Archive for the ‘Teas of Japan’ Category

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July 16, 2012: Summer Relief with Mugicha

July 16, 2012

Uggg! With the heat of Summer I suffer the most. In the Winter I almost always seem to manage to get reasonably comfortable by layering up, or maybe I just have a high tolerance to cold. With high heat and humidity…forget it, I’m just a mess! I still make myself run my 5 miles, but I honestly can’t say I enjoy it during these uncomfortable days. When simply walking across my house makes me break out in a sweat, my run turns me into a sopping mess and leaves me panting like a dog. I can only take the lightest of foods with the heat, so I eat a lot of salads in Summer. Water is a necessity, but honestly, water can get a bit boring. I stay away from sodas of all sorts and even juices I have in moderation, as even the best of them have some sugar in them. My usual Summer staple is iced green tea, which only has a tad of honey as a sweetener.

I had a nice spontaneous visit from Teja, Barb and Katie, yesterday. Katie was able to cool off in the lake while the adults hung out in the shade on shore. After, I made an impromptu dinner for them, typical of my Summer fare:

  • Tapenade of olive oil, chopped garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives from my home-made brine, over whole wheat pasta with parmesan cheese
  • Mixed green salad with toasted almond slivers and balsamic vinegar dressing
  • Whole chilled cherries for dessert

They surprised me with a stash of food, most welcome was mugicha, which I can now add to my arsenal of Summer libations.

Mugicha is a roasted barley tea, typically from Japan, although barley tea is consumed all across the Orient, the British Isles and even Mexico, where they call it aquas frescas. It has a light, slightly bitter taste that does not compete with food, perfect for the delicate Japanese cuisine. Mugicha is not truly a tea, per se. Being made from barley, it is officially a tisane. Mugicha has only a few calories, no fat, no caffeine, no sugar (unless you add some) and is very rich in antioxidants. Visiting many sources for this article, a phrase keeps coming up that “mugicha is much more satisfying than water.”

Mugicha has many health benefits, as it is said to reduce stress; inhibit bacterial colonization (specifically those that have to do with tooth decay); reduce cholesterol; help prevent diabetes; and is a possible cancer preventative. One health caveat: barley is grain with gluten, so anyone with a gluten intolerance might want to try my green tea recipe instead of mugicha.

There are  several ways to make and brew mugicha. For the purist, you can roast your own unhulled barley and steep in hot water (the barley then makes a good cereal.) Teja brought me the larger tea-bags of mugicha that are typical in Japan. You can cold brew mugicha by adding 1 of these bags to 1 Qt. water and chill overnight. You may make sun tea, by adding the same amount in a glass container and let it sit in the sun all day, then chilling. I made mine by brewing with boiling water for three minutes and then chilling. The heat is said to release more antioxidants.

One thing that I learned while researching is that because mugicha is a grain, over time is can turn rancid. My bags went right into the freezer, so now I’m assured of a steady supply of a cool and healthy libation to get me over the sweltering Summer days!

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June 20, 2012: Nicole Loves Green Tea

June 20, 2012

Thanks again to Teja and Barb for hosting not only a wonderful dinner, but also a great weekend for me. In addition to the dinner, it was a full weekend prepping the shack that Teja is converting for a hangout place for the family. There is nothing better than helping a friend with honest hard work. We installed a whole new floor of the shack to strengthen it.

I was able to couple helping Teja and take an advanced Powerpoint class in the area on Monday. After the class and after a fun couple of hours playing with Katie in the park, I was hanging out on their patio (yet another of Teja’s project I helped him with) waiting out rush-hour traffic when Nicole (Teja and Barb’s 16 year-old daughter) came out with recipe she had developed: a green-tea iced latte, which was so delicious, I had her copy down the recipe.

Nicole’s Green Tea Iced Latte:

Nicole’s Green Tea Iced Latte, perfect for a hot summer day!

In 1 Tblsp.hot H2O, add 2 Tsp. macha (powdered green tea) 1 Tsp.vanilla extract and I Tblsp. sugar and whisk well. In blender add green tea mixture to 3 ice cubes and 3C. milk (or soy milk) and blend well. Serve immediately.

It’s funny that Nicole’s job is that as a skilled barista at a local coffee shop, yet her true love is an assortment of green teas. She has had something like this latte before, but found it very expensive, so she devised this recipe for herself. She showed me her collection of teas, and I was impressed of the range she had. In addition to the macha she used in her latte recipe, she had sencha, and genmai teas as well as others.

Just in time for the first day of summer: Green Tea Iced Latte. Cool, refreshing, original. A perfect afternoon treat. Thanks, Nicole, I’ll be making this often on the upcoming steamy days!

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May 03, 2012: Meditations on the Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo #1

May 3, 2012

“In my young days I praised the master whose pictures I liked, but as my judgement matured I praised myself for liking what the master had chosen to have me to like.”

-from the “Book of Tea” by Okakura Kakuzo quoting a Sung critic in the chapter “Art Appreciation”

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April 19, 2012: Macha Ice Cream

April 19, 2012

Yet another dish that I can’t believe I haven’t included on the blog, as I have made this one forever. Macha Ice Cream (aka Green Tea Ice Cream) is a very simple blend of vanilla ice cream and macha, a ground tea powder used in the Japanese tea ceremony.

This recipe is perhaps the easiest I have posted yet: simply take your favorite vanilla ice cream and have out at room temperature for about an hour. You don’t want to turn it to soup, but you have to be able to blend it also. Empty ice cream in to a larger bowl. Mix in 2 Tblsp. macha to each quart and whisk together until the ice cream is a uniform pale green color. Return the ice cream to original container and re-freeze.

The above follows most Japanese recipes as far as proportion. To my palate, this flavor is too mild. I love the green tea taste so I end up adding twice the amount of tea if I am making macha ice cream for myself! Last weekend I asked my friend Pam, who has lived in Japan a few years, why she thought the Japanese like the tea taste so mild and she explained that a lot of foods in Japan exhibit the essence of subtlety to the Western palate.

Be aware that macha is the tea leaves themselves that are ground into a powder and so, macha has a considerable amount of caffeine, so it might not be the best for kids before bedtime.

Either strong as I like it, or subtle in the Japanese way, Macha Ice Cream is a simple, interesting, and refreshing dessert

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June 09, 2011: Iced Green Tea

June 9, 2011

Iced Green Tea is a perfect summer libation. The trouble with most of the consumer-made green tea that they sell at the supermarket is that it’s mostly sugar (oh! and that it’s fairly expensive.) Sugar adds unneccessary calories to this drink and tends to make you more thirsty! I like the clean, simple, taste of green tea and (if it’s made right) it’s a perfect summertime thirst quencher. I don’t want the empty calories of the excess sugar (and cost) of the supermarket stuff, so I make my own.

I buy bulk green tea bags from the store. In 2 Qts. boiling H2O I steep 8 bags of tea [I tie the bags to a chopstick to hang in the H2O] for about 5 minutes in a heat-proof container. Remove bags and compost. Before the tea cools I stir in about 1-1/2 Tblsp. each of honey and lemon juice and cool. Add ice cubes or have straight. Simple, cheap, flavorful, healthy, and best of all: very little sugar!

Try variations: add some herbal tea bags for a more complex flavor. Japanese make “mugicha” or a roasted barley tea that has no caffeine, served chilled. They do not add any sugar to this tea. An interesting variation to any tea recipe is to steep (in cool H2O) the tea, in a large, clear, covered, container  all day long in the sun. Add honey and lemon, then cool. This is “sun” tea. Kids enjoy making this as a summertime activity and enjoyment. It’s like drinking liquid sunshine!

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April 05, 2011: Macha Creme Brulee

April 4, 2011


Here’s a delicious and unique Japanese-fusion dessert: crème brûlée made with Macha (Japanese powdered green tea.) This NOT Chef Saito’s recipe, this is mine. The next time I meet him I will get his corrections and make appropriate changes. I liked this recipe and so did guests. The cream and the tea combine for a delicious taste and the crunchy caramelized topping is wonderful!

Macha Crème Brûlée:

  • 2 Tblsp. Macha Tea
  • 1+1/2 C. Milk
  • 1+1/2C. Heavy Cream
  • 1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2C. Sugar
  • 2 Whole Eggs+3 Egg Yolks
  • Topping Sugar: I used an equal amount of white sugar & brown sugar, ground fine

Add milk and cream to pot and under low-medium setting, heat milk/cream to warm. Whisk in Macha until it dissolves. While milk is warming, in a separate bowl, beat eggs and yolks together and add 1/2C. sugar and vanilla and beat again. Pour in warm milk/cream and beat. Mixture will be frothy. Let settle a bit and strain equally into Pyrex bowls. Put bowls in oven-proof pan and add water to the bottom of pan. Cover this pan with aluminum foil and bake in 325°F oven for about 40 minutes. Check center of brûlée with toothpick: when it comes out dry, brûlée is done. Cool brûlée immediately and cover and chill when brûlée cools to room temperature. Before serving, cover each brûlée with topping sugar and caramelize with butane torch (it’s fun to do this before guests, but please have a fire-safe environment to work in.)

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March 30, 2010: Japanese Teas

March 30, 2010

Considering that almost all of these teas (with the exceptions of Dattan and Mugicha, which are made from buckwheat and barley respectively) are from one plant: “Camellia Sinensis” (the Latin name for the tea plant) it is remarkable that the Japanese have made so many pleasing variations:

Matcha (sometimes “Macha”) also called “rubbed tea” is a finely ground tea powder. Matcha is used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. It is made from the top leaves of shade-grown tea. Because the tea is not filtered or strained, one is drinking the tea powder mixed with hot water, so the level of caffeine is very high and tends to make the tea bitter. Because of this, it is usually served with a sweet-bean paste to mellow the bitterness. Matcha is also used in cooking, usually desserts like Matcha ice cream or Matcha pastries.

Genmai Cha often called “popcorn tea” or “people’s tea” is tea leaves mixed with toasted rice. The rice sometimes “pops” like popcorn. The tea has a pleasant warm flavor (“…a little like a Cheerio…” says Chef Saito) from the toasted rice. Because the rice is considered a filler and is generally less expensive than other teas.

Sencha (or shincha, literally “new tea”) Sencha has a very pleasant sharp and fresh; robust and “grassy” flavor. It is considered a “daily” tea, but a higher grade than most teas. The first months harvest is available for only a limited time after harvesting (April through May in southern Japan) in Japan and rarely outside of Japan.

Gyokuro is considered the highest grade of tea. It is made from only the best part of the tea leaves with none of the lower branches that most teas are made from. it is specially processed from older shade-grown tea plants and may cost up to $1000 a pound! Gyokuo has been described as “History, Philosophy, and Art in a single cup.”

Hojicha Is a roasted tea made from bancha (or “common” tea, made from mostly the twigs of the tea plant) but can also be made from sencha. The roasting makes the tea a reddish-brown color and is lower in caffeine and so is a good tea for after an evening meal or for those who want a lower caffeine tea.

Dattan is a healthy, decaffeinated “new” tea made from roasted buckwheat. Also called “soba tea” as “soba” is Japanese for buckwheat and is often found in the form of noodles in Japanese cooking. It is high in “rutin” which is an antioxidant found in buckwheat and is also high in vitamin B. Dattan has a “nutty” flavor.

Not shown is Mugicha which is a roasted barley tea that Japanese serve cold in hot months and is also decaffeinated.

Preparing tea correctly can be fairly complex depending on the tea. A couple of rules from Chef Saito: “the higher the grade of tea, the lower the temperature” and “let boiling water settle first before adding tea” and “never boil a good soup or a good tea.”

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