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Friday, May 22, 2009

Sucking on camellias

  I'm a tea enthusiast. Camellia sinensis, the particular camellia whose leaves are used to make tea, is a stellar plant in a plant family I have always been very fond of.

Yet, I've always been rather skeptical about one of the main tea-origin myths: that a few camellia leaves fell into someone's hot cup of water, and they were immediately inspired to make a habit of drinking their hot water in this fashion. It just didn't make much sense: it takes a lot of (processed) tea leaves to make a good cup of tea, and if multiple handfuls of a random plant fell into MY cup of boiling water, I doubt I'd drink it. (If you're someone who is undeterred by random objects falling into YOUR beverage, just bear with me.)

I was able to put this to the test. Steven is a gardener, and he had occasion to prune a Camellia sinensis and bring some leafy branches over to taste.

We tried treating the fresh leaves like they were treated in the story: I put about half a cup of them into a tea basket, poured boiling water over them, and let them steep for several minutes.

The resulting drink barely tasted like anything. It was definitely hot water with a hint of... green. Not like clipped grass. Not like citrus. Not especially like tea. Just... green.

I let the remaining leaves sit on my counter for several weeks to dry out. For the next effort, I decided to boil them for about 5 minutes, and to use twice as many leaves (which was hard to estimate, because they were small and dried up this time, but when they rehydrated, it looked close). This time around it tasted like... something green, with a hint of weak green tea. But just a hint! Perhaps even just a rumor. A rumor of tea. Also, this time, the water turned more yellow-green. It did not become as yellow-green as processed tea would have under the same circumstances.

So my evaluation of the myth: perhaps the myth has been altered. Perhaps someone was cooking outdoors, an entire branch of a tea bush fell into their pot of boiling water, they permitted it to boil there for some length of time, and THEN they tasted it and found it pleasant.

Maybe. But I'm sticking to roasted, dried tea leaves.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Sayuri Nigori Sake

Nigori sake must be "in" fashion among... people who make their drinking choices based on what is "in" (you know I'm talking about you, G). When people ask me what I like to drink, and I tell them nigori goes with everything, they either know what I am talking about (and tell me how they like it much more than regular, fine-filtered/clear sake) or fake knowledge of what I'm talking about very effectively.

I bought a bottle of Sayuri nigori sake, which is bottled in one of my favorite Japanese cities, Kobe. (Kobe is a lot like San Francisco. More on that some other time.) Sayuri comes in a frosted, pink glass bottle. It has a label that looks like a pretty washi paper and features small, adorable little flowers, some of which are printed in gold. The packaging, with the matching pink screw top, suggests that this darling little bottle is filled with some sickly sweet syrup drink which tastes the way Hello Kitty erasers smell.

It contains nigori. Not my favorite nigori, but one that is tasty and that I will drink again. Also, I will likely have to save the bottle, and find a place for it on a "cute" shelf, until it is displaced with some other cute thing from Japan.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:30 AM

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


An honest endorsement of the sort you'd like to hear from alcohol retailers every so often.

I like this quote, which is from a randomly browsed article about kava, the previously hip natural product that was in every sort of supplement known to man here in the U.S., but which has since been replace with other hip supplements. The product was famous for relaxing those who use it.
'It relaxes you,' explained Chief Selwyn Garu, enjoying his second cup at dusk. 'In fact, I'm struggling to talk right now!'"
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vanuatu defends its famous drink (, 7/18/07).

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Gestalt Haus

view of lights on the ceiling of Gestalt on 16th Street, San FranciscoIt's not often that I comment on a bar, but it's not often that a bar offers both a wide range of beers on tap that I am willing to drink AND vegan sausages cooked on a separate grill/sandwich press from the animal sausages. This is noteworthy enough that it merits mention here.

Gestalt Haus is just a block or so down 16th Street from THE favorite dive of one of my favorite "mean law firm girlfriends" (as I advertise them), and after a round at that dive and commentary on bars to avoid in the area, we both realized that we hadn't been to Gestalt to drink, either together or separately. She was concerned that, being a "German" bar, it might be too meat-oriented for me, but I had already has assurances from a brown-eyed, hipster bike-boy in the office that vegan sausages are available there. And how many places can you say that about?

My girlfriend was immediately thrilled: she drinks Speakeasy beers, of which there is an unusual abundance of there, and so she had a wide range of choices that she loves. I had some trouble choosing from the dozen or more taps that were protruding over the heads of the boys with uncombed hair at the bar, but only because there were so many of them. (Both uncombed boys and beers.) I went with Blue Moon, a wheat beer that I adore, but I could have also happily had Fat Tire, or Franziskaner Weissbier, or... other good choices that I have forgotten, but which were promising. (Yes, I like white beers, wheat beers, and Belgian beers, but actively dislike regular beer. My immediate family would look over their Buds with me in confusion.)

There were two vegan sausage options, Italian or Kielbasa, and about 8 meat sausage options, all of which come on organic rolls. I went with the Italian vegan with sauerkraut and a bit of mustard, which was exactly what I needed. As with all good vegan sausages, it did not taste like icky meat, but was its own tasty thing. My girlfriend assures me that her animal sausage was both enormous and delicious.

I've actually spent a lot of time in the space where Gestalt now is. I loved Cafe Macando (in which the walls were covered with odd colors of paint and framed black and white photographs of left-wing heroes) and Cafe La (L)Onda (which carried over the mismatched tables with individual, mismatched bedside table lamps, which gave the place a warm, comfortable glow that I swore I would one day commit to paper with pastels, but never did), and was really bummed when the latter closed. Now, I am not as bummed, as I would happily spend time at Gestalt also.

The music was fine. No one hassled us for having combed our hair. My girlfriend got to watch the A's game, and we both were amused by the skateboard videos.

Bonus: the reviews of Gestalt Haus on Yelp are a riot. Everything they say about the bathroom is true.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:15 AM


Observations on really bad red wine that would be unkind to post or share.

-Has notes of ozone and carbon monoxide that would be appropriate to burned foods.

-If I wanted flavor this oak-y, I would go outside and suck on a tree.

-Incapable of producing an adequately annoying stain on least favorite sister-in-law's white suede furniture.

-Has undertones of flammability.

-Are you kidding?

-Reminiscent of 1980s era wine coolers.

-Features aromas of overripe fruits, possibly already composted.

-Will mature to passable housecleaning vinegar.

-No, oh god no!


-It's red, alright.

-'Sure is red.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:00 AM


Another tasty nigori sake!

I know that I lean toward being a "localvore" - I prefer, for a wide range of freshness, quality, and environmental reasons to eat foods that are grown in my local area, rather than foods that are shipped or trucked in from great distances. This hasn't applied to my sake-tasting for what I think are obvious reasons: sake is generally produced in Japan.

But, as a once-frequent viewer of Channel 26, I do know that there are locally brewed sakes, and I finally picked up a bottle of the one that is brewed closest to me: Sho Chiku Bai. SCB makes Nigori (unfiltered, milky-looking sake) that is reasonably priced, and which goes beautifully with Thai food and other spicy dishes that I make. I purchased a bottle of their "Silky Mild" sake... And it is light, clean-tasting, and delightful. It is on the sweet side, and I think it could go with anything.

In light of the clean, light flavors in my more recent tastings, I now do realize there are nigoris (such as the one I tasted with the slightly bitter aftertaste) that just aren't as good, and that there are more differences in flavor than I would have guessed.

I will buy this again, and drink it with my Thai curry experiments!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:52 AM

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Delicious soft drinks I consumed in Japan in 1992.

I found it! Not only did I re-discover my 18 page travelogue from my first international trip (which I am re-typing to share as a featurette), along with a summary of each and every postcard I sent while there, and a calendar listing where I spent each evening, but I also found the soft drink list. I KNEW it existed: I just didn't know where.

Soft drinks? Really? Yes, even though I don't drink them here, I had a special need for them there. I am a huge fan of Japanese-style baths: deep bathtubs with water so hot it verges on dangerous if you are unprepared. Before having a heavenly soak each night, and being teased by the locals about my tolerance for the high heat, I prepared: I had at least one can of liquid so I could remain hydrated no matter how long I spent in the tub. Often, I would also have one afterward, if no regular water was available in my hostel room.

Oh, the tubs... *sigh* [harp sound, flashback... sound of my head rattling as I shake myself back to the present.]

The drinks there were... different from the ones here. There was a wide range of flavors that were either undefined (they were not trying to mimic anything in particular) or strangely defined, none of which were like U.S. colas of the time. I didn't keep elaborate notes, because I found many of the drinks indescribable, and because I tended to fall into bed right after melting in the bath. But I did give the drinks star ratings, on a four-star system (four stars means perfect).

A quick note: Japan's towns, large and small, were filled with vending machines selling a wide and peculiar range of items, from pantyhose (for that photo op just around the corner) to hot, pre-sweetened coffee. There was nothing nicer than being out on a cold, November night, walking down a dark, barely lit street while trying to find a hostel, and finding a vending machine full of coffee cans so hot I couldn't hold them, but could put them in my pockets, heat my coat with them, and then warm myself up from the inside with them. Aaaah.

Here is the list, in the order tried:

-Pocari Sweat ****

-Ambasa White Water (which I found to be equivalent to Calpis Water) **+

-Pokka Milk Shake (hot) ***+

-Pokka Lemonade (hot) ****

-Sapporo Ribbon Citron *

-Triumph (implied by the spacing to be another Sapporo product) **

-Fanta Muscat (sweet green grape) ***+

-UCC Melon Cream Soda ****

-Kirin Frunew ****

-Kirin Mets (grapefruit) ***

-Byg Melon Soda **

-Kirin Post Water (another one of those strangely, bodily-fluid sort of names that makes you wonder what you're buying) *

-Kirin Chasse (peach) **+

-Sunkist Lemon Water ****

-Sunkist Pineapple and Lemon Drink **

-Sunkist OR Heart Peach drink (notes unclear) **+

-Heart Drink: Muscat **

-Asahi Cocoa Drink (hot) *

The only item missing from the list for no apparent reason is "pineapple milk soda," which I had several times early in the trip, and liked, despite its oddness. I liked it at least two and a half stars.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:23 PM

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