Song Tea and Japantown

Stop #1: Benkyodo

Stop #1: Benkyodo. Because you want to get there while the selection is good. I took this picture at home, though.

Well, this isn’t the post I’d planned on doing, but at least it’s an actual post, so yay? As you may have guessed from the title, this past weekend I was in Japantown, in San Francisco. It’s hard to talk coherently about that, because for me, going to Japantown feels sort of like going to a favorite supermarket. (A lot like that, actually, because one of my stops there is the supermarket.) “I don’t know. I got eggs and milk. The lines were short. What do you want from me?” Only replace the eggs and milk with things like arare and tonkatsu sandwiches.

That having been said, it was a very nice visit, and very productive, in that I got most of the things on my list. And the weather was good–unusually warm for San Francisco, despite some clouds–which made it all the easier to walk from Japantown to Song Tea & Ceramics.

Song Tea has been on my radar for a while, but it made it onto the “must visit” list when I had some of their tea at a Berkeley cafe. The tea ended up being over-steeped, so it was bitter, but beneath that bitterness it seemed delicious. I decided that at some point, I would have to get more of it.

The good news is that from Japantown, Song Tea is extremely walkable. And once you get there, you might be able to fit in a tea tasting, which I enjoyed quite a bit. (It’s an especially good deal if you buy something, in which case they waive the $10 fee. Policies change, so I would check this before committing, but still–it’s very nice.) Thanks to that tasting, I got to try some teas I don’t usually try, like some greens, and a delicious aged tea that was way out of my budget, but that seriously tempted me anyway, and also made me think about things like gaiwans.

After Song Tea, it was back to Japantown, to visit favorites like the stationery store and the supermarket (again). Then back home, with some wonderful things I’m looking forward to trying. Here’s a sample:

-Some Things I'm Looking Forward to Trying

Notebook from Maido, okonomiyaki pack from Nijiya, and tea from Song Tea

Seeing Japantown made me miss Japan again, but that also brings me to something I’ve been thinking lately. As much as I miss traveling, living life deeply isn’t always about going somewhere new. (ETA: like a new state or a new country. I still want to go to new places.) A lot of it is about perspective. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love California. It’s beautiful, and diverse, and there’s so much to do. And now, thanks to my trip, I don’t even have to leave my house to try some of it–tea and an okonomiyaki pack. I am more excited than my lack of exclamation points would suggest.

So anyway, I hope you all had a lovely weekend, and that you have a wonderful week, full of everyday fun and maybe–if you want it–some pleasant new adventures. And who knows, maybe some of mine will make it onto this blog, along with all the books and food and other things.

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San Francisco Tea Weekend

Lately I’ve been wondering if it would be a good idea to switch to loose-leaf tea. It seems like it might be a more ethical way of drinking tea, and it’s also arguably a small thing that’s quite doable for me–most days, I only drink one cup of tea (maybe two), and I technically have enough time to make that cup a good one. So this weekend, I decided to investigate some tea shops in San Francisco and Berkeley, along with my friend Grace. (Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube! There might even be some pictures of me somewhere on one of those accounts, thus proving that I am a real person.)

The city was lovely, and the tea shops were a lot of fun. Here are the ones we visited, in order:

Red Blossom was definitely my favorite, in terms of both the particular teas that I like, and the price (not all their teas worked with my budget, but there were some good ones that did). I also really liked that you could open up the canisters and smell the tea without having to ask someone behind a counter to get things down. (Smelling teas: both fun and surprising.) That having been said, though, I didn’t have bad experiences at any of the tea shops. Unless you count not being able to make up my mind, and not having infinite money to spend on every tea that interested me.

We ended up buying teas from two of the places. From Red Blossom Tea Company, we bought keemun, genmaicha, and lychee black tea. And from Asha Tea House, I got the House Blend Assam. Then, the next evening, Grace and I tried brewing these teas for ourselves. (By which I mean that Grace brewed the teas, really. It worked out great for me.) The teas were still lovely, and we’re not loose-leaf experts or anything, so that bodes well for the future. I even managed to make some tea myself this morning, despite my complete lack of an infuser. And it was delicious.

All in all, I’d definitely like to try some more loose-leaf teas and tea shops. But the next step, for now: to try drinking only loose-leaf for a few days, and see if my taste buds notice the difference when confronted with bagged tea again. (My taste buds are not generally very picky about tea, so all bets are off there.)

Other notes:

  • Thanks to this article for helping start this particular adventure!
  • Loose-leaf tea is not as hard as I thought. You can tell because I made it, and enjoyed it. (Thanks to another article for helping clarify some things.) Supplies I used (aside from tea and water, of course): water heating device, spoon (for scooping out tea), measuring cup (for steeping the leaves–great because it pours really well), a sieve (for catching the tea leaves), and a mug.
  • Loose-leaf tea also does seem to taste subtler than bagged tea, but this might be partially because I expect it to. It also smells wonderful–not just in those splendid canisters, but the actual cup of tea. I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed that about bagged tea before.
  • I don’t mean for the book/reading/maybe-sometimes-writing posts to go away! I’ve just been enjoying life-type things recently.

As ever, happy Monday to you all! And now off to make another cup of tea work. Definitely work.

My Ideal Subscription Box

Box of StuffI love the idea of subscription boxes. A few years back, I actually did a similar thing–a reading year from Mr. B’s–and really enjoyed it. I don’t remember seeing anything else like it, at the time, but now there are things like OwlCrate and Uppercase and all kinds of ways to get monthly books picked out and delivered to your doorstep.

So I spent last night looking at book subscriptions. And I loved the pictures of all the different boxes. But I also knew, looking at the extra items in each box, that beyond the initial “neat!” factor, I wouldn’t use a lot of it. And then it would sit on my shelf, and collect dust, and I wouldn’t be able to throw it away, because I’m a pack rat.

That’s not a criticism of these boxes; my personal pack-rat tendencies aside, they’re still really tempting, so I may decide to try one of them out in the future. (And by the way, if you’d like to read a review of both Uppercase and OwlCrate, there’s a good one here.) For now, though, I just couldn’t click “subscribe.” So instead, I decided to try designing my own ideal subscription box, with what I consider to be the staples: a book, a bookmark, tea (because always tea), and a snack.

All these things have been road-tested by me, which is how I know I like them. That isn’t to say they’re product recommendations, or anything–they’re more like December MVPs, things that I would put in a book-based survival kit for myself, if I could go back to the beginning of last month and leave a box on the doorstep for Past Me. The contents:

  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a reread, but a fun reread). It was that or a Regency novel by Georgette Heyer, but since I own Cinder and am only borrowing the Heyer book, I went with Cinder. If you’re looking to do a themed collection, though (which I’m not), a Regency novel would probably fit better with the remaining choices.
  • The bookmark I made a little while back. It’s working great so far, but because my book-reading ways are whimsical, I’m not using this bookmark for a library book, as I’d originally intended. Instead, it’s keeping me company as I reread Cinder. Another reason to choose Cinder for this box, I guess.
  • Yorkshire Gold tea, from Taylors of Harrogate. I got this during a big tea sale, and it quickly became my go-to morning tea. Only now it’s almost gone, so again: time travel.
  • Nonni’s Cioccolati Biscotti. It’s kind of a throwback to my childhood, but I still really like the balance of the flavors in this biscotti. Added benefit: it’s also great dipped in milk. So great, in fact, that these are actually all gone now–the box in the picture is empty (sigh), so this would be another time-travel staple.

It’s still not the same, of course–for me, one of the biggest draws of a subscription box is the surprise, which you can’t really replicate if you buy these things yourself. (Also, as I understand it, some of these boxes come with exclusives, so if you’re into those, there’s kind of no substitute.) But–I don’t know, I guess this activity is less about getting new things, and more about appreciating what I have, as cliché as that sounds. I already had all these items, so all I had to do was put them in a box and enjoy the fanciness. No extra money needed. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, that’s definitely appreciated. A great way to remember that while I may not be a millionaire, I have more than I think, and I like a lot of it.

With that, off to the rest of my Monday. Hope yours is going well so far!

ETA: There are apparently a few subscription boxes that do books and tea (links here, here, and here), but I haven’t had a chance to look into any of these in depth, so I can’t make any recommendations. All I have to say is that I think books and tea are a stellar combination, so I already like the idea.