Category Archives: Organic Food

Matcha Green Tea and Matcha Bites at Sip Tea Lounge

imageIt is said that green tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century by a monk named Saisho.  He brought back tea seeds from China, where he was studying Buddhism.  During meditation, the tea was used by the monks to help keep them awake.  In the 12th century, Eisai, a monk who had also been studying Buddhism in China, began to popularize tea in Japan.  Eisai instructed that the tea should be consumed for its healthful properties.  While in China, the monks had learned to prepare tea during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by grinding it into a powder, then mashing it in a bowl before brewing it. Eventually, the Chinese stopped preparing tea in this way and the custom was appropriated by the Japanese and integrated into the tradition known as chanoyu.

imageIn the 16th century, Sen No Rikyu codified the tea ceremony (chanoyu).  From 1641-1853, about 200 years, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world.  During this time, China was supplying many countries with tea while Japan was developing its own ways of processing and brewing it.  Matcha was mainly used in the Japanese tea ceremony and it has now become a very popular tea due to its health benefits.  Japanese researchers had studied the tea in the 1920s, proving that it contained catechins and antioxidants.  More recently, numerous studies have been ongoing to uncover the health benefits of tea, particularly matcha green tea.  Green tea has remained the most popular in Japan and although there may be some black teas produced domestically in Japan, the green teas are mainly the types associated with Japan.  Tea trees in Japan are often covered with canopies to shade the leaves in order to help them produce higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, and fewer tannins.  Primarily these shaded plants produce premium gyokuro, tencha and matcha.  To process matcha green tea, the leaves are picked, cut into tencha and ground into a fine powder after being steamed.  The result is an emerald green tea leaf that brews a brightly colored, almost fluorescent green liquor.  To brew the matcha green tea, the powder is placed into a traditional Chawan or appropriate bowl, 175 degree Fahrenheit water is placed on top of the powder (just enough to cover it) and the tea is vigorously whisked with a chasen (bamboo tea whisk) to create a thick frothy, bright green liquid. At Sip Tea Lounge, we have adopted our own version of serving this healthy brew.  The tea is whisked and prepared in a bowl similar to a chawan, but made for our tea lounge.  Additionally, we have added matcha tea to some of our vegan sweet treats including our Vegan Matcha Bites.  These can be a welcome tasty treat for anyone who would like to get a small taste of matcha, but is not ready to try the traditional Matcha Bowl by itself.  First time matcha tea drinkers may find straight matcha to be slightly bitter.  To balance out this bitterness, it is always nice to enjoy something sweet with the tea. image

The Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis)

There are three main varieties of the Camellia tea plant, the sinensis, assamica and cambodiensis. The Camellia sinensis is most commonly used for the cultivation of tea including black, green, oolong, white and pu er. The Camellia sinensis is a sturdy plant that can withstand harsh conditions and can grow at high altiutudes. Among the sinensis, there are many cultivars that have been created, some more cold resistant than others and some better for certain types of tea. The life of this plant can span decades and there are trees that are 100-1000 years old in existence today. Though the leaves tend to be a bit sparse on an older tree, leaves still can be gathered to make tea. If left uncut, the Camellia sinensis can grow to 20 feet while assamica varieties can reach almost 100 feet. On a plantation, most tea plants last approximately thirty to fifty years. Most plants used for tea are kept at waste height to make picking tea leaves easier. The Camellia sinesis is a perennial plant, and in some regions, can be harvested all year round. Where sunlight is less than 11 hours north or south for more than five weeks, however, growth slows and the plant may go dormant until the next season. Typically the first new leaves are picked in spring. This first picking of the season is also known as the first flush. It is said that the highest quality tea is picked at this time because the plant’s ingredients are more concentrated and aromatic when it awakens in the new season of spring.The five main tea-producing regions are China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, and Japan, but tea plants also grow in Turkey, Africa, Argentina, Australia and even the United States as well as some other regions. The quality of the tea is greatly influenced by the condition in which the plants grow including soil, climate, altitude and latitude. In the United States, the most productive tea growing region at this time seems to be the Big Island of Hawaii. It can take some time for plants to mature, and to produce a significant amount of tea requires older plants, a fair amount of them and the labor to harvest and process the leaves. image

Organic Eats: The Basics

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– by Christina Frangione

When you walk into Sip Tea Lounge for the first time, you may hear a staff member proudly proclaim that everything is baked in our kitchen using local and organic ingredients whenever possible. Some people are thrilled to hear that, while others may brush that information aside, unsure what’s so great about this buzzword “organic.” What makes organic food so special, and what does the word even mean?

Scones made fresh every morning at Sip!
“Organic” farming is nothing new and has been practiced since man first began cultivating the land. The distinction between “organic” and “inorganic” did not have to be made until farming and food production involved practices so far from what early man did. Some people began to catch on that these practices were not healthy for humans, animals, or the environment as a whole and therefore had to define what “organic” should be. Practices such as using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, ionizing radiation, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering to ward off disease or promote growth are not allowed for organic products in the United States. Additionally, meat, dairy, and egg products must come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones (http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html).
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website, the organic label indicates a product that has been produced according to their guidelines which are intended to “integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity” (http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop).

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The USDA Organic Seal
(Image source: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop)

What does organic mean for the consumer? Will eating delicious treats such as scones, cinnamon buns, or pie made with organic ingredients help you lose weight, feel better, or save the polar bears? Quite simply, just because something is labeled “organic” does not necessarily mean it is healthy. Eating too many “organic” brownies can have some of the same effects on your body as eating too many non-organic brownies. You may notice yourself physically feeling better eating organic, but it is not a miracle diet. You will almost certainly feel better mentally, however, knowing that you have done a small thing to help both your own health, and the health of the environment. Although the polar bears may not survive simply because of your choice to consume organic products, the collective efforts of those who choose to be conscious of these issues will continue to make a difference in the world.

(Note: Sip Tea Lounge is not a certified organic facility, nor do we claim to be.)

Suggestions for Further Reading:

http://blogs.usda.gov/tag/organic-101/
http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/ofp/ofp.shtml
http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=3f34f4c22f9aa8e6d9864cc2683cea02&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title07/7cfr205_main_02.tpl
http://www.ecotippingpoints.org/our-stories/indepth/usa-canada-sustainable-organic-farming.html