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HEART VIGOR - MELLOW MONKS'S TEA BLOG

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Mellow Monk's Green Tea Blog


Three new Kiva loans
Mellow Monk just made three new loans through wonderful Kiva, the microloan organization that helps family farms and other smallholders expand their operations or start a new business.

Check out our Kiva profile to see other examples of the hardworking, independent people Kiva helps. The folks at Kiva do wonderful work, and we are thrilled to help them achieve their mission.


—Mellow Monk

 

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Sampling a new tea from Kazuo Watanabe
In his latest shipment of tea to us, tea artisan Kazuo Watanabe sent us a sample of a new tea—and it was fabulous!


—Mellow Monk

 

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The Monk, now on Instagram
Mellow Monk finally has a presence on Instagram. Come join the fun there with us.




The first photo we posted to Instagram. Check out our account there and follow us for more.


—Mellow Monk

 

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Nabegataki falls
I came across the Nabegataki waterfall while wandering through Oguni, a small town in Kumamoto Prefecture of only about 8,000 people — but surrounded by some absolutely amazing natural beauty. The falls are even lit up during a long holiday weekend in May.

The bottom photo is the view from behind the falls.








—Mellow Monk

 

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Mindfulness-inducing 500-year-old paining
Amanohashidate is a large, tree-covered sandbar in Kyoto.

This work was drawn by Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506) near the end of his life, at age 82. He creates an amazing sense of perspective with his mastery of light and shade (notan). Perhaps his aim was to create the feeling of calm that comes from viewing the actual splendor first hand, the feeling of mindfulness.





—Mellow Monk

 

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Inspiring scenes of post-quake rebuilding in Aso
The Aso Shrine was severely damaged in the Kumamoto Earthquake earlier this year. The shrine office has released a few videos of how the city of Aso is rebuilding, including the shrine itself and the local merchants and their families. Here are a few of the truly inspiring videos.

1.) Hiroaki Uchimura of Aso Shrine

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2.) Kouji Miyagawa of Miyagawa Clock Shop

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3.) Akiko Kudo of Tsuruya Inn

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4.) Yuino Tano of Tanoya Confectionery

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—Mellow Monk

 

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Tokyo's tea-picking samurai


Walking through Tokyo's exclusive Shoto (松濤) neighborhood, gazing up at the uber-upscale homes of Japan's movers and shakers, you would probably never guess that you were walking through the ghost of a tea plantation. But you are.

The plantation goes back to a time when the Tokyo area had much more empty space. In 1871, the Meiji government, which had overthrown the shogunate only a few years earlier, turned over the land that would be known as Shoto to the Nabeshima clan, formerly of the Shogun's Saga fiefdom. The government provided the land under a swords-to-plowshares program designed to encourage ex-samurai to take up non-lethal pursuits in agriculture and industry. The clan decided to start a tea estate. Since tea was a labor-intensive proposition in those days, who knows how many former warriors picked tea leaves there. (From sword to tea basket — what a Zenlike transition that must have been.)

The name the clan chose for its tea estate was Shoto En (松濤園) — "En" meaning estate or plantation and "Shoto" meaning "wind whistling through the pines" but also being a poetic term for the sound of steam gently escaping a kettle. Another instance of the word's use in tea: this Rokyaku-yaki (鷺脚焼) teapot, apparently part of a "Shoto" series of teaware. (Don't worry if you've never heard of Rokyaku-yaki. This now rare line of pottery was started in 1881 by Nakagawa Yujiro and discontinued when his son and successor Hisao died almost 100 years later — quite a run for a two-generation workshop.)

Shoto-cha, as the tea was known, soon became popular throughout Tokyo, but its run was cut short by progress: Once the Tokaido rail line connected the capital to the Kansai region in the late 1880s, tea from prestigious but distant sources such as Uji and Shizuoka began to pour into Tokyo at lower prices, undercutting the Tokyo tea. In response, the Nabeshima clan in 1904 began converting Shoto En to fruit orchards. Eventually houses began to sprout up, further crowding out the tea. The last of the plants were torn up in 1932, when the remaining undeveloped land was turned over to the Tokyo municipal government. (A piece of that real estate surrounding a natural spring-water pond became a park, predecessor to today's Nabeshima-Shoto Park.)

The tea plants may have disappeared, but their name stuck.

So when your neck gets tired from looking up at all the expensive homes, stop by Shoto's lovely park and amble over to the pond. You'll be gazing at a scene that also undoubtedly brought much quiet enjoyment to Tokyo's tea-picking samurai.


—Mellow Monk

 

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Yunomi from Aso

A yunomi bought in Aso, in Kumamoto Prefecture, where our dedicated tea artisans practice their craft.



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—Mellow Monk



 

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Noritake in blue

From Noritake's "Essence in Blue" series. Inside is Mellow Monk's Artisan's Reserve.


—Mellow Monk

 

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Kyusu from Sagara in Kyushu

One of our grower–artisans, Mr. Watanabe, in Sagara, Kumamoto, was kind enough to include this lovely maple-themed kyusu in a recent shipment of green tea.

Instead of a tea basket inside, this single-serving kyusu has a built-in mesh screen at the base of the spout. This way, you can hold the kyusu by the handle and really swirl the tea around for thorough steeping.

Sagara, by the way, is right next door to Hitoyoshi, known as Japan's "little Kyoto."


—Mellow Monk

 

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Japan's unique style of integrated tea–grass agriculture
This article about Japan's traditional chagusaba technique of growing tea is an example of the quality content sure to come from Tea Journey, a magazine currently in the Kickstarter stage.

"Chagusaba" literally means "tea grass place" and refers to the integration of feed grass among tea groves. Each species gets the benefit of the other and is the better for it.

Japan's chagusaba has also been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.


Two examples of chagusaba — from the Kakegawa City website and Shizufan, where the image is an animated gif highlighting the crass growing between the tea groves.


—Mellow Monk

 

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Aso's traditional grassland management — a linchpin of biodiversity and region-wide sustainable agriculture

The Aso valley. From the Aso GIAHS website's photo gallery.

My previous post highlighted the integrated cultivation of tea and feed grass in a traditional way that not only benefits both species but is also more sustainable than when the two are cultivated separately.

In this post I present another Japanese farming technique designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations: the traditional management of grasslands by the people of Aso, which is home to one of Mellow Monk's tea artisans, Koji Nagata.

The farming equivalent of the U.N.'s World Heritage Site system, the GIAHS program recognizes truly unique, traditional agricultural approaches that not only represent a means of sustainability worthy of preservation in their own environment but also a potential path to sustainability for others around the world.


Noyaki is a traditional technique of controlled burning that keeps grasslands from being overgrown with thicket species. From the blog "Tomo no Hitorigoto".



In the case of Aso grassland, the FAO recognizes that over the generations, traditional grassland management has preserved the biodiversity of rural landscapes and served as the cornerstone of region-wide sustainable agriculture for other crops, too. Says the GIAHS report: "The remarkable feature of [the] Aso region lies in this dynamic system of sustainable agriculture through cyclical grassland use and its management system."

This 2013 presentation (PDF) by Kumamoto Prefecture's vice-governor explains the philosophies and interdependencies involved wonderfully.

At the heart of this responsible grassland use is the same traditional philosophy that our tea artisans represent — that one does not own land so much as have temporary stewardship over it; that use of the land should ideally benefit others and preserve the land and its environment for future generations, as well.


—Mellow Monk

 

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We sponsor the Love Is Bald 4th Annual Chilibowl
Mellow Monk is a proud supporter of the Love Is Bald fundraiser 4th Annual Chilibowl. After all, what could be better than a nice cuppa green tea after a day of tasting chili for such a wonderfully worthy cause?





—Mellow Monk

 

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Happy New Year!



—Mellow Monk

 

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Green tea can limit the amount of starch that is absorbed by our body, says a study published at Nature.com
The study states that because excess starch is normally converted to fat and stored in the body as increased body fat, green tea could help fight obesity in the face of today's high-starch diets.

The researchers found that study participants showed signs of reduced conversion of carbohydrates by glucose into fat.

Thus green tea could be an important weapon in the fight against obesity, in addition to benefiting the body in other ways, as well.




—Mellow Monk



 

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Tea Rex Tee

A nice holiday present.

A monk and a dinosaur — sounds like a good premise for Netflix series.

 



—Mellow Monk

 

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Happy Holidays



—Mellow Monk

 

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New photos on Flickr and Pinterest

We have uploaded some new photos to Flickr and Pinterest.

The photos are of Kumamoto Prefecture's Tea Research Center (a.k.a. "Chaken"). Chaken is where new cultivars of tea are developed and tested by researchers funded by the prefectural government of Kumamoto — where our grower–artisans ply their trade.

Only teas that pass the rigorous taste-testing shown in the photographs proceed to the next step.

These new cultivars include ones with greater natural resistance to the various natural foes of the tea plant. Or just cultivars with better flavor or aroma.

Well, not "better," because tea is such a matter of individual taste, yes? Because one person's oversteeping is another person's just right.

 


—Mellow Monk


 

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More Kiva loans to more artisans
Mellow Monk has expanded its Kiva portfolio again with four more loans to four groups of dedicated, hard-working artisans. Learn more about Kiva here.





—Mellow Monk

 

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Aso Zen video is released
Aso City's Zen program, which certifies the city's best natural products, has released this video showcasing the area's beauty and its dedication to tradition. Our grower–artisan Koji Nagata, incidentally, is one of the Zen 100.





—Mellow Monk

 

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Rural tractor
A photo of an old tractor in Aso, from our Flickr album.





—Mellow Monk



 

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Kumamoto Kumamon sake

Straight outta Kumamoto: a set of Kumamon sake and plum wine from Zuiyo.




—Mellow Monk

 

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Mellow Monk sponsors Love Is Bald's Chilibowl fundraiser again
Mellow Monk proudly sponsored the 2nd Annual Chilibowl fundraiser held by the great people at Love Is Bald. Below are the cookoff finalists. (Mellow Monk participated not in person, unfortunately, but by donating a gift certificate to be auctioned off as part of the fundraiser.)




—Mellow Monk

 

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Four new Kiva loans
We just added four new loans to our Kiva portfolio: for Dismus, Erick, Hon's Group, and Resineros De San José De Cañas Group.

Kiva is a wonderful way to support independent go-getters in agriculture, small business, and other fields all over the world. Join the party!



—Mellow Monk

 

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Tea basket and an oversized mug: perfect fit
Occasionally I like to brew a lot of tea at once and enjoy it over a large temperature range as it cools. This oversized mug holds a bit over 500 mL (almost 17 ounces), so it holds more than some small teapots. I bought it at a festival bazaar in Aso City. On a different trip I got this stainless-steel tea basket (93 mm in diameter, 3.6 inches), which is of the kind for putting inside teapots — and at 93 mm in diameter, this size is definitely for large teapots. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find out that the basket fits Goldilocks perfectly into the mug. A perfect match, brought together by tea.





—Mellow Monk

 

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