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.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Have Tea, Will Travel

“Sundays be gone”. I banish you from my life. In taking a look at my schedule for the next month or so, I realized that I will be out of town every weekend until mid-July. Now, this really mucks up my Sunday blogging schedule, and not to mention my 4pm Hendricks Gin-n-tonic down time. I enjoy getting up early on Sunday mornings, bellowing “caffeine” at the top of my lungs, as the Tea Drinker happily brings me a steaming cup of Hong Tao Mao Feng or the like. Then, I jump right into to rapidly typing away on my laptop. Ah, the good life.

What is on my calendar that brings me away from home on summer weekends for the next 30 days or so? Inquiring minds want to know. The World Tea Expo in Vegas, Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, CO, and a two week Japan cultural and tea buying trip, including visits to Tokyo, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Uji, and Hiroshima. Well, as you can see, it’s a very tea focused month. Okay, maybe not the Aspen part, but a Wife of Tea Drinker needs to get out once in a while, and have some fun.

I look forward to bringing exciting stories to you from each of these diverse cities in the upcoming weeks. Guaranteed there will be many memorable meals consumed, loose leaf tea and wine libations slurped down in copious amounts, loads of educational moments, and plenty of Advil, on hand. But, this Sunday, I don’t have time to share stories. I am off to work for a day of “cooking and wine-ing”. I recommend that you start each day with loose leaf tea. It will take you to faraway places in mind, body, and spirit (airfare, not included).