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Today’s guest post was written by Seattle-area tea lover Brett Boynton. Brett has been selling and serving fine tea in Seattle since 2001. He is an active tea educator and the author of Black Dragon Tea Bar blog. You can visit Brett and his friend Cinnabar’s teashop, Phoenix Tea, at 902 SW 152nd St in Burien, WA, or visit their online store.

Puer tea (普洱茶), from Yunnan (雲南) province in southern China, comes in two forms, raw puer (sometimes called green puer or sheng cha) (生茶) and ripe puer (sometimes called black puer or shu cha) (熟茶). The complex flavors found in a cup of puer tea are the result of many variables, such as where the tea was grown, the quality of the leaf, the manufacturing conditions, and the vintage. The form of the tea (loose leaf or compressed into shapes) does not necessarily indicate quality.

Raw puer is prepared from sun dried green tea leaves and is primarily handmade. The leaves are sometimes sourced from organic or wild tea bushes. Old tea trees, which can be well over 100 years old, are also sometimes used to make very fine teas. After the leaves are processed and sorted, they will be compressed into cakes, bricks or other shapes by heavy molds. Raw puer gets darker, richer and smoother if aged slowly in dry conditions. When a raw puer is approximately 1 to 5 years old it will probably still taste like a fresh herbaceous green tea with varying degrees of sweetness, smokiness, and complexity.

Ripe puer can be purchased loose leaf, or compressed into cakes and bricks. Ripe puer differs from raw tea because it has a pile fermentation step included in its manufacture. This is a carefully controlled process that results in a dark and earthy brew. Young ripe puer (1 to 5 years old) is often not very smooth and may still have a harsh odor left over from fermentation. Loose leaf ripe puer tends to taste fuller and smoother sooner, because it has more leaf surface exposed to air. Compressed teas, on the other hand, will mellow slower, depending on how tightly they were compressed and how thick they are.

Both styles of puer tea will get better with age if they are stored properly (ie. dry, dark and away from any odors). Ripe puers are made to be enjoyed sooner, and thus the vintage does not play as important of a role as it does with raw puer. In fact, some puer experts have written that ripe puers do not improve after reaching a certain point. This is in contrast to raw puer, which seems to get better indefinitely as long as storage conditions remain ideal.

Collecting and aging raw puer cakes is a rewarding hobby for many tea lovers. I, for one, enjoy experiencing the tastes of a tea as it changes over time. I also like to keep a scrapbook of the beautiful wrapping papers used to store the cakes. Puer tea has the wonderful ability to bring people together and help them to relax. It is the ideal brew for many unforgettable tea tastings.

Brewing Tips:
Puer can be prepared as if it were a black tea using Western-style tea brewing parameters to very good effect, but for the best possible flavor it should be brewed gongfu style in a small Chinese vessel, such as a gaiwan (a covered cup) or a yixing clay teapot.

To begin, rinse your teaware with boiling water to clean and preheat it.
If you’re using loose-leaf puer, measure out between one and two teaspoons of dry leaf, if you have a brick or a cake of puer, carefully break off a small chunk roughly the size of a quarter, or if you’re using a mini tuocha, simply remove the paper wrapper because it is already the right amount of tea.
Next, pour water over the tea leaves inside the brewing vessel. I like to use freshly boiled water (about 210º F) for puer tea. Slightly cooler water is fine too and will yield a mellower cup.
Wait a couple seconds, then discard this infusion (this water can be used to rinse your teacups again). This optional rinsing step is called “awakening the leaves.”
After your leaves have been rinsed, take a moment to smell them before pouring hot water over them again. This begins the first steep. It is recommended, when steeping a puer tea for the first time, to start by infusing the leaves for 15 to 60 seconds. Four factors to consider in the length of steep time are: amount of leaf, temperature of water, size of brewing vessel, and personal taste. Ask your tea merchant for their advice when you buy a new puer, and with practice it will become easier to determine.
When time is up, decant all of the tea liquor into a small pitcher to stop the infusion. Now, pour the tea into small cups and relish the unique and wonderful flavor of your creation. You should re-infuse the same leaves many times. Generally speaking, each infusion should be slightly longer than the previous one, but I have found very good results from steeping the second infusion about 10% shorter than the first and the third infusion approximately the same length of time as the first. Then, I will begin to increase the steeping time. As with all things, experimentation and practice is the key.

Many women find that the last few weeks of pregnancy are fraught with a myriad of discomforts. As the baby reaches his or her birth weight many moms find it more difficult to move around and function as they did before. One common complaint at this time is ankle swelling. For some women, it is a mild annoyance that shows up at the end of a busy work day, for others it is more severe. In my own pregnancies my ankles were so swollen that the only shoes I could wear were flip-flops. Thankfully, it was August and the weather warranted the footwear. When women develop swelling in the face and hands it is a more concerning sign, and they should report this to their obstetric care provider. Ankle swelling, however, does not usually cause any harm, but it can be very uncomfortable. In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a common herbal treatment for the condition that any woman should be able to make at home. As a Westerner, the sound of it may not be very appealing, but it is actually quite good, and it works! In Chinese Medicine terms this formula fortifies the Spleen, disinhibits dampness and scatters swelling.

Li Yu Luo Bo Yin, or Carp and Radish Soup


1 one-pound Carp (Li Yu), gutted and scaled, head and tail removed (or also skinned if desired)

120g (about one cup) chopped daikon radish (Luo Bo)



Put the ingredients in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer covered until fish is cooked through. Drink the broth and if desired, eat the carp and radish.



At the farmer’s market this weekend I came across this year’s first batch of Stinging Nettles, or Urtica dioica. Nettles are one of those plants that remind me how miraculous the planet is. Just when everyone is suffering from allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose) the plant that treats that symptom is ready for harvest. Nettles have many uses, but allergic rhinitis is what they are famous for. In Chinese Medicine we say that Nettles clear heat and leach dampness, making them suitable for treating phlegm-damp obstructing the nasal passages. Dry them and add them to your Chrysanthemum infusion for a great allergy treatment. They should be used with caution, however, in those with a yin deficient presentation, as they are diuretic (make you pee) and can be quite drying. Another use of the herb is Wind-Damp Impediment, such as arthritis, and historically they were applied topically as a counter-irritant for this purpose. Taken internally, they also treat arthritic conditions or painful, stiff joints.

The whole arial parts can also be cooked as a delicious spring vegetable. They have a very high mineral content making them an ideal food for those with anemia or for those concerned about developing osteoporosis. Here is a recipe for sauteed stinging nettles that I found on

  • 1 pound stinging nettles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • Wearing thick rubber gloves, clean the nettles by soaking them several times under cold running water, then drain. (Do not touch raw nettles with your bare hands. If you do not have rubber gloves, use tongs to handle the nettles.) Separate the tender leaves from the tough stems, discarding the stems. (Use scissors for this process if you don’t have protective rubber gloves.)
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes more.
  • Using tongs, add half of the nettles and the water to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the nettles have begun to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining nettles and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes more. (Add more water a tablespoon at a time if the pan becomes too dry.)
  • Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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When the temperatures drop and the air gets crisp and Uwajimaya has it’s annual 15%-off-everything-sale, we have hotpot. I’ve written about this before, but I thought it would be nice to do so again, since it is such an autumn tradition for us. We pull out the Danube (Japanese clay pot) and our table-top cook stove. We get meat cut very thin by the talented butchers at Uwa who do it specifically for this and for the related dish, Sukiyaki. We pull together veggies, usually Napa cabbage, chrysanthemum leaves (sweet and delish!), several varieties of mushrooms (especially shitaki, enoki, maitake and oyster) carrots, tofu and daikon. Adding rice noodles is a nice touch, especially loved by kids. The broth is a simple 2 hour infusion with kombu, or sea kelp. The dried noodles soak for about an hour to soften them. Everything is put into the broth to quickly cook similar to a Swiss meat/veggie fondu. We prefer to make Japanese-style hotpots, which use broth and are a bit lighter than the Chinese versions which use oil in the cooking pot. Veggies, noodles and meat can be taken from the pot and put into each bowl and individuals can add as little or much garlic-chili paste and shredded daikon as desired. My daughters add none, I add enough to get a medium heat, and my husband makes his pretty hot. It was delicious and fun as usual. As you can see from the photo, this meal is a big hit with my 3 year old!!!

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Silkie chickens are a special breed. They have lovely downey white feathers, but their skin and muscle tissue are a deep black. Another thing that makes them special is that they will nurture any eggs. Their own eggs, another chicken’s eggs, duck eggs, turkey eggs…. they are indiscriminate care-takers. In Chinese Medicine, the color black is associated with the kidneys, the deepest source of energy for our bodies, and black chickens are used for just that.

In Asia black chickens have been eaten for centuries to supplement and rejuvinate the body, particualarly after serious illness, or after childbirth. I find that last part very interesting considering how nurturing the black chicken is when it comes to taking care of any eggs they find. To nurture our bodies, we can elicit the help of a creature that naturally nurtures.

Practically speaking, the black chicken is used just like the classic chicken soup for serious illness and recovery. It is considered very nourishing to the body and soul. While black chicken is not very popular in the west, due to it’s more gamy texture and surprising color, it is quite good in soup and is becoming trendy in modern restaurants.

The following is a recipe for wu ji, or black chicken, soup. The ingredients aren’t too hard to come by in your local china town, and the herbal combination can also be purchased in the Queen Anne clinic. I highly recommend it to anyone needing extra energy, and to all women in the weeks following childbirth.

Black-Skinned Chicken Soup

From the New York Times, Jan 17, 2007

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

2 1/2 -pound black-skinned chickens, head and feet discarded, cleaned and rinsed

18 dried white yam pieces, presoaked for 1 hour and drained

1/2 cup wolfberries, presoaked for 1 hour and drained

1 inch-square piece of dried orange peel, presoaked for 30 minutes and drained

2 1/2-inch thick slices fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

2 pieces Smithfield ham, each 2-inches by 1-inch, and 1/2- inch thick


1. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil chickens for 2 minutes, then remove and set aside. Clean pot, add chickens with enough cold water to barely cover the birds.

2. Place pot over high heat and add yam, wolfberries, orange peel, ginger, and ham. Bring to a boil and skim off scum. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming fat from the surface.

3. Remove and discard yam, wolfberries, orange peel, ginger and ham. Set aside chicken for other use or slice to serve in soup. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a paper towel, and place over a serving bowl. Pour broth through colander. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings (about 2 quarts).

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The following is a delicious recipe from the book Hungry Monkey by fellow Seattlite Matthew Amster-Burton. It is a family favorite in our house and I make it when I feel the need for some healthy comfort food. The recipe includes star-anise, which is a digestive aid, green onion which helps ward off colds, and and garlic, which does both. I highly recommend giving this easy, delicious recipe a try.

Sticky Chinese-Style Spareribs
From Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

serves 4

1 rack pork spareribs (about 3 1/2 lbs), trimmed and cut into individual ribs
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 star anise
1/4 c rock sugar or 2 Tb granulated sugar
1/2 c soy sauce
1 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tb hoisin sauce
2 Tb rice vinegar

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low heat 7-8 hours or until the meat is very tender. Serve with rice.



In Chinese Nutritional Medicine, squash is warm and sweet and enters the Spleen and Stomach meridians. This, and the fact that they are in season, makes squash a perfect fall food. As the weather turns cold we turn to warm foods to help our bodies cope. Sweet foods tonify the Spleen, and in late summer the Spleen is the dominant organ. Nourishing the Spleen at this time will help our bodies make more qi and blood. There are so many varieties of squash, and thousands of ways to prepare them. I recently came across a nice page on one of my favorite food websites, Culinate, that describes and depicts some of the more common squash varieties with links to recipes for each one. I encourage you to experiement with squash this season. There are many options, from as simple as cutting them in half and roasting them in the oven, to complicated homemade stuffed pastas.

Below is a recipe for butternut squash which is remarkably simple and anything but boring. I make it on a regular basis in the fall to eat as is, or to use as a stuffing for ravioli. It comes from Jamie Oliver’s book The Naked Chef.

Spicy Roasted Squash

serves 6

1 butternut squash (2-3lbs)

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 small dried red chilies (or to taste)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 clove of garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the squash, then cut it in half with a large sharp knife. With a large spoon, remove the seeds from the squash (try roasting these with a little touch of oil and some sea salt and have them with drinks, life peanuts). Cut the squash lengthways into quarters and then cut the quarters in half – you should have approximately 1 inch thick, boat-shaped wedges of squash. Put them into a bowl.

Put all the dried herbs and spices into a mortar and pestle and pound them up with the salt and pepper to make a fine powder. Once you’ve done this, add the garlic clvoe and pound it into the spices. Scrape out the contents into the bowl and add 1 Tb of olive oil. Toss the squash thoroughly in this herb and spice mixture, making sure that all the pieces are well coated.

Place the squash pieces in a line, skin side down, on a baking tray. Roast them for about 30 minutes, or until tender. The spicy flavor will cook into the squash, and the squash will crisp slightly, the skin becoming caramelized and chewy.

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In Chinese Herbal Medicine, the small fruit of the Burdock plant is used. The root, however, is used in both Chinese Nutritional Therapy and Western Herbalism and this part of the plant can be used in cooking. Western Herbalists use Burdock root to treat skin conditions that are dry, such as dry eczema, psoriasis and dandruff. This root can be found in many asian grocery stores. It needs to be peeled, and soaked in a solution of vinegar or lemon juice to prevent discoloration (1 tea white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup water). Use this root chopped in stir frys, soups, or roasted with other root vegetables.


Stir-Fried Burdock and Carrot

from the book The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo

makes 4-6 servings as a side dish

2-3 Tb veggie oil

5 1/2 oz burdock, peeled, julienned in 2 1/2-in lengths (about 2 cups) and soaked in 1 c water and 1 tea vinegar

2 oz carrots, julienned in 2 1/2-in lengths (about 2/3 cups)

2 Tb sake (rice wine)

1 Tb mirin (sweet cooking wine)

1 Tb sugar

1 Tb shoyu (soy sauce)

1 tea tamari

2 Tb white sesame seeds, toasted

1/3 tea shichimi togarashi (seven spice powder) or red chili flakes

In a wok or skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Drain the burdock, and cook it, stirring, until it is well coated with oil. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 3 Tb water, the sake, mirin, and sugar. Cook the mixture until almost all the liquid is absorbed, stirring all the time. Add the shoyu, and cook for 30 seconds. Season the mixture to taste with tamari. Add 1 Tb of the sesame seeds, add the seven-spice powder or red chili flakes, and give several large stirs. Transfer the vegetables to a platter, and let them cool to room temperature. The dish tastes better after a few hours, and can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for a day. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with the remaining 1 Tb white sesame seeds.

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I recently found this recipe on and thought it would be a nice one to share. Not only does it utilize the Donabe pot which we have discussed, but it also includes many of the springtime foods from our food list. The only ingredients that may be more difficult to find are the burdock root, wood ear mushrooms and mirin, all of which can be found at Uwajimaya or other Asian markets in the Seattle area. 

 Makes 4 generous (main course) servings

2 1/2 lbs chicken thighs, with skin and bone

½ c wood ear  mushrooms

5cups water, divided

About 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1stalk burdock root (sometimes called gobo)

1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1 and one 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, large caps quartered

1 and one ½ tablespoons finely chopped peeled ginger

1 and one ½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)

1/2 cup white miso (also called shiro miso)

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 lb mustard greens, tough stems and ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (8 cups)
Accompaniment: steamed rice

Garnish: chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle. Pat chicken dry, then roast, skin side up, in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan until skin is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. While chicken roasts, soak wood ear mushrooms in 2 cups water until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve, then rinse well and discard any hard pieces. Drain well, squeezing out excess water.

Transfer roasted chicken to a bowl and pour pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass measure. Let stand until fat rises to top, 1 to 2 minutes, then skim off and discard fat. Add enough stock to bring total to 2 cups liquid. Reduce oven to 300°F and move rack to lower third. Peel burdock root, and, if more than 1-inch-thick, halve lengthwise. Cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Transfer burdock root to a bowl, then add vinegar and 1 cup water.

Heat oil in a 7- to 8-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then sauté onions until softened and beginning to brown. Add shiitakes, ginger, and garlic and sauté until garlic is golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add mirin and boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, 1 minute. Stir in miso and soy sauce, then stir in chicken, wood ear mushrooms, burdock (drained), stock mixture, and remaining 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any froth. Cover pot and braise in oven until chicken is tender, about 1 hour.

Stir in mustard greens and continue to braise, covered, 5 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls over rice.

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There are many versions of Hot Pot all over the world. In Switzerland it is called fondu, in Japan it is called Shabu-Shabu, or Sukiyaki. Within China, there are many different versions of this warm family dish. In all cases a pot of broth or oil is set in the center of the table on an open flame while the desired meat and vegetables are added and cooked quickly by the individual diners. A very simple, very healthy version comes from Japan and a lovely Springtime recipe follows.

 The Donabe pot is traditionally used for this dish in Japan, as it can be put over an open flame. It can also be put on an electric burner and in the oven which makes it a wonderful tool for many types of Asian cooking. For those of us in Seattle, beautiful Donabe pots, as well as all of the ingredients for the following recipe can be found at Uwajimaya in the International District. Now is the perfect time to try this dish, as they have created a “hot pot” display near the entrance.


Springtime Hot Pot

Ingredients: (Include as few or as many as you desire)

konbu (dried kelp)
negi (Japanese leek)
shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves)
hakusai (Napa cabbage)
fresh shiitake mushrooms
fresh shimeji mushrooms
fresh enoki mushrooms                                                                                                                                                       kuzukiri (arrowroot starch noodles) or thin rice noodles
medium tofu                                                                                                                                                                          daikon radish (for grating)
ponzu (citrus, soy sauce and vinegar based condiment)                                                                                                  beef or pork sliced paper thin (Uwajimaya sells it already sliced and labeled “for sukiyaki” or “for hotpot”)                                                                                                                                                                                   garlic chili sauce, if desired


About two hours before dinner, soak two 2-inch pieces of konbu in a stockpot-full of cold water. About an hour before dinner, soak the kuzukiri noodles in a bowl of cold water. Now grate the daikon radish and cut all the other ingredients into bite-size pieces and artfully arrange on serving plates. Just before dinner, bring the stockpot with the konbu to a simmer — but don’t boil.

To serve:

Place the donabe on a portable burner on the dining table, surrounded by plates of ingredients. Gather your guests around. Arrange the first round of ingredients in the donabe, fill with the konbu broth, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, serve in bowls, topped with grated daikon and a hit of ponzu and garlic chili sauce. Eat. Repeat.

(This is a fairly traditional Japanese recipe, but I found it on

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