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My Tea Addiction

Around 1994 I weighed 210lbs (95kg). I used to eat pretty poorly. A typical meal might have been some kind of sandwich like a burger or main course plus say fries or other sides and possibly before then an appetizer shared with whoever I was eating dinner with. I might have a soda as my drink or sometimes if I was at the right place an ice cream sunday or malt.

One day I realized I needed to lose weight so I decided no more sides, no more appetizers, no more sugary sodas. No fruit juice as a substitute either. I had learned before that fruit juice is JUST AS FATTENING as soda. Instead I’d generally have a diet soda. Anyway, … cutting out those things I got down to 180lbs (82kg) over the course of say 6-9 months and kept it that way for the next few years.

Then, in 1998 I set off for Japan. The first night at my new job my co-workers took me out for dinner and guess what, there was no diet coke. While they do have diet coke in Japan it is not like America where it is basically ubiquitous. A typical traditional restaurant will have beer, sake, popular cocktails, ginger ale, orange juice and tea. Of those, tea is the only non-calorie drink. So, that first night I had my first glass of oolong tea. That was the start of my tea addiction.

lots-o-tea
Over the years I really learned to love Japanese or Asian teas. Oolong tea, Mugi (wheat) tea, Roku cha (green tea), maccha (another kind of green tea). I have never in my life liked American ice tea, i.e., whatever kind that is the standard for Lipton or Snapple. Blech. I could never get into all the sweetened teas either they serve and nearly every casual restaurant in America. But, I found I liked the asian non sweet teas. In fact, before I went to Japan I did like one tea and that was Jasmine tea which I’d get whenever I went to dimsum or some other Chinese restaurant but I never thought to drink it outside of that context.

As I kept living in Japan drinking tea became as habitual as drinking coke was and diet coke became while I had lived in the states. Typically on my way to work in Tokyo I’d stop at the combini and buy one diet coke and one tea and vary the tea each day. Japanese combini carry tons of types of tea. At home I’d generally get four 2 liter bottles of beverages when I went shopping. 2 diet sodas, 2 teas and drink 2 or 3 glasses a night.

Well, when I came back to the states there was no Asian tea easily available and so it was diet coke all day long, at least at work. I made a trip to some Chinese supermarkets to see if I could find some tea but sadly they only sold sweetened tea. I don’t know if that’s because ( a ) Chinese actually like sweetened tea a lot ( b) Chinese living in America have been changed into sweet loving Americans or ( c ) They all just buy tea leaves and make it themselves instead of buying it ready to drink. It’s probably ( c ) but I’ve tried making it myself and being that I want it cold it takes way too much organization to keep myself supplied with cold tea and even then it wouldn’t be easy to do for work where I drink it the most.

I found a couple of Japanese supermarkets where I could get some 2 liter bottles of my favorite teas but making the special trip to the Japanese market was again, too much work for the amount of tea I wanted.

I also found Republic of Tea at some sandwich place in town. I tried one and it was okay. I ordered a sampler case from their website but it all sucked. It tasted nothing like real tea and instead tasted almost like water that happened to smell like tea. Pretty weak.

That Tazo tea they sell at Starbucks is the worst! It tastes like dish soap. I really don’t get that one and I’ve had it several time like basically when my friends want to go to Starbucks and so I’m stuck ordering something non-calorie.

Itoen tea in AmericaWell, one day I was walking through Whole Foods Market and I saw they had 500ml Japanese tea on their shelves. I bought a couple and after my Republic of Tea experience I was thinking odds would be it wasn’t going to be good and even then, I’d need to buy their whole supply to keep stocked. But, then it turned out to be good tea so I thought, hmmm, maybe I can order this stuff in bulk. I looked on the label and that’s when I noticed the tea is made by Itoen which is one of the major Japanese brands. Sometime between the time I went the Japan and the time I came back Itoen has started selling their tea here.

I checked out their website and it turns out I can order it in bulk. It is a little expensive. With shipping included it comes out to about $2.10 per 500ml bottle. Compare that to say diet coke which I can probably get for $0.25 a bottle. But, I don’t really care, I want my tea and I want to drink something other than diet sodas all day long. Here’s my second order.

my tea addiction
That’s about $250 of tea! I think that’s approximately 3 months worth.

  • http://weblog.ceicher.com Charles
    Itoen

    I will agree with you, the Itoen teas are the only bottled teas I’ve found in the US that taste like the bottled teas in Japan. But there must be something wrong, I buy the 500ml bottles right off the shelf at my local grocery store in Iowa, and they only cost about $1.50 each. And I thought that was expensive.

    But I have a similar problem. I prefer hot green tea, made from loose dried leaves. I have not been able to find any brand of loose leaf green tea here in the US that comes even close to the cheapest brand in Japan. Even the brands sold at asian markets are crap. I can mail-order some half-decent brands that sell for like $10 for a small package, but it’s inferior to even cheapo 150Y tea packets my friends occasionally send me from Japan.

  • http://blog.greggman.com greggman

    Yes, they are $1.50 each but shipping brings them up to $2.10 each. That kind of sucks. I suppose I could go to Whole Foods and ask them to order cases of them for me and go pick them up at Whole Foods. I don’t know if they’d be willing to do that.

  • walsh92663

    You may want to check Ten Ren Teas (http://www.tentea.com). They do a good mailorder business. Good luck.

  • http://weblog.ceicher.com Charles

    Yeah, I think any store that carries the tea would be willing to order cases for you, especially if you volunteer to pay a deposit up front. Remember they’re not paying $1.50 each, they’re paying wholesale prices, they’re profiting from the sale. And these products usually come on a truck with other groceries from the same wholesalers so the shipping cost is negligible. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to profit without selling them for $2.10.

  • http://brian.wanamaker.com/mybicycle/blogger.html brian
    Mugi

    Isn’t “mugi” technically “barley” rather than “wheat”? Not an earth-shattering difference, but just to be spot-on accurate, which is my oeuvre. Or is that “M.O.”?

  • Jess

    Ito En makes awesome tea. They used to make a bottled genmaicha that I would have maimed for.

    If there’s a Big Lots near you, you can get the two liter bottles of green white and green jasmine for a dollar, as opposed to 5.

  • Janice

    good article

    gregg. can you recommend a good free firewall ? thanks

  • Mom
    Green Tea possibility …

    The following link is for Charles regarding a green tea product that Dr. Andrew Weil, Integrative Physician recommends. 

    http://www.inpursuitoftea.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=126&Click=4944

  • http://blog.greggman.com greggman

    Just fyi:

    That link is for mattcha which is something Japanese don’t normally drink every day. It’s kind of confusing. There’s green tea (rokucha, 緑茶) literally 緑 = green, 茶 = tea. Then there is mattcha 抹茶. Which is also green. They might even be made from similar things but they taste pretty different. Mattcha is thick and frothy, often mattcha powder is used on desserts as well. Green tea ice cream is made with mattcha. Rokucha (green tea) is the kind that people drink all the time.

  • neko
    green tea vs maccha

    There are many different kind of green tea leaves, and difference in what kind, and also the way they treat after hervest makes difference in taste. Maccha is also made out of green tea leaf but specially cared to make leaves soft and thin, and after hervest (only once a year vs other tea leaves harvest 3-4 times or more) leaves are dried and made into powder form. To make a cup of “Koicha” (dark, or thick tea) 2 gram of the powder, about 1 tea spoon full are used!

    Regular tea, after harvest, leaves are steamed, then rolled and dried. We usually put a tea spoonful per person in tea pot and pour hot water to make tea but can make 2 or more cup of tea per spoonful tea leaves.

    For Brian’s question, mugi is used in both wheat (ko-mugi) and barley (oo-mugi) and mugicha is made out of roasted barley. The name should be Oo-mugi-cha but lazy Japanese just called Mugi-cha. Sorry of confusing words.

  • http://randomstabbing.blogspot.com DoctressJulia
    I AM AN ADDICT TOO!

    I LOVE Ito En! I actually found some on sale at my local market for 69 cents a bottle. Seems that Americans (or at least Wisconsinites) don’t like “foreign” looking bottles or something (a clerk told me) so they put it on sale, and I bought it ALL. Bwaahahahaaa! I also am addicted to Sencha Shots by Ito En. I get it by the case and they give me a 15 percent off case discount. Sweet tea is gross! I love green, white or oolong- unsweetened and ice cold. Sigh, I wish I had one now, it’s about 100 degrees out.

  • http://seneschal.blogspot.com/ Seneschal
    Unsweetened Chinese Teas

    You could get UNSWEETENED Asian teas at the Chinese markets in California.  These are usually in the suburbs and you might be able to find them in San Jose.  The Ranch “99” markets usually carry them.  However, they’re not all that cheap, probably about $1.50 a bottle, and you have to pay the $0.08 California CRV deposit.

    Most of the brands are the Taiwanese or Japanese brands.  The Taiwanese brands have varying flavors, some are very weak like the Tazo teas.

    I think you are right though, most Asians prefer the sweetened teas.  I don’t, but if you go look at most vending machines in Asia, you’ll find most of the items and purchases are for the sweetened ones.  Lipton recently came out with a line of sweetened green teas, which would have been perfect for me except for the high fructose injection!  Sigh.

    Anyway, most of the time I drink the Ito-en tea sold in bulk at Costco, it’s in a tea bag and has very good quality, but it’s hot.

  • http://seneschal.blogspot.com/ Seneschal
    Forgot to mention

    Another option that is readily available in the Chinese and Japanese markets in California are the “instant” tea bags made by Meiji.  They make a few flavors, including Mugi, “Germy,” and Oolong.  The best one I found is the Germy, which is the generic roasted barley tea you get served most of the time when you visit Japanese families during the summer.  The instant oolong tea is a bit disappointing, for some reason they can’t get the taste into the teabag.  It’s easy to make, just dump two bags into two liters of cold water and stick it in the fridge for a couple hours and you have iced tea.

  • http://blog.greggman.com greggman

    The Ranch 99s in the bay area had no unsweetened teas in 2 liter bottles. At the time I wasn’t looking for 500ml bottles so I didn’t check those. The Japanese supermarkets have them like Nijiya and Mitsuwa.

    In Japan there are very few sweetened teas except for English milk tea. Although when you order tea at a cafe they will usually offer you lemon and gum-syrup (sugar) or milk and gum-syrup 

  • neko

    greggman, if you can go to Nijiya market or any Japanese market, look for Mugi-cha (or Mizu-dashi Mugicha)  made by House Food or Itoen. Usually 1 box contain 54 small tea bags and according to instruction, put 1 pack to 1 litter of water (you could use hot water but we use cold water). We have a lemonade jar? which is about 1/2 gallon size and put 1 pack and fill with water, place in refregerator and in a few hours, you got fresh Mugicha! If you feel it’s too weak, then use 2 packs. In Japan, Mugicha is usually summer drink but we have Mugicha throughout year.

    here is a link to House Food (Japanese)http://housefoods.jp/products/catalog/cat_1,1002,1267,1067.html

  • chip
    Cheap Itoen Tea’s Tea

    I totally agree with you about Japanese tea being addictive. I usually brew it myself at home, but I recently found some 2-liter bottles of Itoen Tea’s Tea at a discount store called Big Lots here in Alabama. For some reason, they were marked down to $1. I couldn’t believe it. The exact same thing costs more than $4 at Whole Foods. I don’t know if you have Big Lots/Odd Lots in California, but you should check them out if you do.

  • http://www.steepexperience.com Eric
    TRY OUR LOOSE LEAF WHITE TEA!!!!!

    i think you will enjoy our loose leaf silver tip white tea! it’s the healthiest and tastes really good. no need to add milk or sweeteners!

  • http://takechanpoo.blogspot.com/ Takechanpoo
    I think it better be….

    Hi friend!

    お茶に中毒されること → お茶中毒 or お茶にハマってる! or お茶キチガイ! or お茶オタク or お茶マニア or お茶がマイブーム!

  • kdoublec
    teas

    hey man, how’s sf? i really like those teas cold teas by itoen as well. did you know you can buy costco’s kirkland brand green tea bags and they too are manufactured by itoen? of course it’s meant for hot tea though.

    uwajimaya and central market in seattle have the 1.5l(?) big bottle of the standard itoen with original japanese packaging for not too terrible a price too. i agree with you though, the years of living in japan and im a tea addict for life.

    later man

    kevin

  • yukofromAtlanta
    Try brewing it yourself! It’s simple

    I agree – Itoen’s Teas Tea are the only bottled teas I’ve found in America that are even remotely close or comparable to the ones bottled and sold in Japanese conbini’s!  I make my own mugicha all year around, just like how Nekochan explained.  I have jasmine, oolong and genmai loose leaf that I brought back from Japan and some I find them here for a ridiculous price at local Japanese food stores.  You know in Japan, they sell empty tea bags for you to stuff tea leaves yourself?  I have tons of them, stuff them FULL with loose leaves, and brew it in a large pitcher (the American lemonade pitchers) with about 2 cups of hot water, leave it for about 15-20 min.  Then it gets really dark (I believe that’s how American’s make sweet tea?!), take out the tea bag, and fill the rest of the pitcher with water.  Then refridgerate.  It’s made fresh at home, cheap and beats any bottled drink flavors! 

  • yukofromAtlanta
    Mugicha – an easier way

    Just dump 2 bags of mugicha tea bags (for cold water) in a galon jug of water that you buy at grocery stores!

  • Mark
    brew it yourself for best taste and best price

    I used to love coffee, but in my middle age I find that tea is much better for me in many ways.

    My introduction to oolong tea also came from visiting Japan, and enjoying the unsweetened cold bottles.  I rediscovered oolong in Taiwan, and find that theirs is different, and I like it better.  I have also learned to enjoy green tea, which has many of the same health qualities, can be less expensive, but I don’t like the taste as much.

    Basically there are two types of oolong: a brown one (higher fermentation) and a green one (lower fermentation), but there is a range between.  They are sometimes called “dark” and “light” – but this refers to the brewed tea rather than the leaves. 

    The oolong tea in bottles in Japan are from brown.  The one I had in Taiwan was green, and had a flavor in the direction of Jasmine Green – lightly floral, but without any flavors or flowers added.  I like both, but the green one is the one I prefer for hot tea.

    It’s very easy to brew tea daily.  In the summer, I put some in a large glass jar out in the sun for a few hours (sometimes pour some hot water over for a few minutes to make sure it “opens”) and serve over ice.  In the cooler times I use a bodum teapot (see their Web site) and a Japanese water kettle that keeps a ready supply of water.

    Tenren, is very reliable but a tad more expensive than other offerings; still I would recommend you start there until you build a familiarity with quality tea, then you can try ordering from other sites to explore other price/quality points.  The very best tea can be very expensive, but when you get to know the range, the middle-range teas are offered at a good price/performance point.  I generally aim for $30-60/500g, and 10g is the amount I usually use for my morning teapot and a second brewing in the afternoon.  In the end it is still less expensive than getting good-quality coffee.

    If you live near SF, visit the Tenren store, or red blossom tea store, and ask them to serve you some.  You’ll also learn about the traditional tea-serving process – which I don’t usually have time to do at home.

    The tea mentioned above at inpursuitoftea.com strikes me as amazingly expensive at $90 for 100g.  Chinese green teas, which tend to be whole leaves, are very nice, much less expensive, and I prefer the flavor to the Japanese green teas, which seem to be made to have an exceptionally mild flavor.

    For green oolong, try Tong-Ting (sometimes spelled Dong-ding) from Taiwan, or (if you can find it) green Ti Guan Yin from Fujian.  Both are available brown.  For a taste between (fruity and tangy rather than floral) try “Oriental Beauty” oolong, which is half-way in fermentation.

    Never buy tea bags.  The tea in them is the dust or crumbs left from packaging the whole leaves, and the taste is decidedly substandard.  True quality tea is made from whole leaves.

     

  • Graham
    2L teabags

    I love the Ito En teas too (although my local asian supermarket, uwajimaya, has lots of other good imported teas and some pretty good bagged/loose-leaf ones too), but what I found that was a lot cheaper were these long skinny teabags specifically made for 2L bottles that you brew cold. I got them from Daiso, which apparently is now open in SF too. They’re awesome, super-cheap (well duh, they are from Daiso!), pretty good tasting and very handy. Alternatively you can just stuff a bunch of teabags into a 2L bottle and leave it over night, but the specially-made teabags are way easier. Oh, and speaking of weight loss, green tea is great for losing weight!

  • Ra

    I’m japanese . so I’m unskil English XD,sorry!

    “毒” means poison.

    This word poison is not used in a good meaning usually.

    Because the aesthetic sense is the first in the Japanese.

    Thus,I think that the expression of “お茶に(、)はまりました” is good .

    or,I think that the expression “My boom” is also good.

    Because “My boom” has already been made Japanese

    I’m sorry by poor English.see you

  • leesa

    Ito En flavored tea in the smaller bottles are also available at the big lots here in Maryland for the unbelievable price of $0.50 each! same bottles on sale in downtown dc sandwich/smoothie places for $2.00+ each. We go every few weeks and clean out their shelves!!!

  • Ron

    Great story

  • Jay

    dang guys… couldn’t just some barley and green tea leaves go about 40 bucks for a 6 month supply?

  • Nat

    Ito en is the only bottled unsweetened tea I can find as well. You are right when you say that people tend to buy the tea leaves and prepare at home! I enjoy it hot, but it’s also so refreshing on a hot day to have cold tea!! :D In Canada it is about 1.75 a bottle.
    Have you tried Iron goddess tea? It’s one of my absolute favourites next to Jasmine and Oolong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miki.artillaga Mykka Artillaga

    Did you lose weight after your tea addiction?