Saturday, November 26, 2016

Toraya Cafe - Kyoto

Beautiful views of the interior garden at the Toraya Cafe

One of my favorite experiences while in Kyoto was wandering little streets, with my dear friend AM, and discovering the Toraya Cafe (Toraya Karyo Kyoto Ichijo). Returning to this little piece of heaven is a must-do the next time I visit. 

I had known of Toraya, a famous maker of Japanese confections and tea sweets, from my tea studies. The company has been around since the 16th century, and is well known for its yokan. At the cafe, you can enjoy these sweets and a delicious bowl of matcha or brewed tea. If the weather is nice (and in late October, it was perfect), sit outside and take in the peace and beauty of the garden. 

I love this photo!

Enjoy these photos, and imagine a peaceful breeze that gently ripples the water, delicious and artful sweets, tea that both stimulates and soothes, and nurturing conversation. This was my experience. 

Matcha and kuri (chestnut) yokan

Sencha, with an edamame custard with brown sugar glaze

I will close my eyes and go there too.

If you visit Kyoto, here's a tip: One of the retail shops is near the west side of the Imperial Palace. The cafe is tucked about a block down the side street.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Japanese Breakfasts

I'm missing a lot about Japan, including Japanese breakfasts. Here are some examples of what we enjoyed. These photos make my mouth water with longing. 

Rice and miso, salmon, squash, tamago (a lightly sweetened omelette), greens with sesame, fruit - and not shown, tea
Made by the amazing Ikuko at Blodge Lodge

My version of the breakfast above


More deliciousness from Ikuko
Rice, miso, sauteed veggies, pan fried tea leaves, mushrooms and sausage, greens with sweet potatoes, fruit, tea

Big, giant pieces of toast, fried eggs, slices of meat, fruit, cole slaw and
black tea (below)

This interesting breakfast was what we received when we sat down at a small cafe in Kyoto. It was specially prepared for the Westerners - it's just what you got, no options. It was fun and good!  The beverage options were tea or coffee. Tea was black, served with milk or lemon. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

Kyoto Sweets

I recently visited Kyoto, Japan with my Chado (Japanese Tea Ceremony) Sensei and three other students. I learned so much about Chado and Japanese culture.  We had lovely weather and incredibly generous local hosts.  A primary goal was to have sweets and tea every day (often more than once).  And so... an obvious way to start summarizing is through a sweets play-by-play!  Here's most of them, with a bite of context for each.  (Not included are some very special sweets from events we attended that will live on in our hearts, but not in photos.) 

Photo credit: Marjorie Yap

These sweets hold a special place in my heart. They were from our first tea experience in Kyoto, at Ochaji Cafe. Yamaguchi-san gently guided our jet-lagged bodies and minds through a lovely light meal, thick tea (koicha) and thin tea (usucha).  The sweets above are the traditional kinton style of wagashi ("wet" sweet), soft sweet bean or sweet potato paste that has been grated. It's served before koicha. So delicious and lovely.  The sweets below (higashi, "dry" sweets) were served just before the usucha. Crunchy apple-flavored sugars, chewy jelly strips and senbei (crispy rice crackers, lightly sweetened, with a thin film of miso paste).

Photo credit: Marjorie Yap

We enjoyed the persimmon mochi sweet below in Arashiyama. The outer dough is soft and chewy, filled with a persimmon/bean paste.  The tops are from real persimmons.

This beauty is from a sweets bar (think sushi bar), where the expert makes the sweet right in front of you.  If you haven't figured this out, sweets in Japan are all about seasonality!  This is a chrysanthemum. 

The sweets below were from an assortment served to us at the famous Ippodo shop on Teramachi.  Kinton (upper left) in autum colors, wrapped yokan and on the bottom,  manju - a rice bun filled with - you guessed it.   Bean paste!

A friend and I visited the Kyoto Confectionery Museum. While the descriptions were in all Japanese, we still learned and enjoyed from the experience, especially the tea and sweets at the end. Lucky us, it's chestnut season. We savored a glazed chestnut and a bean paste chrysanthemum.  

Now on to Toraya, which is worthy of a post unto itself!  For now, let me say that it's a bit of heaven - serene and with great tea and sweets.  The two delicacies below are from there.  The first, a green soybean (edamame) and silken tofu square, in a brown sugar sauce.  The second, yokan with chestnut pieces. (Since being home less than a week, my friend has replicated this yokan with success, I am delighted to say!)

Next up - a sweets class!  We got our chance to practice hand forming the sweets.  One of these below is the professional ginko leaf, one is not.  It's easy to tell.  :-)

I did a little better with the persimmon sweet.  They all four tasted great.  

And here is another (professional) variation of the chrysanthemum.  Notice the delicate fade of white to purple in the center.  The secrets: lots of patience, practice and precision.

The sweet below is another favorite among favorites.  My girlfriend and I were wandering the back streets near Daitokuji temple. We found a tiny little sweets shop (many of them are), which seemed to specialize in this interesting mochi.  It's filled with bean paste, with some whole beans to give texture, and a savory/saltiness to the mochi. Unusual and delicious!

Photo credit: Ana Martinez

Another trip to Toraya...

And then a day trip to the famous tea-growing region and tea-company town, Uji.  During an informative tour at the matcha company Marukyu-Koyamaen, we enjoyed this dango sweet. 

Later that day, after I wandered through tea shop after tea shop, I enjoyed this sweet at the Kanbayashi cafe. It's hard to tell in the photo, but there is a chestnut at the center, and it's surrounded by what might be kudzu-gelatin-based "leaves." that wrap around.  Of course, delicious.

Next, a small pause in our schedule before we headed to the countryside for the final leg of the trip. Four sweets below from the Japanese Tea & Gallery Kyoto Saryo in Kyoto Station. 

And finally - a feast of sweets to close out our last dinner in Japan.

What an indulgence - to live where there is a Japanese sweets shop within easy walking distance of wherever I go!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Headed to Kyoto

I hope to drink many bowls of tea over the next two weeks, while I'm in Japan!  I'm traveling with my Sensei and three other tea students to the heart of the Japanese tea world, Kyoto.  We'll visit the headquarters of the Urasenke school (of which we are affiliated), have tea and sweets as often as possible, take in the beauty of and pay our respects at temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto), eat fabulous meals, enjoy Japanese gardens, visit museums and as the trip comes to a close, stay amidst the tea fields. I'm overflowing with excitement! I'll share photos here, a few while I'm traveling and more when I returned.  Please wish us safe travels! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

PDX Tea: Opening, Documentary Fundraiser and Roasted Dong Ding

It is with much excitement that I share that PDX TEA has re-opened in a welcoming and tranquil new space in Portland! David Galli hosts tastings and educational events, as well as curating high-quality teas (for sale). Many of these teas have come from his travels. David is a good friend, and I know first-hand how lucky Portland is to have someone with his level of knowledge and tasting abilities to be part of our tea journeys. 

Last Sunday, several tea lovers gathered to taste charcoal roasted Dong Ding. We were able to enjoy three different roasting levels. We noticed how the tea shifted not only by roasting level, but also within the consecutive brews of the same tea. 
Roasting tea is a specialized skill. Often the tea roaster is a different person from the grower and also the tea maker. Roasting involves science (temperature, moisture levels), as well as sensory arts (the smell of the leaf, the feel of it in your fingers, the control of the heat).  After a tea is roasted, sometimes the roasters let the tea rest for awhile to mellow before selling it.   

There are different kinds of roasting. Below, David is showing an electric roaster. The Dong Ding tea we drank is a very special type, roasted over charcoals (they are banked with various levels of ash to manage the amount of heat). People who enjoy this type of tea  have concerns that the knowledge and skills of charcoal roasting are dwindling.  To that end, this tasting was a fundraiser for a project to make a Taiwan Tea Documentary, including charcoal roasting. Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea is trying to raise funds for this project.  It's a very worth cause, and I have donated!  (Also note - Shiuwen is offering a 30% discount to my blog readers on the High Mountain Tea Sampler - see here.)

I look forward to many wonderful tea tastings at PDX Tea, and I wish all the best to the Taiwan Tea Documentary project!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sample High Mountain Taiwanese Oolongs, Floating Leaves Tea

Shiuwen Tai, Floating Leaves Tea

Keep reading to the bottom of this post for a 30% discount on the High Mountain Oolong Sampler box from Floating Leaves Tea!

I am blessed to be able to taste teas regularly with Shiuwen Tai, of Floating Leaves Tea. Shiuwen's shop specializes in well-curated teas from her homeland Taiwan, as well as China and Japan. I had the chance to travel to Taiwan with Shiuwen in 2013, visiting farmers and fields and drinking my weight each day (or so it felt) in tea.  It was heaven!

Below is evidence of a recent tasting, where we made our way through several categories of tea, including white, baozhong, high mountain oolongs and Ti Guan Yin. 

Shiuwen gave me a sampler box of High Mountain Oolong teas, to taste and write about. This is a new product available from the online shop.  Shiuwen has very generously given readers of my blog a 30% discount for the next 30 days on the High Mountain Sampler, shown below.  This is a very, very good deal!!  Use "stephcupoftea" in the referral code at checkout.

The sample box contains a half ounce each of Alishan, Shan Lin Xi, Li Shan, He Huan Shan and Da Yu Ling. The teas represent different mountains (and elevations) in the category of High Mountain Oolong.  

I recommend using two gaiwan and tasting these teas side-by-side, so that you can tease out the subtle differences.  (You can steep these teas several times each, so this is a great thing to do with friends.) While this category of tea, generally, is light and aromatic, when you drink these with attention and care, you will be given the gift of noticing the differences in flavor, aroma and mouth feel. 

So let's celebrate a good deal and good tea!  Thank you, Shiuwen.  Go here to enjoy the discount (good for next 30 days) and use "stephcupoftea" in the referral code.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tea Ceremony for Mom

My mother recently visited  and I was happy to be able to honor her with a Japanese tea ceremony. Thanks to my Sensei, I was able to hold the gathering at the traditional tea house in the Portland Japanese Garden.

Guests arrive and enjoy a welcoming hot water in the waiting area. Next, the host will silently bow to the guests, signifying that s/he is ready.  The guests  walk on a stone path, through the beautiful tea garden (shown below), to the tea house. Guests rinse their hands, symbolically purifying themselves, before entering the tea room.

Upon entry, guests appreciate the scroll, the flowers and the kettle. The scroll below is Ichigo Ichie, often translated as "one lifetime, one meeting."  It emphasizes the importance of the present experience, never again to be repeated.

Flowers for a summer tea ceremony are often presented in a basket. Tea flowers are always freshly picked and are in the spirit of wildflowers. Fancy hybrids or flowers with strong fragrance are avoided.  The host (in this case, me) arranges the flowers "as they grow in the field." Here we have a late summer grass, brown-eyed Susan, scarlet flax, white balloon flower, Rose of Sharon and morning glory.

Once the guests are settled, the host offers official greetings and serves the sweets. I served a moist sweet made from sweetened bean paste (it's delicious!), that looks like the Japanese balloon flower. My mom had helped me shape these sweets, which was extra special. It takes some practice! I also served a pineapple ground cherry (cape gooseberry). 

Next, I made tea for the guests. This is the high point of the experience. The goal is for the guests to feel a spirit of shared heart with the host and other guests.

The host and guests share conversation about the tea utensils and their history, and other things in the tea room. Every item has been specifically chosen. The host considers the season, the guests, the setting, etc., as s/he chooses the scroll, the flowers, the utensils and even the specific tea-making procedure. It's part of the idea that no two gatherings are the same. 

It's hard to see in the photo above, but there is a hosta leaf on the top of the water urn, above my right knee. I chose the Habuta procedure, which uses a leaf as a lid for the water urn.  It's a special procedure for summertime.

After the discussion regarding the tea utensils and final thanks, the meeting adjourns with a bow. 

Tea, in all its forms, offers so much beauty. I hope we all can pause to enjoy the peace that comes with a bowl (or cup) of tea. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fiber Artist with a Tea Heart

I am very excited today to share with you tea artwork made by my friend Karen. I know Karen from our local Wu-Wo tea group. Her fabric art is full of color, texture, depth (literal and figurative), and heart. Karen customized these three pieces, and I'm so happy with the results! Keep reading to see the inspiration behind them. 

Karen, the artist

This is the first piece made. Karen invested a lot of time reading through this blog and finding visual cues to my tea life. She glowed like a child with a happy secret when she unveiled the piece.  Did I recognize it?  Slowly, awareness dawned. Yes - I knew this!  Study it for yourself, and then look carefully at the header on this blog.  This artwork is modeled after that exquisite tea leaf set. I was really taken with the attention to detail and the color variation that mirrors the photo. This artwork represents my passion for tea.

This second piece was done after my completion of a women's leadership program, where I learned to lead writing circles (and much more!). Karen designed the colors to pair well with the color of my living room walls. This artwork represents the sacred feminine and my my personal growth. 

The third objet d'art is absolutely inspired.  I knew the general idea, and yet I was completely blown away when Karen presented this to me.  She re-created a photo from my experience in Rwanda.  Go here to see the photo inspiration.  The white on white is so accurate - she even captures the bubbles in the tea! The fabric in the lower left is a souvenir I brought home from Rwanda.  This artwork is all heart. 

Finally, I want to share the three-dimensional aspect of this artwork. I love that the frames are painted and become part of the piece. It's like the art is reaching out to engage with me.

Find more information on Karen's fiber art here.  If you would like an introduction, let me know and I'll connect you!