Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back To School Bento Lunch at Sakura

It seemed like it had been ages since I first dined at Sakura in St. Paul, and it nearly had been. Back in February, I treated myself and family to a night at the Opera and a dinner of bento and sashimi. It was a lovely meal, and for the amount of food and the quality, it was a reasonable price, but not something I could do everyday.

Much to my surprise, summer arrived and I had a chance to try Sakura again for lunch when the prices for bento are nice, the portions smaller but filling, and still beautifully served. I had to snap a picture of my chicken teriyaki bento in the late-July sunlight through the window.

No sashimi in this Mixed bento, but tempura prawn and veggies, chicken teriyaki, salad with traditional ginger-spiced dressing, and the requisite white rice were plenty. Not pictured is the deliciously warm and brothy miso starter included with the bento platter.

I now have a family member attending school nearby within daily lunching distance of Sakura, so I'm pleased I have reason to come back and try something from their sushi menu next time. Wonderful stuff!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sweet Retreat : Ginger Sencha

I had occasion to go on a vacation retreat with my needlework guild recently, and while it all happened next to a beautiful lake, with no television, radios, or 24-7 wifi access, there were still signs of civilization - tea, of course!

I brought along my sample of Shanti Tea's Ginger Sencha, and it turned out to be a perfect choice to accompany a long day of embroidery, creativity, and occasionally over-done air-conditioning and hotdish-consuming. Relaxing is a tough business!

I brought my trusted friend Stumpy along to help with the steeping. Doesn't that mid-afternoon sunlight look inviting?

Yes, those are nice quality whole sencha leaves and lots of bits of ginger mixed together. The ginger fragrance is fairly strong, and it's for that reason that this is one my top 2 favorite ginger-infused teas. It is direct, powerful, and warming, but the blended sencha is sweet enough that you still want to sip to uncover more of the nuance. It also calms an upset stomach after a heavy meal. Did I already mention they fed us well and often at this retreat?

Stumpy unleashed: awaiting hot water from the kitchenette coffee/chocolate machine. There's no need to bring the water temperature to boiling with most senchas, which is another reason why the Ginger Sench was a great vacation choice.

Post-steep bliss. Warm sunshine, a very light green liqueur, and spicy ginger accents.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Tea CSA Journal Update : August 2011

In February, I joined the Obubu Tea CSA club, with the intention of also blogging about the different steps along the way and answering some of the typical questions some may have, such as "What do you get for your supporting funds?" and "What does a CSA support do for the farmer?"

Spring brought winds of change and lots of projects, so this update is long overdue. Nonetheless, there's plenty to report and I'm excited to still have plenty of delicious green tea discoveries to share with everyone.

1. March brought my initial shipment that included a Kyusu tea pot (pictured above), a packet of GenMaiCha (pictured below), a packet of Sakura blossoms for steeping as Sakura Tea (one of my all-time favorites), and an inscribed membership plaque with a picture of snow-capped tea bushes on Obubu farmland (not pictured.)

March also brought the Japan earthquake, a tragedy that brought nations and communities together and whose aftershocks are still shaking the tea world, both literally and figuratively. Obubu launched a donation campaign for both their customers who were in the earthquake area and for the citizens of the region, donating teapots and green tea for use in the temporary shelters.

The radiation and contamination concerns at Fukushima continue to unfold, and the green tea fields of Shizuoka have come under scrutiny in recent months, but Obubu's cooperative is located in Kyoto and continues to be safe for consumption. The economic effect on the other larger tea-growing regions has yet to be determined, which makes it all the more important to support the growers who aren't directly effected.

For more up-to-date and detailed information on Obubu's earthquake relief efforts and discussions of the health of Japan's tea-growing regions, please visit their website.

Sencha of the Summer Sun, Bancha, Sencha of the Wind

2. May's shipment included Sencha of the Wind and the usual detailed steeping instructions.

3. July's shipment included Sencha of the Summer Sun and a Bancha (unrolled green tea). Two teas!

Obubu's delicious GenMaiCha in its pre-steep habitat

Sencha of the Summer Sun as it steeps in my members-only kyusu pot

Are you thirsty yet?

Stay tuned for more updates - and more in-depth reviewing of the teas themselves


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jewel of a Brew: Green Darjeeling from Shanti Tea

Certified Organic Darjeeling Green from Shanti Tea

The aroma of this tea is amazing. Sweet and rich, it had my palate piqued before I tried the first sip. Like a first-rate regular darjeeling. But a green darjeeling? Most of the time darjeelings are "aged" (oxidized) just a bit more so that they're considered black teas. I wondered what the taste difference might be, but my experiences with Darjeelings are limited compared to other teas, so you have to read this review with a gem-adorned grain of salt.

I did my usual two-step process. The session started with a strong, quick steep in the oolong pot for a first impression. Lovely. Medium astringency, very full "mouthfeel," some floral notes, but a freshness as well that might explain the difference. Not as sweet in the sip as the aroma would promise, but it's a solid citizen, as they say.

The longer steep in the Stumpy 2-cup pot was delicious. Again, a medium/full bodied cup that's astringent and rich, but keeps inviting you back. I set some aside in a thermos, and did a second long steep. I really enjoyed this tea.

Post-steep, a lovely amber yellow liqueur

Green leaves after the first steep

The leaves post-steep. Largely full and intact, some twiggyness, very lightly oxidized

You'll enjoy this tea if:

You like stronger teas or are looking for something heartier to drink as a hot tea and not a fan of Assams, or a tea that would stand up very well as an iced tea.

I could see this paired with:

Your favorite salty, crumbly snack. It's really a tea to be savored on its own and for you to discover your own pairing!