Why I Want(ed) to Live and Work in Japan

Several years ago, I tried to submit applications to different schools in Asian countries. My goal was to use my pathetic English degree to teach the language abroad. None of that panned out, but this was my favorite submission letter to a Japanese outfit. (No, these images were NOT included in the original query letter.)

My fascination with “the rising sun” began in the spring of 1983. An unassuming precocious child, I channel-surfed Saturday morning cartoons like a pro. Perhaps it was a short attention span, or a reflex, but nothing ever caught my eye. That is, until I ran across anime for the first time.

The channel surfing stopped.

Fast-forward a few years later – by this time, a 9th grader – and introduced to the likes of Akira, thus solidifying my genre preference for all time. But not only that, I had to learn more about the culture that spawned such a dynamic art form. The bookworm in me took over.

Like any teenage male, the first word in the search key was “ninja”. That led to “samurai”, followed closely by “daimyo”, and lastly to “Amaterasu.” Film directors such as Shintaro Katsu, Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano breathed imagery into my textual inquiries. However, I was still distanced from experiencing the culture firsthand.tian xiao cheng

Then came college.

Most would assume a dorm boss to be a beleaguered, tired-looking post-grad student. Mine was the exact opposite – a bright-eyed, smiling, and downright hilarious guy by the name of Hiro. He and I grew to be fast friends and embarked on weekly sushi outings. (Usually impromptu, it being college and all.)

As with all things, though, college ended and we returned to our prospective homes. Too bad his was across an imposing ocean. I heard from him on and off over the years, his same statement being, “When’re you coming to Japan?”

To which, I would shrug and say, “When I have money.”

In passing years, I also developed a palate for refined green teas, gyokuro and matcha specifically. This further fueled my desire to one day cross overseas. I wanted to smell a fresh cup of loose leaf green tea from the source, not just from some secondhand distributor. A need for authenticity barraged me.

Aside from the need to experience a culture on its own soil, another desire needed to be sated; that being, putting use to my English degree. To put it mildly, it had been vestigial at best. No job I retained over the years was anywhere near related to my field of study. Granted, I wrote fiction on the side, but what good was that to anyone? I suppose I had a drive to teach.

Having tutored in the past, I can safely say it was rewarding. Seeing someone beam with delight once they finally understood material, well, there’s no greater high in the world. What’s the point finding joy if one doesn’t share joy.

I suppose that’s what brings me to [insert language school here]. The opportunity to live and learn away from the comfort of home is an alluring prospect to say the least. Traveling is in my blood, and so is teaching. It seems only natural that both be adhered too, and with a wonderful company, no less. I appreciate to opportunity for consideration.

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Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 Steep Stories 4 Comments

F**k Flavored Matcha

First, let me go on record by saying: “I am not against flavored tea!”

As a well-versed/rehearsed Earl Grey drinker, I can’t say I’m above a little dash of something extra. Some of the best teas I’ve tried have fallen under the “flavor”-ful moniker. Granted, I’m more prone to traditional(-ish?) approaches to scenting teas rather than the addition of gobs of extract. (And if it’s aged in an alcohol barrel, I’m all over that shit.) However, there is one recent abomination that I have to draw the line on.

Flavored matcha.

I noticed the trend back in the fervor of my reviewing days. It seemed like something that would be a passing gimmick. The first I ever ran across was a strawberry-flavored matcha. It was…vaguely strawberry-ish, and even possessed strawberry seeds in the powder. Did I prefer it to regular matcha…oh heck, no. The second one I tried was a blueberry matcha, and it had no flavor at all.

But it got worse.

In the ensuing year, other flavors began cropping up. Caramel, banana, lavender, cheesecake (!!!), chocolate, vanilla derp-dee-derp and…maple syrup?! That was the final straw. Maple syrup-flavored anything is a gateway drug – one that leads to bacon. Yes, folks, you heard this prediction here first. We are a mere flavor agent away from having a bacon matcha!!!

Granted, to some of you, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing…but ask yourself this: Do you really want green tea with your bacon?

That is my limit. I can’t take it anymore. Matcha is a ceremonial beverage, one that induces a feeling of calm when it’s prepared. It doesn’t necessarily have to be prepared correctly – just to the drinker’s liking. As long as it is still matcha, then I have no qualm. But I’m putting my snobby foot down at flavoring the damn thing.

Tea leaves are universally known for being able to pick up flavor from either (a) the surrounding environment or (b) surrounding ingredients. Rose-scenting, jasmine-scenting, osthmanthus-scenting, masala-ladening – these are all very common and ancient practices. But have you heard someone say, “Do you know what this powdered green tea needs? Cheese. It needs cheese.” The closest thing we have to natural dairy tea is milk oolong, and it should bloody well stay that way!

I’m willing to give a pass on the existence of matcha blends, though. Case in point: Green tea powder blended with goji berry or acai. Those fruits can best be had in powdered form, anyway. Even better? Matcha blended with actual useful herbs like Gymnema sylvestre (the “sugar-destroyer” herb) or lemongrass. Those work! I’ve had ‘em.

In the end, I guess I just want one thing that’s left untouched. One thing that is still sacred and sucrose-less. If I have to, I’ll horde the good stuff to make sure that it remains pure. Because some powders are worth saving.

Fuck flavored matcha.

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Monday, October 15th, 2012 Steep Stories 1 Comment

“Thé”-ater: Tea Time at the Movies

My mother is an idea gal – always has been. The part that’s most frustrating – especially for me, the eldest of her brood – is that she is right 90% of the time. I think she missed her calling as the head of a newspaper, the magnate of an advertising agency or the moderator for a think tank. Her braingems should be bottled and sold on the black market for six figures. I say this because…well…she’s the reason this entry exists.

One phrase from her, just one phrase: “You should do movie reviews with tea.”

At first I scoffed at the idea, but then I tossed it around in my head (over a cup of tea). I thought back to the last few summer movies I’d seen, mulled over my opinions but also what teas I felt like drinking after them. Surprisingly, finding matches didn’t take that long.

Here are my thoughts:


I was not excited for this movie at all when I first saw the trailer. It resembled Flash Gordon by way of Iron Man – cheesy but visceral. The choice for director also made my brow furrow. What did Kenneth Branagh know about directing a comic book movie?! Granted, he could easily pull off “EPIC!” if he had, too…but a Space Viking movie? Secondly, it was Thor. I don’t know anyone that cares about the wing-helmeted thunder god.

What gave me some measure of hope was the writer who penned the script. I was already a fan of J. Michael Straczynski from his five-year magnum opus, Babylon 5. He also had extensive experience as a comic book writer. If anyone could make the foundation translate to cinema, he could. And, boy, did he.

The combination of tongue-in-cheek, fish-outta-water, and Shakespearean posturing made this one of the most entertaining trips to the multiplex in some time. Marvel really knows how to dial up the “FUN” factor for an intro to summer. In hindsight, nothing much appeared to happen, but I look back on it fondly.

Tea Match: “Golden-Tipped Assam”

Assams tend to be thick, malty teas usually used as the base for wake-up breakfast blends. Tippier Assams – I’ve found – possess a honey-like texture to them, similar to a Golden Yunnan. That smooth sweetness along with the burly malt bite are a good compliment to a movie featuring a golden-haired, muscle-bound god with a ridiculously large hammer.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The first Pirates of the Caribbean did the impossible; it was a well-crafted and witty movie inspired by a theme-park ride and single-handedly brought back the swashbuckler. To that, I say, “Bravo.” Unfortunately, that movie had siblings. Snot-nosed, whiny, fat, bloated siblings. The two follow-ups were a complete and utter mess. They were well executed, special effects were top-notch, but the story (or what passed for one) was pure seagull splatter. I was not looking forward to a fourth outing.

On a whim, I caught a late showing of On Stranger Tides and found myself…not hating it. Oh, it was still as drivel-ish as her two predecessors, it looked cheaper than it was, and making Cap’n Jack Sparrow a protagonist was a horrible idea, but it at least tried to match the medium scale and old-school feel of the first one. I won’t see it again, but it didn’t leave a poor taste in my mouth.

Tea Match: “Kombucha”

No, I don’t mean the bacterially-cultured “mushroom tea”. Kombu is the Japanese word for “kelp or seaweed”. I personally haven’t had it, but I’ve eaten the key ingredient. Kelp has a very sweetly vegetal, salty profile, and I assume the same could be said for its infused namesake. Unfortunately, it shares the name with another “tea” that utilizes steeped bacteria…and tastes like iced vinegar. Seeing a fourth Pirates movie was exactly like that name/flavor confusion – a well-meaning but unfortunately-named oddity.

Kung Fu Panda 2

The first Kung Fu Panda was lightning in a f**king bottle. It succeeded with what it set out to do – tell a story of a kung fu fanboy given the opportunity to be martial arts legend. That premise alone is every chop-socky geek’s wet dream. The fact that it also stayed true to the trappings of the martial arts genre helped it to transcend its Dreamworks label. Thankfully, it was also successful with mainstream audiences. (It starred a panda; this was a given.)

A sequel was inevitable, and Dreamworks was hit-or-miss with animated follow-ups. I hoped they’d learned their lesson from the last three Shrek movies. In my opinion, they succeeded. KP2 continues where its predecessor left off and explores its protagonist’s background – one that is steeped in prophecy and folklore. I even got a little man-teary towards the end, a good sign.

Tea Match: “Keemun Hao Ya B (with cream and sugar)”

Keemun is a Chinese black (or “red”) tea with an interesting flavor profile. It is almost as malty as an Assam, but also possesses shades of sweetness and smokiness. If done right, it brews to a bold crimson and – when sipped slowly – imparts its nuances gradually. Hoa Ya is a grade known for its silver tippy buds and delicate delivery. The “B” sub-variety tends to be a tad more rough around the edges – as is Kung Fu Panda 2 in comparison to its predecessor. But it takes cream and sugar well, making it more palatable for the kiddies.

X-Men: First Class

Like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, X-Men suffered from a severe case of Sh**ty-Sequelitis. Well, third time’s a charm, according to the Powers That Be. However, to justify the existence of yet another prequel after the disastrous Wolverine movie, some major liberties had to be taken. In a brilliant move, they adopted a typical comic book motif to do this. They ret-conned and pretended the last two X-movies never existed.

For the most part, the maneuver paid off. While none of the secondary ensemble characters do much in the movie other than look badass or attractive, the dynamic between a young, brash Charles Xavier and a hot-headed (but suave) Erik Lensherr – soon-to-be Professor X and Magneto, respectively – is surprisingly well-crafted. There are plot-holes abound, special effects misfires, and some dreadful acting from a certain blonde that makes Keanu look nuanced. All said, it holds up well. Time will tell if it’s as memorable as the first two.

Tea Match: “English Breakfast (with a blended Keemun/Assam base)”

There is no set recipe for English Breakfast; the only adherence that must be made is to its strength. The blend should zing! you awake in a matter of sips. Tasting good is optional. I’ve heard some schools of thought state that Keemun is the preferred foundation, while others say Assam. What is agreed upon is that it must have an ensemble of ingredients that jolt the drinker upright. EB does this, and so does the new X.

Super 8

MOAR LENSFLARE!!!”…seems to be the battle-cry of writer-director-producer-mindf**ker, J.J. Abrams. I’m not sure when this cinematographic calling card began, but it was most apparent in his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. In Super 8, he tones the flare down a bit but keeps just enough to give the movie a retro feel – as was his intention. This pays homage to the Steven Spielberg sci-fi flicks he grew up with and it shows.

All the ingredients are there: Unseen monster from space? Check. Comedy relief in the form of a high-voiced fat kid? Check. Shadowy military conspiracy? Check. Coming of age romance? Check. Mix and serve. If it had one major flaw – and it’s a doozie – it’s that the movie has no real identity. The strongest parts were the Spielbergian/kiddie character scenes. Everything else seemed “meh” by comparison. This could’ve been a true 80s sci-fi send-up if it weren’t so schizophrenic.

Tea Match: “Matcha-Iri Genmaicha”

I love matcha (Japanese powdered tea), but I loathe genmaicha (Japanese “poor man’s” tea…blended with rice). Put the two together, and you have something that I begrudgingly enjoy. The nuttiness of the rice is downplayed by the kelp-like sweetness of the matcha. The blend is even better if the green tea base is a higher-grade sencha rather than crude banchatian xiao cheng. This is as conflicted a blend as the elements of Super 8 are. Parts work, parts don’t. The experience is watchable/drinkable, pretty to look at, but – in the end – forgettable.

To conclude, I had way too much fun doing this. My mother’s brain wins again. The summer’s still young, and I can’t wait to ponder what brews up well with other blockbusters. I wonder if I could sneak a teapot into the theater. Hrm. Probably a subject for another blog.

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Wednesday, June 15th, 2011 Steep Stories 998 Comments

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 5 Comments

Food Fusion Fail

Having a “what-does-this-button-do?” reaction to the world is no way to live, but sometimes – just sometimes – it livens things up. I’m generally a pretty safe (to the point of cowardly) person. Risk-taking is not a part of my dossier. However, every once in a while, in my own little way, I step out of the packing-corn-laden box to try something new. Usually, it involves food.

About a year ago, a “test” of sorts was inspired by a random Facebook conversation with Mr. Wind-Up Bird. The lucky S.O.B was living in Japan at the time and bragged – in status-update form – that he was having some yuzu-flavored tea-in-a-jar. Naturally, my ears perked at this. I had tea-in-a-jar before. A trip to the Stash Tea Store garnered an impulse buy of some pomegranate Korean Jar Tea.

The concept behind jarred tea alone was fascinating. In essence, it was a gelatin, syrupy-sweet, glob of pure carb-crash that one simply mixed in with hot water. As I understood it, most jarred teas were thinly-sliced fruit pieces (or whatever namesake flavor was used) combined with honey. I rather enjoyed the pomegranate one but hadn’t had the urge to try others. Yujacha – the Korean name for yuzu-fruit jarred tea – peaked my interest. Of course, anything involving small citrus fruit had that effect.

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

I jokingly responded to Wind-Up Bird’s update by daring him to use the citron tea as a topping for green tea ice cream, or I would beat him to it. He responded with a chuckle (I think? I couldn’t tell. It’s Facebook), said it sounded delicious, but gave me the proverbial “have at it”.

And so I did.

My first and only stop was at a Korean supermarket within car-shot of my work. I knew they carried a wide assortment of jarred teas, and I was confident they’d have yujacha as well. I searched up and down the aisles for a good fifteen minutes. Nothing. Dejected, I settled on some saenggang cha – honey ginger tea. It looked about the same color.

After I found the green tea ice cream, I left. My wallet was hurting. All of this for a dare I made…to myself.

First, I decided to try the honey ginger tea by itself. I took a teaspoon of the jelly, added it to a 12oz cup of boiled water, then stirred. I was mildly disgusted with the fact that small flakes of ginger existed within the honey-laden concoction. They didn’t dissipate as readily as the honey either, rather, the yellow-ish tendrils swam as I stirred like blonde hair follicles. Quite revolting.

I took a sip, and – to my “not surprise” – it tasted like ginger but with a creamy texture. The liquid was a bit on the viscous side, proof that the honey still put up a fight against the hot water. The flavor wasn’t bad, it was just…well…ginger-y. Not exactly my favorite of tisanes. I doubted it would mix well with the green tea ice cream, but a dare was a dare – even self-motivated ones.

Green tea ice cream is a love-it or hate-it affair. A lot of people can’t stand the taste of it. And it’s not a complicated creation. Someone took normal (possibly vanilla) ice cream and whipped it to hell with some matcha (powdered green tea). The result is a dessert that Dr. Seuss would be proud of, and it tastes like frozen sweet grass. I like the stuff, but it’s an acquired taste.

I had a fair idea what a ginger green tea tasted like. Tazo made one, and – boy – did it taste like burning! A tad strong on the ginger aspect; great aftertaste, though. From past experience as a tea reviewer, I knew that ginger only blended well if it was done faintly. A light ginger presence went a long way. The same was true in cooking with ginger, in my opinion. According to Ayurvedic practices, ginger was a “hot” herb, which explained why it always gave me heartburn if I had too much. I wondered how well it would mix with something cold.

In short, I thought it mixed quite well at first. The grassy-sweet flavor of the green tea meshed magnificently with the honeyfied ginger. The flakes of the herb even acted as a welcomed garnish. Problem was, a few bites down, the “hot” herb made short work of the ice cream. The concoction melted into a yellow-green, amorphous mass in the bowl. After a few minutes, it was nothing more than sweet milk soup. I couldn’t stand the texture of it then.

In summary, this food risk was a mixed bag. I didn’t faint, vomit, or lose an appendage. But I did have a craving for a lukewarm glass of water. Badly.

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Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 Steep Stories 1 Comment

Tea Musing: “The Elmatcha Experiment”

Sometimes I really shouldn’t play with matches, run with scissors, or hock rubberbands…all at the same time?

Yes, folks, that’s a metaphor.

But here’s a CLEAR EXAMPLE of failed Macguyver-ing.

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Monday, March 23rd, 2009 Steep Stories 54 Comments

I work for tea money.


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