid extra manufactured packaging, but made-from-post-industrial-waste ExpandOS is also a good option.

I’ve been pondering what to do with these guys. If I were artistically inclined, I would use them to build some kind of sculpture, or use them in a found-object project. But, alas, I’m not artistically anything. So….if you want these, I’ll send them to you. It’s my first reader giveaway! (Don’t get too excited.) If you’re a reader and you’d like these ExpandOS for an art project, or something else creative, leave a comment below. First person to comment can have the box full of ExpandOS—under one condition. You have to do a guest post on Tea Notes with a photo showing how you used the ExpandOS. This could be fun and an awesome way to promote reusable materials.

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Google Knows Me!

If you’re not friends with me on Facebook, you may not realize that Google now has me in their top search results! At least, they did a few nights ago. I searched for the name of the tea and “review.”

Google search results for "Another Honest Winner" post

It’s a big win for me, considering I know how few readers I get over here. If you’re a regular, or even just stopping by, leave me a comment letting me know how you found the site. I’d be interested in hearing how the reviews are getting out there.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to browse my ramblings. [Insert heart-warming emoticon here.]

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Esenchal Green Tea

Decaf Sencha
by Harney & Sons
(Available in decaf or regular on their site.)

Sencha is a type of green tea traditionally from Japan. The decaf variety from Harney & Sons is from China (go figure). I know, you’re thinking, “She got decaf…again.” Perpetually trying to cut back (you try having a tea blog and consuming large amounts of caffeine…for the sake of the public). For those of you who are still on a first name basis with your daily dose of caffeine, Harney & Sons does offer the caffeinated version, which is the most common. (You may want to note that the caffeinated Japanese Sencha is more expensive than the decaf, even for the 1 oz more in package size. You may want to check out their Sencha varieties; however prices do increase further: Organic, Matsuda’s, Ichiban, Sent of Mountain.) They do have a bagged Sencha, but you sacrifice that loose-leaf effect. You can also try a sample for $2, which isn’t bad at all.

OK, enough money talk.

Decaf Sencha, like most green teas, has a light, relaxing, grassy flavor. Green tea undergoes minimal oxidation (when the tea leaves are allowed to darken after they are picked), so it’s a lighter taste than black tea (maximum oxidation time; oolong is in between). Sencha is made from more whole leaves. It’s not ground or heavily chopped. You can see in the photo below that the loose leaves consist of rolled leaf pieces. It makes for a nice, whole, round flavor.

For Sencha, the tea plants are allowed direct sunlight exposure. It is also steamed longer in processing, giving it a bright green color and full green flavor.

When boiling water for green tea, it’s important to stop the heat just before it boils completely. This is really for loose-leaf green tea, in particular. Green tea is more delicate than black, so you don’t want to scorch the leaves.  Instead, allow them to gently unfurl and the heat from the water can coax the flavor out of each leaf. You want some right now, don’t you?

I’m glad I decided to go with the decaf too. Not just because I’m cutting back. It’s such a relaxing drink, I can have it before bed and still get enough sleep. It’s also nice for the afternoon, if you just need a break from a busy day.

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Another Honest Winner

Lori’s Lemon Tea
by Honest Tea
(Pick up a bottle at your local store, or order a case here.)

What goes better with an early Spring warm-up than a refreshing splash of iced tea? St. Louis enjoyed a sunny 70 degrees this afternoon, and my taste buds shouted for iced tea. A little lemon and a smooth finish, this bottled beverage hit the spot.

This is my second experience with Honest Tea. If you’re interested, check out my review of their Peach Oo-la-long. Tasty. In keeping with my apparent fruity tea attraction, I chose Lori’s Lemon Tea on my way out of the grocery store. This tea is “Just a Tad Sweet,” and it’s just enough for the flavor combo. It’s a nice balance of black tea and lemon flavor, giving it a soft taste that perfect by itself or with a meal.

OK. This may be getting a little too personal for a tea review. Now you know that I like Ranch dressing and croutons on my salad!

The quality that delighted me first was the amazing lemon scent wafting up from the freshly open bottle cap. If that’s not inviting, you must hate citrus.  It’s just a sniff of what’s waiting for you under the cap. USDA Organic, like all their teas, there are only 5 ingredients. Five! And 3 of them are tea and lemon. Nothing unpronounceable or ending in the word acid appears in the list. You know what that means? No aftertaste! And, oh yeah, cane sugar. That’s always a good sign, especially for those of us who are easily irritated by the pro–high fructose corn syrup commercials. They live up to their slogan: “Nature got it right. We put it in a bottle.”

The label features artwork from “Fill-the-T” contest-winner Lori Andrews from Ohio; hence, “Lori’s Lemon Tea.”

Check out the lemon artwork on the label by contest-winner Lori Andrews.

We’re also reminded in the back panel blurb that iced tea originated at the 1904 World’s Fair in—that’s right!—St. Louis. I knew God sent me here for a reason, and it wasn’t the humidity. Great heritage. If you’re ever in St. Louis, check out Forest Park, site of the 1904 Fair with many still existing structures and buildings. Also in the park, the Missouri History Museum offers a free exhibit on the Fair, along with a myriad of interesting artifacts.

Honest Tea is full of great ideas and flavors. Check out their mission statement and sustainability policy here. Not only do they love their environment, they love their customers. Don’t take my word for it that Honest Tea is honestly good. Browse their Customer of the Month archive at the Honest Desk of Fame. How many ways can you make a great tea even better?

Just something I thought I’d add: my second bottle cap had the same quote as my last bottle. Hmm… If you’re an Honest Tea fan, share your bottle cap quotes!

For more on Honest Tea and their history, see my previous review, “Honestly Good.”

Update 3/18/11: I finished 3/4 of my bottle last night and decided to take the rest to work this morning. The bottle slipped from my hands while I was fumbling for my keys and hit the pavement of the parking garage…hard. To my delight, it bounced! So, not only is it a tasty beverage, it’s made out of very hardy glass. This one is going in the collection of glass waiting to be painted as flower vases (cat proof!). Happy Friday!

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Life of a Tea Drinker, Chapter II

Chapter, the Second
In which the author complains about a holiday she secretly benefits from, while taking a tea break…

Welcome to another edition of Erin’s Life. I decided to break up the afternoon with a nice cup of Twinings’ Irish Breakfast, in honor of tomorrow’s very green holiday, and was inspired to tell you about it.

Twinings' Irish Breakfast Tea. Courtesy twiningsusashop.com.

I always keep Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast and a variety of herbals (new with my less-caffeine lifestyle) in my desk drawer at work to avoid the mundane Lipton choices in the break room (but Lipton is, of course, a great choice for a big batch of iced tea). It’s also because I’m a tea snob and think I can do better than Lipton for my afternoon cuppa.

Irish Breakfast tea is nice because you get a strong black taste to wake up your senses (even decaf). Twinings’ brand is very nice, but if you really want a shock of Irish Breakfast, try Stash’s Super Irish Breakfast. I tried this at a bed and breakfast (I miss you, Jabberwock Inn!) in California last July. If you’re staying in Monterey, check out my Trip Advisor review of this gem of an inn (“A dream B&B!”). You won’t be disappointed.

I digress…

I like wearing green and I like that there are fun parades, etc., but the fact that it’s another one of those attention-getting holidays makes me nervous. You know, like Halloween, when everyone in the office is competing for best costume or there’s gold glitter sprinkled on the floor (a nightmare for janitors everywhere. My husband calls glitter “herpes of the craft world.”) I have a bit of Irish in me (the Potters on my mom’s side, a few generations back) and I enjoy the holiday in general, but the extent to which some people celebrate fascinates me.

I was driving home from work yesterday and found a matching green, be-shamrocked family walking up the steps of a house for sale down the street with their realtor. On Tuesday? A few days early for family fanatics, don’t you think? There’s another house on a side street that always strings holiday-appropriate lights (Halloween, 4th of July, Valentine’s Day), and, yes, there were green shamrock lights up on the first of March. That was expected. It was the oversized blowup leprechaun that frightened me. They make blowup decorations for everything!

Even if a coworker shoves their shamrock face painting in my face to see what my reaction will be (are we 5 years old again?). Even if there are freaks in green hair color running down the streets. There are some comforts related to St. Patrick’s Day (here are my top 5):

5. It’s one day of many that you can tell the crazies from the non-crazies. (Don’t even think of pinching me!)
4. Corned beef happens to be one of my passions.
3. Stores feel obligated to stock green colored food items, which I feel obligated to buy.
2. Green clothing makes my green eyes pop!
1. Darby O’Gill and the Little People is always on TV.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day anyway!

Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Courtesy startedbyamouse.com

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Life of a Tea Drinker, Chapter I

Chapter, the First
In which the author introduces herself to her readership, after much time since the dawning of her Web log…

I’ve added a new category: Life of a Tea Drinker. Sometimes a girl just needs to write, regardless of her influx (or no flux) of new tea. (FYI, I did get an exciting shipment of Harney & Sons on Saturday, so look for more tea blogs soon!) I’ll designate occasional blogs to this Life category that are “optional,” as if you need permission to read or not read any of this nonsense. Feel free to peruse at your own risk—it may get personal. Fair warning.

To start off, I’d like to make friends by showing you my cat, Wordsworth.

Isn’t he adorable? If you don’t think so, please refrain from commenting. He’s the closest thing we have to a child, and only-child syndrome set in long ago. This furball likes to coat the furniture in a thin layer of white fluff as he travels to his favorite spots around the house. He also likes to shout (or the equivalent of shouting in cat meows).

Why the funny name? I’ve always wanted to name someone Wordsworth. It’s so distinguished and uncommon. I didn’t care too much for the poet, but didn’t hate him. I couldn’t, in good conscience, name a child after him. So the cat name was born. He enjoys everything I do: movies, TV shows, books, tea (especially if milk is added). I consider myself lucky to have a cat who shares so many interests with me. I know he’s interested because he’s always right next to me when I do these various activities, so it has to mean he likes them too, right?

Oddly enough, the second person I’d like to introduce is the more important man in my life (shh! Don’t tell the cat!), my husband, Mike.

Also adorable, no? He’s my best friend and possesses an infinite understanding of all my quirks. Apart from similar tastes in movies, food, or other activities, Mike and I are very different. I was an English major; Mike is an electrical engineer. I was kicked out of violin lessons when I was younger because of a short attention span; Mike plays more instruments than you can count on one hand, but prefers piano and guitar. He’s working on his Master’s thesis for another electrical engineering degree, so that occupies most of his time at the present.

I’m an editor by trade, but I’m not terribly fond of medical editing, which seems to be my lot in life, at least for now. I’m working on a novel on the side, but I use the word working very loosely. I think the last time I touched it was several months ago. It goes in and out of favor with me, but I may find time to work on it again very soon. It’s all about motivation.

Aside from all things related to the written word, I consider myself an activist for the environment. My particular interest is ocean conservation (Sylvia Earle is my hero), for which I spend a lot of my time reading blogs and news about marine biology, marine ecosystems, and conservation. I’m also interested in saving endangered species (ocean dwelling or not) and trees (which help us to breathe; although, so does the ocean). Mike and I constantly fight over toilet paper: I like to buy recycled toilet tissue and his preferences lie with the plusher variety. I can understand this (I enjoy a good Charmin commercial), but using fewer trees should be more of priority in the world today. I send Congress(wo)men e-mails lobbying various environmental bills, for which the replies are usually very frustrating. I’m a fervent promoter of reusable items like grocery bags and lunch pouches. I’ve been saving glass bottles for the past year to paint and re-purpose as flower vases, but haven’t started painting yet. (Words likes to consume plants, so fresh-cut flowers are a rare sight inside the house.) For all my environmental awareness, I hate gardening. I keep a small flowerbed of hard-to-kill species that are pretty to look at in spring and summer. However, I am interested in finally taking the plunge and planting herbs and potatoes. Stay tuned.

I also like to cook. It’s not that cooking relaxes me or that I cook every free second of my day, but I enjoy creating something that my husband likes to eat and I can be proud of. My nephew’s 1st birthday party is coming up and I’m planning on bringing Baby Strawberry and Honey Pies as a treat (a Giada De Laurentiis recipeGiada is also my hero).

That about catches the reader up to speed with my little corner of the world. Check this category again if this post didn’t bore you to tears.

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Pre-Spring Peach

Midsummer’s Peach
by Harney & Sons
(Find it on their Web site.)

I was saving this post for Valentine’s Day, but, alas, the romance of February has come and gone. But with Spring around the corner, maybe March isn’t such a bad time for some peach flavored black tea. Actually, drink it any time and you won’t be disappointed. Perhaps midsummer, if you can wait that long to try this amazing blend.

It’s definitely a romantic tea. The tin is a pretty pink, with colorful floralish design and copper trim. The entire inside of the tin is lined with copper color, giving it a unique flair.  The silk sachets feel elegant and allow the tea leaves to open and give you a full flavor. I’ve tasted a lot of great tea that comes in plain, old cardboard boxes, but it’s the extra touches in this packaging that sends you over the moon. It’s the little things in life…or I’m terribly easy to please.

But enough about the packaging (I could go on all day). The classic peach flavored black tea is accented by that Harney & Sons punch; that bite from the fine black tea that leaves you satisfied with a full-bodied warmth after every sip. The peach is not subtle, but not overpowering. It’s not like drinking peach juice, a la Celestial Seasonings’ Country Peach Passion (a good herbal, if you haven’t tried it). You can taste the tea.

I don’t usually run across Harney & Sons in the grocery store (but maybe I shop in the wrong part of town). Their prices online are very reasonable, and the quality for the price is worth the short wait for shipping. It’s fancier than the price lets on. You might find it at a restaurant or hotel breakfast (thank you, Marriott, for introducing me a few years back). They are a well-known company, and, even better, they are 1% for the Planet. I may have a partial bias, because they support Ocean Conservancy, Nature Conservancy, and other organizations, but you’ll know when you taste it that it doesn’t matter who they support. Their fine tea is a delightful experience.

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