The Bamboo Whisk With a 500-Year History – Part Two

Continued from yesterday’s post.

Let’s look at the bamboo…

There are approximately 100 different types and forms of chasen used by various schools of tea. Hachiku (Henon bamboo) produces a smooth and frothy whipped green tea, while shichiku (purple) and kurochiku (black) make a green tea with an island of foam, while susudake (soot-stained bamboo) creates a foamless green tea.

Fine-grained hachiku (Henon bamboo) with its straight fibers is the choice of Urasenke tea school, and this bamboo is best used after aging for three years. First, the hachiku bamboo is simmered to remove dirt and oil – missing this step will result in discoloration of the wood. Then in mid-winter, when Takayama is blasted by icy winds, the bamboo is placed like a tepee in the rice fields to sun-dry. During the month or so of drying, the green bamboo gradually turns blond, just like a tatami mat if you have ever had new ones put into your house! Once the bamboo is dried, it goes into storage for another year or two where it takes on a distinctive amber tone.

One length of hachiku bamboo yields just three to four chasen. This is due to the joints on the bamboo. Each chasen needs to have the joint at a particular distance from the head- exactly 9 centimeters above the joint and three centimeters below it.

After shaving just the outer layer of the bamboo, the section above the joint is split into 16 equal parts. Imagine holding a long dinner candle and carving it from the top down to the middle to make 16 equal cuts! Each section of the bamboo is about 4 millimeters wide, then the inner part of each strip is carved out, leaving a skin about 1 millimeter thick. Each of these strips is then further split into 10! One millimeter is about the width of a needle. This makes 80 outer tines and 80 inner ones, so 160 in total. This will be an 80-tine whisk. There are 100 tines and 120 as well.

The next step, called aji-kezuri, is the shaving of the tines. Remember, these tines are 1 millimeter or less in thickness, yet the master is going to shave them down even further. The tines need to be soaked in hot water to soften them before the inside of the tine is shaved. This is a delicate process where the artisan is working purely by feel.

What follows next is called mentori, or gently rounding the ends of the outer tines, which is one of the most delicate steps and is what prevents the matcha from sticking to the tines.

The artisan now weaves dazzling colored thread in and out to separate the tines (known as shitaami) and wraps the thread twice around the outside (uwaami). He then inspects and removes any stray bamboo chips or dust at the base before gripping the inner tines and twisting them to create this magnificent functional piece of art.

Watching this mesmerizing craft has given new meaning to my morning bowl of matcha. The love Tanimura san puts into his chasen infuses my tea with magic. If you would like to visit Tanimura san in Nara, or would like to be put on the waiting list for a custom-made chasen with thread color of your choice, please send me an email! I encourage you to connect with Wanobi to see more of beautiful artisan Japan.

Images provided and all copyrights held by author.

The Bamboo Whisk With a 500-Year History – Part One

To enjoy matcha the way Sen no Rikyu made it almost 500 years ago, you would need to whisk it with a bamboo chasen (whisk), intricately carved by hand from one piece of aged bamboo.

Today China holds the lion’s share of mainstream chasen being cranked out, thousands at a time by the three main factories. Sadly, selling cheap has given China an edge on the market but they have missed the mark completely when it comes to the magic of this true artisan tool and its myriad applications based on the method of whisking employed by the various tea ceremony schools.

Thanks to Wanobi Beautiful Japan’s founder, Yuko Sangu, I had the privilege of meeting one of the last remaining artisans of the bamboo chasen, Master Tango Tanimura. After being dazzled by his craft, there’s no wonder he has a year waiting list! In fact, Tanimura san makes most of the whisks for all the tea ceremony teachers in Japan. He knows exactly how each school uses the chasen, and therefore how to craft the chasen to achieve the desired matcha liquor. Unless a craftsman has this intimate knowledge, it is impossible to know how to proceed. This is why chasen made overseas are not precise and can never be genuine.

Born in 1964 in Takayama in Nara Prefecture, Master Tanimura is the 20th generation of the Tanimura family, who have been making chasen for almost 500 years in the very same town. Takayama has been the center of chasen manufacturing in Japan for more than five centuries.

The Tanimura family is one of three remaining of the 13 chasen-making families that were granted surnames by the Tokugawa government during the Edo Period (1603-1867). So secretive was the art form back then that the families shut their curtains and crafted by candlelight so no one could steal their technique. Tango Tanimura has mastered the family secret production technique passed down from father to son just as his ancestors did.

So let’s explore this secret technique by first looking at what a chasen does…

The sole purpose of a chasen is to mix the powdered green tea called matcha with hot water so the particles, which are as tiny as the smoke of a cigarette, are completely suspended in the water. Depending on which tea ceremony school you may follow, the chasen and student can produce a luxurious foamy cap with delicate white streaks running through it, that hides the deep emerald liquor below. As you sip the foam, you instantly unveil the hidden gem waiting for your admiration.

Of course the quality of matcha is an important element when it comes to producing an enticing, frothy bowl but the whisk is just as important so please never use a blender or one of those metal whizzers!

The key to this dainty yet resilient tool is in the meticulously selected Japanese bamboo from which it is crafted: the secret is to make maximum use of the most pliable Japanese bamboo and skillfully hand carve it from a single piece so that it won’t easily warp or break.

A chasen from Takayama is the real deal, boasting a delicate finish and suppleness in its bamboo fibers which is completely unrivaled anywhere in the world. In fact, the peerless functional aesthetic of the chasen is a reflection of the Japanese soul, and frankly, using one is the only way to get that authentic Japanese matcha experience.

To be concluded tomorrow.

Images provided and all copyrights held by author.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

Guest Contribution by Steve O’Dell

Caffeine. It’s not good for us…

…or so we thought.

Caffeine tends to be one of those issues that get highly debated without there ever being a conclusive answer. Why is that?

Some people claim that caffeine makes them anxious and prevents them from sitting still, while others feel little to no effect. This is important because here’s the deal with caffeine: it all depends on how you’re getting it.

The effect of caffeine in soda is not the same as caffeine in coffee, and both are totally different from the way caffeine will influence a matcha tea drinker. All 3 of these drinks are made up of completely different ingredients. Ever notice how quickly you burn out when you drink soda? Sodas are much like sports drinks in that they contain loads of sugar. They are great for when you need a quick boost of energy, but that energy is short-lived. With the aggressive combination of sugar and caffeine working in unison, that energy surge goes away just as quickly as it came on. This has a lot to do with the sugar involved.

Coffee, on the other hand, contains a lot of caffeine on its own. Morning coffee drinkers complain that they feel jittery by lunchtime. It is important to realize how caffeine works when left to its own devices. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that when you consume large amounts of it in the morning, there’s a strong possibility you may feel dehydrated later in the day. That’s why it’s imperative that you balance out your coffee intake with an equal amount of water.

Tea is the exception when it comes to caffeine. People who drink matcha tea are much more energized throughout the day than their coffee and soda drinking peers. Matcha tea is unique in that it contains powerful ingredients that bring out the power of caffeine in the best way possible. Matcha tea comes packed with something called l-theanine and, while it sounds pretty scientific, is just a naturally-occurring compound that helps reduce stress, increase focus and lower heart rate.

On paper, it seems that the effects of caffeine and l-theanine would contradict each other, but the end result is actually the complete opposite. When combined, the end result is something of a superpower. Caffeine in green tea is absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower pace so that you have an energy boost just like you would with coffee. The difference is that the energy you get from green tea lasts longer because of the introduction of l-theanine. When the l-theanine kicks in, your mind will be able to relax and focus on what’s important. The caffeine will still be there so that you have the energy necessary to take on the day.

Is there really such a thing as too much caffeine? Like anything, caffeine should be taken in some form of moderation. If it wasn’t safe, caffeine would not be on the FDA’s list of “safe” substances. It generally comes down to how you get your caffeine. The way your body reacts to large amounts of caffeine in soda or coffee will be different from the way it will react to the caffeine in matcha tea. And it’s important to keep in mind that it is naturally-occurring. Even decaffeinated teas still contain small amounts of caffeine. The next time you take a sip of your favorite green tea, take a moment to appreciate the most natural ingredients working together to do their job.

Steve O’Dell

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder

Blast From the Past: Take a walk on tea’s wild side

Only the boldest—and most reckless—among tea drinkers have tried it.  To drink it, one must possess a certain amount of confidence and savoir faire.  No, it’s not some new metropolitan or socialite brew.  It’s certifiably wild, rustic, and homespun—it’s the stuff from which Grimm’s Fairy Tales are made!  What is it?  Tisanes made from some exotic stuff that you probably never realized you could drink!

There are several ways to go about collecting your tea’s ingredients.  You can find them in many places (although probably not at your grocery store, or any store, for that matter).  To create the wildest of teas, you may want to take a walk in the park, in the forest, or around a campground.  Sometimes you can even find your material peeking up between sidewalk cracks in the city.  Summer is the season of exploration and discovering new teas.  What kinds of flora should you gather for your cauldron?  Consult this list of suggestions (and get a guide book with photographs for distinguishing physical traits):

1.    Verveine, or Lemon Verbena:  It is in full bloom in summer.  The flowers are a yellow, milky color and are sometimes pink.  It can get very large and puts forth a lot of flowers and leaves.  I have used it in tea to harness a relaxing effect.  It can be very calming on the stomach, but don’t drink too much of it!  Use only a few petals or leaves.

2.    Little Wild Rose:  You may not think to eat flowers unless you’ve seen Monsoon Wedding.  Even if you’re not a fan of Bollywood or Indian movies, flowers (especially wild roses) are delicious in salads and teas.  It’s hard not to find them when you get a whiff of their intoxicating, though mild fragrance.  If you don’t want your tea to be too acidic, boil for less than ten minutes.  Drink it with Verveine, if you are interested in seeing how the two mesh.

3.    Yarrow: Yarrow is easiest to find if you live in the Southwestern United States.  It is a diaphoretic that helps with circulation (it has several other medicinal benefits too).  To enjoy it, add two leaves to boiling water.  Sweeten it with honey, if you like.  Like Verveine, you should be careful to not use too much or drink it too frequently unless you live next door to a homeopathic doctor.

4.    Calendula, or Marigolds: To make it, steep a few dried flowers in very hot water for less than six minutes.  You can mix it with other flowers and herbs, or just drink it alone.  It will help detoxify your body and improve your immune system.

Originally posted in July 2009, written by Alexa Teabauchery

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Compass Coffee Roasting’s Unexpected Chai

I have a habit of wandering through the quiet downtown in Vancouver, Washington on weekday afternoons as a favored form of easy exercise on almost any day it isn’t raining. I have come across various unexpected treasures in the surprisingly sleepy area. Often considered a suburb of its neighbor to the south–Portland, Oregon–Vancouver tends to be a little more on the subdued side. Yet every now and then it has the ability to surprise me. One such instance is a small, local coffee roaster that has only two cafe locations, one in Portland and the other in Vancouver. I occasionally check cafes out to see what kind of tea they offer and how they serve it (and once disappointed, order a dry cappuccino).

Imagine my surprise when I found that Compass Coffee Roasting has its own in-house chai! I absolutely had to order it. I asked the barista ringing me up about it, and he explained that they used to offer three kinds of in-house, but now have only the one and another two that are externally sourced. He expressed some regret over this fact, as it was his opinion that the external ones simply did not stand up.

I ordered mine with almond milk and then waited as it was prepared. After a final sprinkle of cinnamon on top–which the barista confided helps round out the flavor–my ceramic mug was returned to me. I was surprised to find it a quite traditional chai. It was extremely sweet to my tastes, but I find all chai to be that way so I can’t be a fair judge on the matter.

The initial flavors that hit me were ginger and the cinnamon from the topping. The inclusion of lemon peel helps give it a citrusy sweet pep that plays well with the ginger. I found that it had a pleasant but not overwhelming bite to it.

The initial flavor on the tip of the tongue is nothing but sweet and creamy, with a pleasing aroma of cardamom and coriander when it hits the palate. I found it to have a pleasantly lingering spice on the tongue, with the anise gently balancing out the pepper.

They had two lonely bags for sale on a shelf in the cafe. Yet when I checked their website, despite one article written about their chai in 2016 (when they still had three), I didn’t find any information about it. Nor did I find it for sale on the website, only coffee. So this particular local treat will sadly have to stay just that: local. But if you ever find yourself in either Portland or Vancouver and are a fan of traditional chai, keep this one in mind!

Tea Rituals – T Ching

How do you take your tea?

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? If dropping a teabag into a mug of boiling water is your morning or afternoon routine, would you take a moment or two longer to turn that practice into something much more special?

The “way of tea” and “taking tea,” as well as the making of tea, was elevated into a form of art in many cultures. Rituals were created as a way to celebrate tea in such style that it became a way to celebrate life: the simple and sometimes mundane things, as well as the significant, and spiritual aspects of life. It also could have been the other way around in celebrating life with tea it became a celebration of the tea, too!

Yes, all of that with a cup of tea!

Every aspect of that cup of tea was (and still is) taken into consideration. Everything from the freshness of the water to make the tea and how it would be heated to the precise temperature that would release the best qualities of the precious leaves, to the utensils to store, handle, and present the tea. Including, the container in which to steep the leaves, the setting to serve the tea, the vessel to receive the infusion, and to whom the beverage was offered, as well as who was preparing the cherished liquid and their state of mind.

Everything that it took to grow the leaves was reflected upon ceremonially, as well: from the planting of the seeds or seedlings to the soil, sunlight, rain, nutrients, and maintenance. All the effort by the many it took to hand-pluck the leaves, transport, whither, dry, roll, process, package, ship, and sell, indeed became something to celebrate.

Sadly, for most North Americans, all of the above goes unnoticed, unappreciated, and unaware. Just as we mindlessly gulp other concoctions oblivious to their contents, purchase foods prepared in substandard and inhumane conditions, consume deadly toxins added to food products, etc., etc., it is time to wake up!

Truthfully, it’s long overdue. When we start paying attention to our bodies, our minds, our health, our emotions, our relationships, our careers, our planet, our practices, as well as our path and purpose in this life then everything we do, think, drink, eat, and see, becomes a spiritual occurrence.

Every awakening is something to celebrate. Every moment we take to reflect, to appreciate, to be in awe, to practice humility and compassion, turns our lives into sacred events.

To be in a place of choice puts us in control of our lives. To be in a place of oneness with everything around us connects us to everything beyond us.

When we can take something that appears to be straightforward such as sipping a cup of tea and turn it into something of significance we are on our way to enlightenment or at the very least, to wholeness.

Waking up is attentiveness to everything and everyone. We don’t have to understand all the workings and mysteries of the universe we only have to put ourselves in a place of calm and openness to receive balance.

Yes, it can be done with a cup of tea.

It has been done with tea for millennia. Your own tea rituals need not be based on the intricacies and practices of other rituals from around the globe. Although they are time-consuming, they are fascinating to learn but you have the power to create your own rituals with tea. Awareness and mindfulness are always a good start. Just as pray or bless our food before a meal oh, you don’t do that anymore? The few seconds it takes to bless our food is the beginning of being mindful and grateful for all we have for what we put into our bodies and the state of our minds as we bring the food and drink into our bodies.

Reverence is the foundation of all rituals awareness, acknowledgment, and appreciation of every sip, every breath, every heartbeat, every person, and every thing. For the entire time it takes to sip a cup of tea, mindfully and gratefully you are the ruler of your universe that’s how to take tea!

And, by gosh, that makes the tea taste so gooooood!

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Easy as Darjeeling-Peach Pie

As a long time tea lover, I believe that pie and a cup of perfectly brewed tea win out any day over the pie and coffee at the quintessential corner diner of your imagination. (Are there any corner diners left?)  But not just any pie and not just any tea. The champagne of teas, as Darjeeling from northeast India is known, not only makes a great partner in the cup to early summer peach pie but when used in the pie, the tea adds a subtle undernote to the juices that exude from the peaches when cooked. With its natural peach-scented flavor profile, Darjeeling pairs beautifully with the sweet tart peaches now overflowing stands at farmers markets in most parts of the country. It’s a pairing that I wait all year to savor. For my pie, I simply simmer the peaches, blanched and peeled, in brewed tea, sweeten the mixture to taste, thicken it slightly with a slurry of cornstarch and peach cooking liquid, add an accent of spices, and a bit of butter, and then let it cool before putting into the flakiest of all-butter crusts. As an optional extra, a homemade tea ice cream, made from tea-infused custard sauce, adds the final touch. And what do I like to drink with this? You guessed it—a nice Darjeeling.  Mae West’s saying “Too much of a good thing is wonderful” certainly applies here.

Recipe for Peach Darjeeling Pie with Tea Ice Cream

Serves 6 generously

Here’s a quick puff pastry dough that I like to use for this pie but feel free to use any dough that you like. It’s best to make the dough first since if it’s well chilled, it’s easier to work with and will yield a flakier end result.

For the dough:

  • 8 oz. (scant 2 cups) all purpose flour
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold but malleable, cut into pieces, measuring approximately 2 inches long by 1 inch wide
  • ½ t. salt
  • 4 ozs. (one- half cup) ice water

Place the flour, butter, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, lightly toss the ingredients together until the butter is evenly coated with flour. Add the water all at once and mix gently again to distribute the water evenly throughout the dough. Do not overwork. At this point, the dough will be shaggy, not yet cohering into a rollable dough.

Turn the ragged mixture onto a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin, tap firmly on the dough to help it come together, frequently scraping it free from the work surface until the ragged mass starts to cohere. Using more pressure, roll the dough into a rough rectangle. Then fold one end of the dough toward the middle and the other end on top of that so you have a three-layer roughly rectangular shape. Flour the work surface lightly again and with the short end of the dough facing you, roll the packet into a rectangle again, being sure that the dough is not sticking to the work surface. Fold the dough again into a three-layer packet and chill. When the dough is well chilled, divide it into two unequal parts using one-third of the dough for the bottom crust and the remaining two thirds for a lattice top for the pie and return the two pieces of dough, wrapped well, to the refrigerator. While the dough chills, make the following Darjeeling Tea-Peach filling.

Darjeeling Tea-Peach filling:

  • 20 grams whole leaf Darjeeling tea (fragrant and fresh)
  • 16 ounces water
  • 10 medium sized ripe yellow peaches (you will get a better yield of usable fruit from freestone but cling varieties will work too)
  • 6 ounces granulated sugar, approximate (more or less to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
  • 1-1/2 T. cornstarch
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • ½ t. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, cut up into ¼ inch cubes

For final pie assembly:

  • Heavy cream, as needed
  • Granulated sugar, as needed

Use a small paring knife to remove the skin of the peaches. Remove the pit and then cut the fruit into ½ to ¾ inch slices.

Bring the water to the boil. Add the tea leaves. Immediately remove the pot from the heat and allow to steep for 3 minutes. Pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl. Discard the leaves. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove 5 ounces of the liquid and allow it to cool.

Whisk the cinnamon and nutmeg into it and then dissolve the cornstarch in that liquid, stirring until perfectly smooth. Then add the spice-cornstarch mixture back into the remaining sugared tea liquid. Cook over medium heat until the liquid thickens and the starch is fully cooked. Add the sliced peaches to the liquid and simmer until the peaches are tender but not mushy.  Add the butter and stir until melted. Allow the mixture to cool while you roll out the chilled pastry to line the pie pan.

Rolling the dough:

Place the empty pie pan onto a sheet of parchment paper and then trace the outline onto the paper. Set aside.

Roll the smaller of the two pieces of dough into a thin circle, large enough to cover the inside of the pie pan with a one inch overhang all around.  Place the dough into the pan without stretching it, allowing for an overhang of one inch (this overhang will be folded in once the lattice is in place.). Pour the fruit filling into the dough and place the pie into the refrigerator while you roll out the remaining dough for the lattice top of the pie.

(If you wish, instead of a lattice, simply roll the remaining dough into a thin sheet, trim it into a circle, one inch larger than the top dimensions of the pie. Use a round, square or other shaped small cookie cutter to cut out decorative shapes in a symmetrical pattern, cut a circle to fit nicely on top of the pie and fold in the overhang and crimp using a fork or other tool sealing the two layers together. )

For the lattice, roll the larger piece of dough into a sheet, about ¼ inch thick, large enough to fully cover the top of the pie. Cut the dough into thirteen even strips, each about ¾ inch wide. (The dough should be soft enough so that it doesn’t break when you manipulate it but not sticky or melting).

Turn the paper with the circle drawn on it over (marked side down) and place 6 of the strips within the drawn circle onto the paper, ¾ inch apart and parallel to one another. Fold back every other strip halfway and place a strip of dough perpendicular to the line of strips. Return the folded back strips to their original positions and then fold back the other strips. Place another strip parallel to, and ¾ of an inch apart from, the center cross strip and continue the process of folding back the strips and positioning the cross strips to complete the lattice on both sides of the center strip. Chill the lattice until firm, about half hour.

Final assembly of the pie:

Remove the lattice and pie from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush the edge of the bottom crust lightly with water. Carefully place the lattice onto the pie and fold the overhang over the edge of the lattice to enclose it all around the pie. Use a fork or other tool to crimp the bottom and top doughs together to seal.  Brush the lattice lightly and carefully with heavy cream. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Place the pie on a heavy rimmed cookie sheet (to catch any drips from the pie) and bake for approximately one hour and 10 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.

If desired, serve with Darjeeling Tea Ice Cream, prepared as follows:

  • 1 T. whole leaf premium quality Darjeeling tea
  • 4 ounces milk
  • 4 ounces granulated sugar
  • 5 egg yolks from large eggs
  • 6 ounces heavy cream

In a medium saucepan, place the tea leaves into the milk. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Allow to steep for 3 minutes. Pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a small heatproof bowl. Discard the tea leaves.

In another small bowl, using a whisk, beat the sugar with the egg yolks until pale in color. Add the tea-infused milk and stir with a spoon or heatproof silicone spatula until dissolved. Place the mixture into a medium sauce pan and using the spoon or spatula, stir, without aerating, until the mixture thickens slightly (the temperature of the liquid should be 180 degrees F.) The mixture should coat the back of a spoon. Pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl set over an ice bath and cool quickly, stirring occasionally. When cold, stir in the heavy cream and mix until just blended. Then freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine, according to manufacturer’s instructions. Place the ice cream into a container with a tight-fitting lid and allow to firm up further, about two hours, until just before serving the pie.

Cut the pie into six equal wedges and serve with a scoop of ice cream and a cup of Darjeeling (or other tea of your choice). Now take a bow!

The post Easy as Darjeeling-Peach Pie appeared first on T Ching.

What is Tokonome Yaki Teapot and Why Does Tea Taste Better With This Kyusu?

If you’re a lover of tea, then you might have heard of the term “kyusu” which means “tea pot” in Japanese. The Takoname Yaki is both a remarkable and historic teapot which dates back to the 12th century. Because of the way the teapot is made, it gives the tea a distinguishable flavor, making it well-liked amongst green tea enthusiasts. 

The Unparalleled Craftsmanship in Tokoname

Tokoname is a city located in central Japan (on the coast of the Chita Peninsula) and is known to contain Japan’s oldest and largest kiln. At one point, it was estimated that there were as many as 3,000 kilns in Tokoname; the five other ancient kilns were known as Shigaraki, Tanba, Seto, Echizen, and Bizen. The pottery made in Tokoname is created with an unmatched craftsmanship and artistry. The very first teapot created was by Inaba Takamichi and was made with white or rough clay. The creator of the first red clay teapot, Sugie Jyumon, worked with a doctor named Hirano Chuji, and eventually launched the Red Clay Tokoname Teapot. With its notable capabilities, the Red Clay Tokoname Teapot received recognition for its ability to withhold water without the use of a glaze on the pot.

Keeping the Tradition Alive

The hand-crafted works of art of the Tokoname Yaki are carried on through future generations of potters who keep the tradition alive. Today, potters who create ceramics now incorporate different types of clays to create truly exceptional works of art. Although there are many kinds of Japanese ceramics to choose from, the Tokoname Yaki stands out from the rest because of the distinct artistry and craftsmanship that goes into making it. Tokoname Yaki is well-known for making various types of products ranging from teapots to bonsai vases.

A Unique Flavoring

Although the Tokoname Yaki is known for many types of sculptured pottery, it is renowned for its noteworthy teapots. The reason why the Tokoname Yaki teapot is so favorable amongst tea enthusiasts is because of the way it sweetens the flavor of the tea, giving it more a pleasant and smooth taste. Because clay is the material that is used to make the teapot, it is recognized to intensify the umami of the tea. This is because the clay used to make the teapot is infused with iron-rich minerals which contributes to the overall taste of the green tea. More specifically, this tea pot separates the flavors individually and allows the drinker to taste each distinct note of the tea. There is a reaction that occurs with the tea and minerals in the clay that minimizes the harshness of the tea, and instead emphasizes the tea’s unique flavor.

Because of the teapot’s porous surface, it allows the fragrance of the tea to be integrated. Tokoname Yaki pottery is known to have a combination of iron-infused clays and the pots are usually finished with an unglazed surface. In the instance of a Tokoname teapot, the porous surface of the pot allows the drink to be absorbed in the pores giving the tea a unique flavor.

The Tokoname Yaki’s surface is not glossed, has a built-in strainer, and an easy-to-grip handle. The built-in strainer allows you to steep the leaves without getting any of the tea leaves in your drink while allowing you to skip the hassle of brewing. The design of the Tokoname Yaki Teapot stands out from others with its detailed features standing out in its handle, spout, and lid. Although you can steep different kinds of teas with the Tokoname Yaki Teapot, the best and most known tea to pair it with is green tea (including Sencha). Because of its design, this teapot is an extraordinary take on the cliché, “I’m a little teapot, short and stout”. The Tokoname Yaki Teapot’s ability to bring out the richness in the flavor of the tea is intriguing and is definitely something worth trying.

Designs Lasting Through the Ages

The design of the Tokoname is both unique and ergonomic, making it easy to use and also aesthetically pleasing. The pottery of Tokoname Yaki stands out from the others, and different techniques are used when potters create these wonderful works of art. For instance, with the method of Mogake, the potter places seaweed on a teapot prior to placing it in the kiln. Another technique used is one called shizenyu yakijime where the teapot is placed in the kiln without the use of glaze. The overall look of the design can be manipulated based on the atmosphere of the kiln and the temperature used when firing the product. Every potter that creates a sculpture is different: some choose to leave a rougher, sandy texture while others prefer a smoother finish. In years past, potters only used the wood-fired method to create their products, but now have the ability to also use the electric-kiln method. Various styling and skillful craftsmanship are put into finishing the decorative part of the Tokoname Yaki pottery. It is said that the red clay took the form of an orange color instead of actual red. Nowadays, the pottery is created using a mixture of variegated red clay and no longer of the original red clay.

The pottery of the Tokoname Yaki has a practical, yet innovative design that has lasted through the ages and continues to capture the admiring eyes of artists and tea admirers alike. Its design is truly remarkable, one of a kind, and allows you to appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes behind the craftsmanship of this art form.

Try authentic Tokonomeyaki for better taste of your green tea now.


Coexistence: Elephants, Tigers, and Tea

When this blog first began over a dozen years ago, one of the goals of the founders was to increase tea consumption.  Not only is tea tasty and offering endless variety, there are some four thousand years of anecdotal evidence of teas’ medicinal and health benefits. As world consumption and demand for tea continues to increase,  an unintended consequence has been the displacement of endangered species. While we all love elephants, a tea worker’s life can be ended with a single swipe of a ginormous trunk. The conflict with tigers and their kin is so well-documented that there are several teas with “tiger” and “lion” in their titles.

“Tea gardens represent a significant chunk of the forests that have been cut down.” (Source)

In an effort to preserve both forest creatures and tea estates, the University of Montana has created the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) outlining standards and incentives to protect endangered species.  A side benefit has been that tea farmers who adopt wildlife-friendly practices such as buffer zones and areas for the animals to drink and rest – can often sell their “elephant-friendly” tea  for higher prices.

Two questions linger: is the larger market willing to pay higher prices, and are those higher prices worth the sacrifices tea growers make?

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What Does July 4th Mean To You?

Most of us tea lovers associate the Boston Tea Party with the 4th of July.  The day of American Independence. Decorations abound with Red, White, and Blue patterns everywhere you look. If we scratch below the surface, however, what can we see? In 1912, Robert Haven Schauffler wrote “[I]t behooves us as true Americans to enter the splendid new movement which is endeavoring to make the Fourth over from a day of shallow jingoism and unmeaning brutality and carnage into a day of initiation into the meaning of true citizenship and a festival of deep and genuine and beautiful patriotism.”

Patriotism is defined by Wikipedia as “Patriotism or national pride is the ideology of love and devotion to a homeland, and a sense of alliance with other citizens who share the same values.” With this definition in mind, I have to say that this year feels different for me. When I think about patriotism, I think about pride in America. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel proud to be an American. I feel ashamed. My grandparents, on both sides, emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900’s. They came from Russian. Poland, and Austria. My maternal Grandmother lost her 4 sisters during the Holocaust as they decided not to emigrate to the U.S.  The vast majority of us Americas came from scattered countries throughout Europe and beyond. Some came to avoid persecution while some came to seek wealth, financial independence and freedom.

Leaving British rule over taxation was a worthy agenda at the time but we did it by stealing the land from the Native Americans. Although we have started to right that wrong, Native Americans continue to feel “less than” the rest of Americans. Our next crime was the brutalization of slaves. And yes, we are making progress there as well but ask any African American you know if they feel entirely equal to their white-skinned neighbors. Despite having a black president for 8 years, the prejudice remains in many parts of the country.

Let’s not forget about Japanese internment camps. Racial fears contributed to horrible decisions that were made to protect us from Japanese people, many born in this country and many who later served in the war effort. Yes, the government has apologized, but significant harm was done to so many people. Even then, however, children were not separated from their parents. Today, fear of immigrants has led to over 2000 children being torn from their parents, whose only crime was a misdemeanor. Children as young as 9 months old have been placed in detention centers and foster centers around the country without the ability to be easily reunited with their parents. Who would have thought such a thing could be possible in America in 2018? Why are we not learning the lessons from the past? Each mistake provides an opportunity to learn and hpefully not repeat the past. Why are we not learning these important lessons? I believe FEAR has taken us prisoner. I believe that individually, the vast majority of us are good people. We can’t let our fears take us off course. The State of Liberty, on Ellis Island where my grandparents arrived in this country tells us “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearing to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homelesstempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

On Saturday I participated in a Families Belong Together rally in Portland Oregon. The Washington Post concluded: “Hundreds of thousands of people turned out from coast-to-coast Saturday in “Families Belong Together” rallies to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and implore their fellow citizens to turn out to vote in November’s midterm elections.” I was particularly impressed with the number of children who participated, carrying signs and singing the slogans. I remember rallies back in the 60’s when we marched against the injustice of Vietnam but WE were the children in attendance. Today, young liberal and conservative parents are teaching their children what it means to be an American.

I believe at our soul, we are a country of inclusion. Our citizens represent the tapestry of nations left behind to come to the “Greatest Country in the Free World” to begin a new life of democracy, liberty, and justice for ALL.  Barack Obama sent a recent message to all of us and his words, as always, are important to hear.

“You are right to be concerned”………..”Do not wait for the perfect message, don’t wait to feel a tingle in your spine because you’re expecting politicians to be so inspiring and poetic and moving that somehow, ‘OK, I’ll get off my couch after all and go spend the 15-20 minutes it takes for me to vote’” ……… “Boil it down….If we don’t vote, then this democracy doesn’t work.”

So I ask, as you are sipping your favorite tea this 4th of July, give some thought to who you are as an American and what kind of an America you want your children and grandchildren to live in.  Our very future lies with each of us and the choices we make and actions we take today and tomorrow.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Written by Michelle Rabin, speaking for us all.

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