Back in 2017 one of the ladies at Red Blossom Tea chastised me for not using a tea scale. I went home and ordered an American Weigh Scales SC-2kg, which measures up to 2kg with 0.1g resolution. It seemed adequate for the task, and compact enough that I wouldn’t mind it taking up a little room in a drawer if I ended up not using it frequently.
At the start of 2020 I decided to become an adult and begin to measure all solid kitchen ingredients by weight instead of volume, so the SC-2kg began to see much more frequent use.
That went along swimmingly for about a year, until the beginning of 2021 when I became curious about the accuracy of the scale. Nothing in particular prompted this curiosity. I just enjoy knowing that the tools in my life are both precise and accurate. As helpfully explained by LabBalances, there are a number of different scale calibration systems in the world. All of it is overkill for use in my personal kitchen, but I decided to look into the OIML-M1 class from the International Organization of Legal Metrology.
The calibration procedure for the SC-2kg requires 1kg and 2kg weights. I found a good deal on a set of 2kg, 1kg, 20g and 10g OIML-M1 certified weights on eBay. According to OIML-M1, a 1kg calibration weight must be accurate within 50mg. A 2kg calibration weight must be within 100mg. That’d get me a pretty accurate bowl of rice.
When I received the weights I found that the SC-2kg reported the correct measurement for all 4 calibration weights. I also tried the calibration weights on my MyWeigh UltraShip Ultra-35, which is the scale I’ve had kicking around since 2009 for measuring backpacking gear. It only claims to have 2g resolution up to 1kg, and 5g resolution up to 16 kilograms. I found it to be accurate within its claimed resolution.
So all of this was for naught. Both of my scales were already accurate and not in need of calibration. But I really enjoy having these OIML calibration weights and knowing that my measurements conform to the standards of the universe.
I pedaled over to Japantown a couple months ago to restock rice and umeboshi. While there I visited ChaTo, a tea shop I had heard about but never been to. I had a craving for genmaicha, which I was sure they could satisfy (they did). But the real victory of the day was leaving with a bag of their Sumibi Houjicha. This is my new favorite tea.
I’ve previously mentioned my fondness for kukicha. Kuki means stem or twig, cha means tea, hoji means roasted, sumibi means charcoal fire. So kukicha is tea made of stems instead of leaves. It can be roasted or not. I like it roasted, which seems to be more common on this side of the Pacific Rim. Sumibi hojicha, then, is a charcoal roasted tea. It consists of 60% stems and 40% leaves, so it isn’t a pure kukicha. Instead it is a blend of kukicha and sencha. Most hojicha, I’m told, is made using bancha, which is harvested later in the season and considered a lower-grade leaf. Sencha is the premium early harvest stuff. The sumibi hojicha has a great smell and an amazing taste. The roasting gets rid of most of the caffeine. If you like kukicha, I bet you’ll like this stuff.
ChaTo also sent me away with a sample of their Houjicha Shizuoka, which is lighter in taste (but darker in color) and very sweet. I like it as a cold tea, but the sweetness of the tea tastes wrong to me when brewed hot. I recommend sticking to the sumibi.
I keep a Snow Peak H450 Mug at work. This is double-walled titanium and as such is expensive and entirely unnecessary. But it is a luxury I enjoy, and I expect that (like most Snow Peak titanium products) it will last approximately until the heat death of the universe. As the name implies, it has a capacity of 450mL. It has an outer diameter of 86mm and a height of 97mm. This is the mug I use for my daily oatmeal and miso.
Tea is brewed in the mug using a FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Tea Infuser, which fits perfectly in the H450. It is easy to clean, allows the tea to breathe, and lives up to its name as being something that ought to last for life.
The Snow Peak MGC-053 Lid fits on the H450 mug and provides a cafe style lid. A better option is the old, discontinued Klean Kanteen Pint Lid. Klean Kanteen made this for their pint cup, but it fits perfectly on the H450. It gives you a cafe style lid, and has a rubber piece that rotates into place to cover the hole that you sip out of. There’s also a sealed hole for a straw, though I’ve never used this (maybe you could use it for your bombilla if you were into such things). I would prefer the lid to be deeper, like the MGC-053, so that liquid that does splash up out of the hole has a better chance of being contained within the dish of the lid and then running back into the mug. However, the rotating cover of the old Klean Kanteen lid reduces the chance of liquid escaping in the first place. Neither lid is leak proof, and I rarely use either because I’m generally not moving around while drinking tea, but the Klean Kanteen Pint Lid lives in the small pouch of tea supplies that I keep at my desk. It will get slapped on if I’m walking someplace.
At home I keep a Keith Titanium Ti3521. Keith is a Chinese brand that previously was only available direct from the People’s Republic on AliExpress. In the past couple of years I’ve seen them start to be distributed directly stateside. The Ti3521 has a capacity of 450mL, an outer diameter of 78mm and a height of 125mm. Compared to the Snow Peak mug, it’s a little skinnier and a little taller. What makes this product unique are the lids. It has a silicone cafe style lid with a sippy hole that fits tightly over the rim of the mug. As with the lid options for the Snow Peak H450, this lid is adequate to protect from spills while walking with the mug. The Ti3521 also has a titanium lid. This can be placed directly on the mug, but it isn’t a tight fit and is mostly useless here. It is intended to be placed over the silicone lid, covering the hole you drink out of and providing further protection. The titanium lid has a small pin hole in it to allow heat to escape, so the setup isn’t waterproof – you certainly wouldn’t want to put it in a pack when it had liquid in it – but it will probably keep you from scalding yourself on a bumpy car ride.
The Ti3521 includes its own titanium infuser. The infuser inserts into the silicone lid and hangs down into the mug. The infuser is small, with a diameter of 42mm and a height of 78mm. Some teas, I find, need a bit more room to breathe. For those teas, the FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Tea Infuser does fit in the Ti3521. But the Keith infuser works well enough for many teas. It has a larger volume than your typical tea ball or stick infuser, so if you are happy with those you’d probably be happy with this.
When new, the silicone lid did impart a strong silicone taste. Since I purchased the product direct from China, I have no way of knowing if the silicone is what the USA FDA would consider “food grade”. When I first received the Ti3521, I made a number of different attempts to reduce the silicone taste from the lid – boiling water, baking soda and vinegar, lemon juice, etc. Nothing really helped, but after just using it for a few months the taste finally went away.
I use the silicone lid to hang the infuser basket, and I use the titanium lid as a dish to place the infuser on when I’m done with it. I rarely drink through the silicone lid.
In addition to its use at home, the Ti3521 is the mug I’ll usually grab when travelling. I find that its skinnier-but-taller form factor tends to be slightly easier to slide into a pack than the Snow Peak mug, and I like that all of the components are more tightly integrated than the H450 and FORLIFE infuser.
I own a few other Keith Titanium products in addition to the Ti3521. My experience with them is that they are of a perfectly acceptable quality, though not quite as nice as Snow Peak. The Ti3521 is exemplary of this. When boiling water is poured into the Snow Peak H450, the outer wall is warm but comfortable to hold. When the same water is poured into the Keith Ti3521, the outer wall is hot. Not too hot to hold, but certainly hotter than the Snow Peak mug. I don’t know if this is because the Keith titanium is thinner, or because the walls are closer together, or because the vacuum between them is imperfect.
The Snow Peak H450 is part of a three piece set of nesting mugs. The H200 is the smallest of the set. I’ll sometimes use it if I have brewed tea in a pot and I want a cup that just holds a small amount, but otherwise it is not very useful. The middle-sized H300 is more interesting. It holds a full cup of tea and is a nice size to drink out of. It also just so happens that the 23.7 oz Smartwater bottle that I like to use as part of my backcountry hydration setup with the Sawyer Squeeze fits perfectly inside the H300 mug. By perfectly I mean that if the mug were a millimeter narrower the bottle would not fit. So if I want the luxury of backcountry tea brewed in something other than my cook pot, my setup is the Smartwater bottle, inside the H300 mug, inside the Hill People Gear 3” Bottle Holster.
For brewing, the lower portion of the FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Tea Infuser does fit in the H300. But this is far too bulky for me to ever want to pack into the backcountry. A tea ball works, but those are always cheaply made with soft walls that flatten and small hinges that break. They don’t survive long in a pack. A stick infuser is too tall. I’ve successfully used a Tuffy Steeper with the H300 (an idea from Backpacking Light). When collapsed this is small and easily packable. When fully expanded it is roughly the size of the FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Tea Infuser, though it tapers toward the bottom. However, it can be used when only partially expanded, which allows it to fit better into the H300. As with the silicone lid on the Keith Ti3521, the Tuffy Steeper imparted a strong silicone taste when I first bought it. Over time this has diminished, but I still sometimes notice it. Another option is the House Again Tea Ball Infuser. This is a bit larger than the typical tea ball, and much more robust. It fits in the H300 and packs well separately. Usually this is the option I’ll choose.
If I want to brew a pot of tea, I use the Fire Maple Titanium 1L Kettle – another AliExpress purchase. There is absolutely nothing special about this pot, except that it is titanium, and thus cool. It is single-walled, so it can be used on a stove or over a fire. I bought it after breaking a glass teapot and vowing Never Again. It also features some neat knot work on the handle, which I assume was tied by the deft hands of small children who sleep on the cold concrete underneath their workstations, piss in buckets, etc.
The Fire Maple kettle does have an extremely coarse strainer in the spout. If you’re brewing some sort of blossoming tea, it may work, but it isn’t great for the teas I typically enjoy. Instead I use the FORLIFE Capsule Infuser, which is a great big infuser that is meant to be used in a large pitcher. It is a good size for a 1L pot, and the lid will still fit on the teapot while the strainer is inside.
Often referred to as “twig tea” on this side of the Pacific Rim, Kukicha is a Japanese tea made from the roasted twigs of Camellia sinensis. It is my everday tea, and probably my second favorite drink (behind water). I can’t comment on the purported health benefits, but I find the nutty, earthy taste to be enjoyable, and I appreciate that it is very low in caffeine.
I also regularly enjoy green tea, but green tea is the only source of caffeine in my life. This makes it a drink that needs some thought as to total consumption quantity and scheduling (caffeine in the morning or evening is the antithesis of optimizing for sleep). Kukicha I can enjoy anytime, including shortly before bed.
I was first introduced to Kukicha years ago by Vavrek, who I assume found it through macrobiotics. Outside of that community, Kukicha hasn’t seemed to have made significant inroads in the West. I rarely see it in stores. As a result I usually purchase mine from Eden Foods (along with the occasional umeboshi – though that I can also resupply that by pedaling over to Japantown), but I’ve not performed a survey to see if there are better sources available.
About 1.5 miles down the road, there used to be a bridge crossing over the Sauk River, but, some time ago, the river apparently found itself unable to suffer such indignities and washed the bridge away. At this point, my path branched off and began to climb its way to the basin along trail and old mining paths. The total elevation gain along this section is about 3,000 feet spread out over a good 4 miles or so, making it a steady, but leisurely climb – just enough to warm one’s self up on a crisp Autumn day.
There are a number of small waterfalls that deposit their loads on the west side of the trail, allowing to the water to trickle across the path and make its way down to join the river. Earlier in the year I imagine that these crossings could be tricky, but the headwaters had frozen up by now, leaving these mostly dry. I’ve heard that one of these such falls has been wittingly dubbed “King Kong’s Showerbath,” though I saw nothing worthy of the name.
Some of the crossings higher up had not dried completely, but instead froze while crossing the trail, leaving ice covered rocks in my way. These rocks required some scrambling up, over and around, which was made interesting by the slippery ice. (I reminded myself that last Saturday’s body recovery had occurred only 20 miles east of here.)
Near the top, I stopped to munch on some granola, raisins, and dried banana slices. I did not don any further clothing upon stopping, however, and my break was thus cut short by the chill and the desire to warm up again. After resuming my walk, I pushed on over bare rock and soon thereafter found myself at a small tarn that marked the entrance to Gothic Basin.
The basin is one of the more spectacular places that I have yet found myself in. In character it bears a striking resemblance to a Gothic cathedral, but larger and grander in scope, being carved out of the mountains over centuries by the minute movements of glaciers. A temple of rock.
My awe was quickly overtaken by another sensation: cold. The wind was strong up here, cutting through my clothing with ease. With windchill, the temperature hovered around 20 degrees Fahrenheit – a stark contrast even to the trailhead only 3,000 feet below, which had felt more like 45-50F. I took off my pack and put on two more light layers of wool. It was still cold. The lowlands have maintained themselves around 60F thus far which has not yet given me the opportunity to acclimatize to these lower temperatures. I also found that I had neglected to bring any gloves. No matter. The small tarn was partially frozen over and I wanted to make my way another half mile further across the rock to Foggy Lake to see how it was faring.
Foggy Lake proved to be moving, though I can’t imagine that it will resist the ice much longer.
Standing by the cold water made me think of the packet of kukicha that I had in my pack. I had packed it, along with my old Vargo Triad XE stove, Trail Designs windscreen, and Snow Peak 700 mug. The package is not as efficient or versatile a stove as my Trail Designs Ti-Tri stove, but packs down much smaller. I often bring it on day hikes.
It was too cold for the denatured alcohol to light with a spark, so I used one of the matches from my EDC. Even with the screen around it, the wind blew the stove out once. I relit it and used my pack as a windbreak. As the tea brewed, I jumped around in place, trying to keep warm.
Soon I noticed blood on one of my finger tips: the skin had cracked from the dryness and was oozing a little bit. I tried to apply a bandage but it refused to stick. Must have something to do with the cold, I figured, and sliced off a piece of duct tape from the bit I have rolled around my Klean Kanteen. That held the bandage in place just fine.
After the tea had steeped, I was cold enough to decide to pack up the stove and start making my way back down, drinking the tea as I went. With mug in one hand and a trekking pole in the other, I made my way back to the tarn, facing the icy south wind. Having downed the warm tea in a remarkably quick fashion, I decided to stop so that I could put the mug away and thus have one free hand to stick in my pocket to warm. I set down the pack and mug, digging around inside the pack for the small garbage bag that I carry, so that I could pack out the teabag. It was a bit tricky, not being able to feel anything due to numb fingers. In a minute, I found the garbage bag and opened it, then reached for the tea bag that was still sitting inside the mug. It had already begun to freeze to the titanium. I broke it free, tossed it in the garbage bag, and put bag and mug in the pack. I decided that things were starting to get a bit serious when I found that I had a lot of trouble closing the zippers on my pack. After donning the pack, I could stick one hand in my pocket to warm, but the other had to stay exposed to hold the trekking pole (which I needed even more on the descent than the ascent). Using the spare Buff I had in one of my pockets, I fashioned a mitten-like covering for the exposed hand which suited to block the wind. It really wasn’t that cold out: as soon as the fingers on both hands were out of the wind, they began to rewarm.
With that addressed, I continued the descent, making my way over scoured rock and through whispering trees back to the trailhead. (I slipped once on one of those ice covered rocks near the top, coming a little too close to the side of the mountain, but arrested myself and recovered.) The ascent took 3 hours and the descent 2.5.
Gothic Basin certainly warrants further explorations. Visually, it is one of the most stunning areas of the Cascades. I could easily spending a week just within the small area.
I have often thought about what I would do out here if I were stricken with a serious illness, if I broke a leg, cut myself badly or had an attack of appendicitis. Almost as quickly as the thought came, I dismissed it. Why worry about something that isn't? Worrying about something that might happen is not a healthy pastime. A man's a fool to live his life under a shadow like that. Maybe that's how an ulcer begins.
- Richard Proenneke, One Man's Wilderness
I went for a bike ride today, following a set of train tracks through the woods. Off to one side a small path led to a grassy clearing and this square structure. I stopped for a bit, processed a down log to start a small fire, and enjoyed a cup of kukicha tea while reading a book.
This leather pouch joins me on all my travels. Despite popular belief, it does not hold plant remains of a questionable legality, but instead carries what tea I’m inclined to treat myself to during the current spell of vagrancy. Current contents are kukicha, green tea, and a mix of loose leaf herbal from Mountain Rose – Peppermint, Chamomile, Gotu Kola, Mugwort, Damiana, Rosemary, Rose Petals, and Stevia, if we’re naming names.
After tonight’s sub-freezing Critical Mass (there were a few flakes of snow), I lubed my bike chain and treated myself to a couple kebabs, both of which combine to make an interesting aroma. I imagine my dreams tonight will involve beef and oil.
But for now, I will warm my fingers around a mug of kukicha.