Archive for February, 2011

Regarding Rooibos (A Pure Matcha – Red Matcha Review)

Rooibos is like the O’Doule’s of the tea world, mainly for the reason that it’s not really “tea” in the traditional sense. Anything tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant; all true teas, that is. Anything else is considered a tisane or herbal infusion. The South African plant gained some measure of recognition as a hearty herbal substitute for black tea. That and – over the course of centuries – it also was used for various medicinal pursuits – gastrointestinal concerns, headaches, colds, zombie plague…you name it. (Okay, I made the last part up.)

The red-brown, needle-like concoction also has a close relative known as honeybush that has a decidedly sweeter taste. Nowadays, both are used as the base for many fruit blends on the market. Rooibos and honeybush also combine well together. Traditionally, rooibos is oxidized in a fashion similar to black tea, but there also exists an unoxidized (i.e. steamed) version – green rooibos – which also happens to be my favorite. Imagine my cocked-eyebrowed surprise when someone championed a rooibos matcha as a product.

I love matcha. The Japanese powdered form of green tea is my go-to morning drink. I use it in place of multivitamins because – in essence – I’m getting a powerhouse-worth consuming an entire tea leaf. Another happy side-effect is the added caffeine and the extra boost in fiber. Sometimes, though, the caffeine can be a hindrance. I one time did a search for herbal substitutes but came up empty. Pure Matcha came to my attention via the bastion of aggregated “information” – Twitter. After a quick dialogue (and some whimpering on my part) they were kind enough to impart a sample for review.

Pure Matcha purports that their primary powder cultivator resides in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. They mention that it is one of the two major producing regions for premium ceremonial-grade matcha; the other being Uji Prefecture. I already knew about Uji, but I was unaware of Aichi. The only other matcha region I knew of was Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture, where most of the Japan’s sencha is grown. There was no information about whether their Red Matcha (the rooibos variant) was made in Japan, but I figured it was.

The rooibos powder itself was finely-ground and almost looked stone pulverized. I doubted it was, given the consistency of rooibos needles and the great care required to grind it down. Whatever the process, the result was a powder with a faded, pinkish hue and the requisite nut-sweet smell that was a rooibos “staple”.

Pure Matcha recommended that – since rooibos powder had a different consistency – to utilize a blender for preparation. While my brother had a blender, I didn’t want to bother with the clean-up. I took an old miso soup bowl that I always used for matcha, boiled some water, and used a chasen (bamboo whisk) for the first test. The red-brown liquid frothed up quite nicely at first, even imparting a happy fizzing noise. The bubbles dissipated soon after, though.

To the taste, and to my relief, I can say it was all rooibos. The only major change was in the texture. Along with the usual nut-sweet profile associated with the little legume was a thicker consistency. It was both slightly chalky but fluffy – a very odd combination. I did a re-whisk with a milk frother to see if that turned up anything different. Aside from a shift in texture more to the chalky, the taste was the same.

Safely said, this was a unique and quite excellent take on an old South African cape-grown cup. I’m not really sure which is the better method, though. Steeping normal rooibos yields a nutty, sweet, dark cup and you get more of it. However, the powdered form yields an even denser brew with even more of that natural sweetness. For sake of laziness, time and prep, I’d say Red Matcha wins by a hair. I would strongly recommend it.

PS ~ If I had one gripe (and it’s a small one) it’s that there isn’t a GREEN rooibos matcha out there. Pure Matcha, get on it. You’d make this lazy, tea-swigging writer very happy.

For more information on Pure Matcha, go HERE.

To purchase Red Matcha, go HERE.

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Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 Steep Stories 4 Comments

*Le Gasp* The Start of a Novel? At Long Last? Maybe…

A little background. This is an idea I’ve been kicking around as a prequel to this idea. I decided to start it first because…well…it came first. I have no idea how far I’ll take it. I know how all the events transpire. The only issue is that this is my first foray into fiction writing in eight (or so) years. I’m putting this up and out there to see if it’s a decent start.

If you happen by the site – whether on accident or on purpose – lemme know what you think.

Thief

Laerem was stuck in a supply duct.

Not the most dignified of locations, especially with another woman’s hindquarters mere inches from one’s brow.  Her “partner” had ordered them to stay very still. Night drones were heard down an adjacent corridor. Had her tormentor/accomplice done her homework, she would’ve known that supply drones weren’t armed – nor equipped with alarms. That didn’t stop the left-eye-patched upperclassmen – bald save for a raven-colored tassel-tail – from halting their progress.

As to what progress that might be, even Laerem didn’t know. The blue-haired cadet was the victim of trite blackmail. One moment, she was on a tour of the Razhti Metanautics Muesum; the next, she was a wannabe terrorist. And all over a holograph…

*****

Blood trickled down her chin as she took the blow. Strands of her long, aqua mane matted her sweat-drenched brow and clouded her vision. She only knew the number of attackers by the silhouettes. Brave bunch, this trio – clocking a girl in broad daylight. Had it been any other day, she would’ve had to mull over who was out for her hide. It was, however, not just any day. The anniversary of her arrival to the Royal Fleet Academy Annex was known by all – the first native Razhti recruit, ever.

“Got something to say, bluebitch?” came the innovative challenge from the lead, stout silhouette

“Not really,” she said after spitting a molar. She hated having to grow new ones, painful as all hell.

“What about apologizing?” one of the hench-shadows suggested – rather forcibly by a boot-push to the shoulder.

“For?”

“For killing Telakni!” the lead shadow retorted.

He followed that up with a swift kick to her abdomen. Laerem doubled over, more for show than out of pain. Of course, it still hurt. Like a bitch, even. However, the four impacts to her person prior to that sad excuse for a gut-shot hurt far more. Anything after was child’s play, and she would know, having taken beatings as a child also.

Wiping the strands of hair from her colorless eyes, she finally got a good look at her “brave” assailants. The lead: Bortan, a short but solid specimen of stupidity – Cadet, Junior-Grade like her. He was known for having quick reflexes and a temper to boot. None too bright, but capable of surprising feats of force. His only real weakness was his vision – figuratively and literally – he was shortsighted and nearsighted. Parents hadn’t footed the bill for ocular correction.

The two henchies were far more capable than their stubby superior. Gromahd was a lanky but intelligent tactical cadet, destined for Core Fleet fame. The plain subordinate to Bortan’s left – Ashai – was a Fringe Noble; his status as a future Defender of the Kingdom almost guaranteed. Their blood was bluer than Laerem’s hair. What they were doing taking orders from a low-born ground-pounder-to-be made no sense. Perhaps they were all united in their universal hatred of the natives.

“Listen, boys,” she began with emphasis. “Can we discuss this another time? Classes end in an hour. I’m sure we can have a meaningful debate then.”

That attempt at diplomacy earned her a throat grapple. Two shaky fists firmed their way around her slender neck. The grip wasn’t tight enough, though. Ashai seemed unsure of what he was doing. Just like a Noble, never knowing how to get their hands dirty. He did have enough strength and resolve to pull her up to eye-level.  As Ashai held her, Bortan grabbed a fistful of hair and forced her gaze away – from her “choker” to him.

“No, we’ll talk now,” seethed the low-born leader. “We’ve been waiting a year for this…discussion.”

Bortan released his grip from her hair.

“Ash, release her,” he ordered.

Ashai gladly loosened his fingers. Laerem fell back to her knees. She caught a glint of red and silver from the corner of her right eye. Finally, the moment she’d been waiting for. Bortan was through with the theatrics. The proceedings were far too cliché for her to take them too seriously. Granted, being the pummelee wasn’t all that fun, but it was a means to an end. Eventually, attackers tired of bravado and went for the blade – either the one in their pants or the one in their hilt. Lucky for her, these three hadn’t figured out the former.

In his right hand, Bortan held a blade. Not just any blade; a curved Shiqaal hunter’s knife with cat-eyed jewels in the hilt. The blade itself was cast in a crimson alloy known only to form on asteroids…on the other side of the galaxy. In non-humanoid territory. How a commoner like Bortan got a hold of such a rare artifact, Laerem could only guess. Probably stolen, she thought.

Bortan motioned to his two lackeys to hold one arm each. She wasn’t putting up a fight as they brought her back to her feet, but she assumed the lead Luddite wanted to make it look good. Laerem attempted to look as scared as possible as Bortan brought the blade over his head in a wholly stupid sacrificial stance. Before the blade came down…she smiled.

A little known secret about Razhti humans – other than the curious origin of their blue hair – was their dexterity. They were capable of amazing and improbable acts of physical grace, particularly the women. This made them expert dancers and even more adept lovers.  Razhti courtesans, male and female, were renowned throughout the Kingdom. These boys should have guessed that a Rhazti girl would possess some of these traits.

Apparently, they didn’t. Bortan’s blade only cut air, and ended its downward swath with a clank to solid ground. Bewildered, he looked up. The blue-haired girl was above her attackers, poised in mid-flip over their heads. If he had kept his eyes open he would’ve noticed the back-flip, but now he stared at her exposed upside-down back and the muffled faces of his two high-status henchman.

Laerem completed her flip behind her two grapplers. Their grips had loosened once the knife started coming down. The lax restraint on her arms gave her the window she needed. One casual leap up and backward had turned the tide in her favor. Now behind her restrainers, she palmed both boys in the back – pushing them forward into Bortan. They collapsed like sports pins.

A dull ring signified that Bortan dropped his knife in the ensuing tumble. Laerem claimed it for herself.  “Spoils of victory,” she said.

A spray of heat whizzed past her hair. She felt a burning sensation across her left temple. Whipping around, Laerem found herself staring into the distant barrel of a pulse gun. In the hands of Gromahd, whom she thought had remained unusually passive during the scuffle. This time, his hands didn’t shake. And unlike Ashai, his grip on the gun was tight and resolute – his gaze, steel.

“Y-you know those are illegal on Annex grounds.” She fumbled her words.

“Don’t care,” was Gromahd’s tight reply.

“Who was Telakni to you, anyway?”

“My father.”

“Shit,” she said with a sigh.

As Laerem exhaled in defeat, a flash emanated from behind her. Warm yet cold on her back, she felt and heard the sound of electric cackle. The smell of ozone reached her nostrils, sizzling in her nasals. Gromahd’s face paled, as did the two other boys who still struggled to correct themselves. Another flash and a long, white bolt struck Gromahd square in the chest, launching him backward. He struck a wall then fell forward – smoke pluming from his back. The arc of energy had seared clean through.

Speechless, Bortan and Ashai collected themselves and made with the swiftest retreat Laerem had ever seen. With good reason.

“His piss-shooter was barely legal,” said a tenor female voice behind her.

Laerem turned around slowly, coming face-to-face with a girl slightly taller and a year older than she. A faux-leather eye-patch with an unknown sigil adorned her left eye. A single phase-scar also ran down the left side of her face like a clean, bird talon’s cut. Her head was shaved bare, save for one long, top-knotted tail of space-black hair – braided for the first half, free-flowing for the rest. Other than the scars, warrior cue, and thin-lipped expression, she was quite attractive.

The hard-faced teen hoisted a bulky, beige rifle behind her shoulders. “Now this,” she motioned to the hand-cannon behind her. “Is illegal.”

Words tried to form in Laerem’s open mouth, but they wouldn’t come.

“Just so you know,” the raven-tailed girl continued. “CP drones’ll be on this place in a matter of minutes.”

“B-but…I didn’t do anything,” Laerem sputtered. “Surveillance will show I was the one attacked!”

The other girl let the rifle fall to her side, “Yeah. About that. See the camera?”

Laerem looked to where she was pointing.

“I was just outta range of its field of vision,” she said. “Still am. And all those two other boys saw was light.”

“You mean-”

“Campus drones will think you fired the bolt.”

“And you’ll correct them, right?” Laerem asked.

“Yeah. About that, too.” The girl pulled out a hexagonal contraption from her legging. “Holocam with sound dampener.”

She clicked the side of the device. A holographic movie of the bolt attack replayed from her viewpoint. However, the footage made it look like the energy discharged from the crimson blade Laerem now held. The girl played the holo again in slow motion.  The effect was flawless.

“Nice blade ya got there,” she said, replacing the disk in her pocket. “Shiqaal design, if I’m not mistaken. Y’know, some of those hunter knives have been known to act in a projectile capacity.”

Laerem looked at the hunter’s knife but said nothing.

“Not that one, of course. Too small. But reputation is a remarkable thing.”

“Is this the part where you blackmail me?” Laerem asked.

“Persuade, actually.”

“To do what?”

“Join me on a museum tour.”

“I have class in ten minutes,” Laerem said.

“History of the Pirate King: The Early Years,” the girl countered. “Yes, I know your schedule. And considering you’re covered in blood, and kinda/sorta killed a kid, I think it can wait.”

Laerem sighed again, “What museum?”

“Metanautics.”

“Why?”

“Tell ya later.” She winked

“Whatever.”

The Razhti walked to the tasseled girl’s side. She returned Laerem’s acquiescence with a pleased – if wry – grin. And with that, she led the way, swinging the guilty rifle behind her.

“By the way, name’s Lenika,” she said, extending a hand. “Lenika Andrys. Most call me Leni.”

Laerem didn’t return the favor.

Leni shrugged, “Suit yourself, Laerem Praedopf.”

Quicker than the Razhti realized, she’d received a kiss on the cheek from her coercer.

“Cheer up. This’ll be fun.”

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Saturday, February 19th, 2011 Prose No Comments

Lobbied Life – “And It All Comes Back To…” (Circa 2002)

Back in college, I did a comic for the school newspaper called Lobbied Life. Believe it or not, I actually got paid to do it. The once-a-week strip was about dorm life. When the week of Valentine’s Day came around, I made myself a promise; if I had a date by then, I would do a proper V-Day strip. If I was still single…I had another idea in mind.

Well…obviously…I didn’t find a date.

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Sunday, February 13th, 2011 Webcomics 1 Comment

The Most British Earl Grey. Ever.

The Tregothnan Tea Estate has been home to the Boscowen family since 1335. John de Boscowen Ros married Johan de Tregothnan and moved his estate from Penzance to Cornwall, and – to this day – their descendants still reside there. The estate is famous for its botanical garden, first described in relative detail in 1695; it is the largest such garden in the Cornwall area. In the early 1800s, Camellia plants were introduced to the estate. It was noted later on that they flourished in the Cornish climate. In 2001, the lead gardener wondered if the Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) could succeed there as well. By 2005, the first single estate Tregothnan tea went on sale.

I first caught wind of a British tea estate roughly five years ago – a time before I was even remotely interested in black tea as a beverage. My palate still stuck to the lighter side of safe. White teas were my cup o’ choice. As my tea interests darkened, so did my further digging for unique sources. I sought out teas from interesting parts of India, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatamala, and even the U.S. In this nerdy pursuit, the British-grown teas came back into view.

Image mooched from the Tregothnan site. 🙂

The Tregothnan estate was considered ideal for tea growth because of Cornwall’s similar climate to Darjeeling, India. Since the inception of the Tregothnan brand (the only British-grown brand), several of their wares have entered the market. The expensive all-Brit-grown single estate tea was rare to find, but blended options still existed. The one that really caught my eye was the Tregothnan Earl Grey. In the blend, Cornish-grown black tea was combined with Indian Assam, then scented with Tregothnan estate-grown bergamot oil. By description alone, this was the most British Earl Grey in existence.

In January, I finally found a local distributor of the blend – a tea shop in Plymouth, MA. called All Things Tea. At first, I was leery of making the purchase, having never heard of the shop before. A look up of different reviews quelled my unease. By the end of the month, I bought 2 ounces of the stuff; an ounce for me and an ounce for my mother as a birthday present (she being the one who got me into Earl Grey).


The package arrived today at around noon while I was playing with our behemoth of a dog. I left the Saint Bernard to his own devices as I went inside to sniff the package. It smelled like citrusy heaven – nary a sour track record to speak of, like with some older or poorly-blended Earl Greys. The leaves themselves were jet black, with some browner tips in the mix. The blend didn’t contain any additional garnishes like cornflowers or anything. It was straight tea, which was fine by me.

Brewing instructions were included on the Tregothnan page, and their recommendations were surprisingly light. The most they advised was a steep of two-to-three minutes; water temperature, freshly-boiled. No specifics on amounts, though. I went with 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz of boiled water.

The liquor brewed to a burly chestnut color with a crisp transparency – in short, it looked gorgeous. The aromatic steam emanating from the mouthpiece smelled of citrus, malt, and only possessed a faint sourness. The taste? Well, I’ve had my fair share of Earl Greys in the last few months, more bad ones than I care to mention. This was a perfect Earl Grey. It was the end-all/say-all. It was balanced between the robust black tea base and the bergamot rind’s loud kick. No battle for flavor supremacy. I did a full-bodied “Yum” and fist-pump. Yes, I get that excited at a perfect cup of tea, don’t judge me.  My only regret is that I wish I had much more of it, and that it was easily accessible.

A second steep yielded an equally robust cup. Not too surprising, considering I didn’t adhere to a stringent brew time. As a matter of fact, I think I left it out for about seven or eight minutes. The result? No bitterness or astringency. The bergamot presence was more diluted, though.

I now have a mission to visit Cornwall and tour this treasured estate. Maybe someday they’ll make a single estate Earl Grey without the blended Assam. For the moment, though, this blend is a perfect substitute.

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Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 Steep Stories 3 Comments

I work for tea money.

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