Tea lab and snorting catechins


For those interested, 1001plateaus and Bana Tea Company will be hosting a Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens, on Saturday, November 5, 2015 at 9:00AM. We will be doing side by side tastings of several factors that can affect how a tea tastes.

Tea tasting is comparative, like running in a marathon. In a race, no matter how small or large the field, you can only win against the other people who have entered, much like how a tea can only be compared to what else is at the table. It’s fairly common to do a tea tasting comparing different types of teas or different price points, but what about brewing the same tea under different circumstances? Beyond the obvious ones like using a porcelain gaiwan versus a Yixing pot, or varying the temperature or type of water used to brew. What about the harvest season? How about if we introduce some vibration to the water molecules? Or compare the same tea which has been stored on different continents?

In preparation for our upcoming Tea Lab at the Huntington Gardens, we thought we would brew a few comparisons. But first, because we knew one of the tests would be a tea brewed with tap water, and we’d also have to drink a tea harvested in the summer, we treated ourselves to some *@@&#^#!! jasmine tea.

That’s right. Haters are going to hate. I hate jasmine tea also, but I mean the stuff that’s known around the world as “jasmine tea” – bitter and smelling like Jean Nate. Those tea leaves have never seen a jasmine flower in their life, their jasmine scent has been sprayed on, much like the machine that coats dog kibble with flavors.



The real stuff is made by spreading fresh leaves on the ground in a thin layer and covering the leaves with jasmine flowers. The flowers only bloom for one night so in the morning the flowers must be picked out. (BTW – that pretty jasmine tea at the store which still has flower petals mixed in with the tea? The flowers are not adding any flavor to the tea, but they are adding weight. It’s the equivalent of the deli guy resting his thumb on the scale when he sells you bologna but tells you it’s prime rib. Not to knock bologna, but still.)

This process is repeated many many times until the tea has absorbed the scent. The jasmine we drank was made with small tea buds, whose fuzzy hairs absorbed more smell. Probably too small to roll into the usual pearl shape, which is good, since I have a bad connotation with that visual.



Sure it tasted flowery but in a subtle way, like you’ve already walked past the house with the flowers blooming in the front yard. There was no astringency at all, no resemblance to drinking something at a Chinese restaurant, and actually it didn’t taste like tea either, more like a precious juice.

On to our taste tests:

– Organic Wild Peony (ming qian) White tea from Fuding brewed with Crystal Geyser versus Los Angeles tap water.
This comparison is the crowd pleaser. You’re pretty certain one of these will taste better, but it’s plenty surprising how salty and gritty that tap water can be.


– 2011 Treasures of the Five Mountains raw Pu’er. Stored in Hong Kong, vs. stored in Los Angeles. The larger puck is HK, the smaller is LA. There’s a pretty noticeable difference in color.



This is one of those tastings where it gets personal. Sure the HK stored tea seems more aged, is generally darker in appearance and has more plum flavor. But the LA one is more floral, more complex, in a way, with hints of different flavors, probably due to the fact that Five Mountains is a blend. Aging a tea will flatten the differences out and since the LA tea is “younger” there are more differences to taste.



We over-brewed these teas for fun to see what that would do, and the HK one showed it’s age. It was definitely less astringent, and more mellow than it’s twin other. Another great example of how a tea is brewed is just as important to how or where it’s stored, and since most of us don’t have a choice on where our tea is stored…

We ended the day with some magical white powder called catechin. This is the phenol or flavonoid that is responsible for gan, that sweet or minty taste you get after drinking Pu’er teas with high mineral content (and eating bitter melon, ginseng, and a few other foods. More on gan coming very soon). What a better way to experience gan than to lick it off a wet finger?


The sensation was purer than when you get it through tea, more direct, no tea flavors diluting the experience, and the sweetness lasted a good fifteen minutes or so, especially noticeable when we drank some water. That water, good old plain water, tasted incredibly sweet I wanted to floss my teeth with it.



My counter guy is a Stalinist and I benefitted


Getting work done on the house is nuts. Not only do you need to like the people you hire, philosophically, you also need to like them physically, as they are in your house everyday.
And shit is expensive. But not everything costs money. Sometimes you get roped into doing more. Sometimes deals just come your way.

Several years ago one of our neighbors was having some concrete work done and he figured if he got other people to hire them as well, he’d get a deal. We let the guys pour us a new set of front steps, and they offered us a steep discount if we did something else.


OK, we said, why don’t you take away our concrete deck, which was already in pieces, and tended to collect stagnant water. So the Samoan concrete guys broke the deck into more manageable-for-them sized pieces, drank two cases of Hawaiian Punch, and drove the deck away. We were left with a large dirt mound (and 24 empty cans), which was all fine until it started to rain, and the backyard turned into what the dogs called the “great epic most fun thing.”

We called up a contractor whom we met originally when we bought the house. Before the housing bubble burst he had run his own construction company. Now he taught Kundalini yoga. His prices had come down by a lot. He was also into tea. We served him and his worker (who only drank iced tea) all sorts of Chinese teas as they built our deck, using a discontinued Trex color that was 50% off at the builder’s supply. During one afternoon tea our contractor mentioned something about needing to see the dentist. His truck needed work too, as it was leaking oil all over our driveway, so we asked him to put up yoga ropes in the garage which we made sure he hung from first to test the engineering.


More recently, we decided we needed a new kitchen counter. The grout in the kitchen was chipping and gross, and I had gotten tired of photoshopping out the brown bits from my Instagram pictures. But a new kitchen counter leads to craziness. Do you also get new cabinets and sink and faucets and drawer pulls and shelf liners and lighting fixtures and flooring?

We decided to list out the real mod cons.
1. Let’s plumb the espresso machine so we don’t have to constantly dump the bucket we currently use in place of a real drain.


That’s it. End of list. Everything else is, as they say, Russian chicken feed.


We scored LED lights from a guy we know from the Velodrome who sells them wholesale. Then he turned out to be a Trumpian. He, the Trumpian, thinks he’s getting an invite to “see the lights,” but I stick to my “you gotta like them philosophically and physically” mantra.

That seemed easy enough, but then we had to go through the process of hiring a cabinet maker who flaked for 6 months and then took another 2 months to officially flake. Meanwhile we entered our fireplace design era, and it turned out that the guys who set our tiles do a lot of general construction work, especially kitchens and bathrooms. Yay!

Then came the hard part. Turning off the espresso machine felt like unplugging from life support. We embraced the nail gun. We washed dishes in the bathroom sink. We MOVED THE CAT FOOD BOWL. We ate one tray of cold baked ziti a week.


We returned the crappy Heath tile samples under cover of night via bicycle rather than face that saleswoman again.


We got to bring out some old friends and wire them up.


Incidentally, the contractors LOVED our deck. It became their giant work space.




This is what we’ve been living with all these years.


Our counter guy is a Russian Jew from Belarus who has great recommendations on where to get real Tel Aviv falafels, where the people can be “slightly rude.” He’s a Stalinist at heart and a big Viktor Tsoi fan. He thinks an espresso offers clarity. He only takes his espresso when the job is about to be glued in.


It’s all concentration when he’s working and in true stone mason fashion makes sure to measure twice. He told us his definition of “professional” meant that you could do what you do without really paying attention and it still comes out fabulous. He said he didn’t really become a professional until a few years ago. In the end he used some tight connections to score us a small piece of Calacatta marble that is so silky and luscious it feels like even I could carve Persephone’s soft butt out of it.


But maybe I’ll just make pastries on it, and get a soft butt that way.




The final plumbing.


Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.




Newbaums 4 color weave


Whenever I think about re-wrapping the harlequin Newbaum’s weave on my handlebars all I hear is the line from Car Talk where Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers say, “Well, it’s happened again—you’ve wasted another perfectly good hour listening to Car Talk.”

It feels like it takes an hour just to remove the perfectly good existing bar tape, then a real hour to remember how it was done (the start is critical, and the bend in the bars a royal pain in the ass), and another serious chunk of time to get the second side to match the first.


But like most things, the four-color weave takes a little patience and a little practice but it’s well worth it when even the Trumpians at the Velodrome take notice.




Be careful what you wish for


After taking down the crumbling top of our chimney and fixing some hidden gas and plumbing issues, it was finally time to replace the cracked tiles on the fireplace. We originally thought we’d use Heath tiles, being big fans of Edith Heath (and a Batchelder tile fireplace being completely out of the budget).


One of the guys we talked to about setting tiles told us “Heath tiles suck,” and we knew the original company had been bought out by a pair of hipsters in 2003, who turned it into a “holistic business model, one that integrated designing, making and selling.” But we went to the showroom anyway. I think the tile guy was talking about the quality of the actual clay, since he agreed that the glazes were beautiful, but we also found out they have minimums for each size of tile in each color, and this minimum is 25 square feet, much larger than the average-sized fireplace + hearth. This means you have to use the same size tile with the same glaze, and then you’ll have shitloads of this same-sameness tile leftover when you’re done.

Not only that, but the really stiff and aggressive showroom lady said to us, repeatedly: “You really ought to try the Our Modern Basics collection. It’s an in-stock offering of two sizes in a carefully edited palette of six matte and glossy glazes. The depth and character of the glazes are classic Heath—refined and contemporary, yet timeless.”
OK. She didn’t actually say that. But that’s what I heard. Whenever someone says they think/know their “carefully edited” selections are perfect for your project (having never seen the house or the fireplace), it’s time to get the hell out of the store.

Lamenting on the way home, I said, “I wish we could just buy from someone who makes their own tiles.” And what do you know, we found her in Pasadena.


Now that we could have any color in any size in any pattern we pulled out the graph paper and colored pencils. We started with Batchelder designs, and then quickly lost our minds.


The cost was going to be less than if we had gone with Heath so we bought a few Batchelder and other colored tiles as accents. Even though the blue monster tile (Mosaic Tile Co., Zanesville, OH) didn’t fit the program I couldn’t leave it behind, because you never know when you’ll come across a blue monster tile again.


Here’s our final design. Not exactly final because we soon realized that the guys who built the firebox enlarged the box by a couple inches (they were being nice), and we had to move a row of 2×2’s from the top to the middle. Nothing too major. Phew.



After quite a bit of back and forth about color variations and the unpredictability of glazes, and testing the infinite patience of Cha-Rie, we laid out the entire thing in front of the fireplace, and were ready to have Miguel and his amazing group of guys glue the suckers in.





Yes those penciled X’s on the top right of each tile meant that the tile was to be set with the X on the top right. Anal retentive we may be, but the tile guys sure appreciated it. I’d rather have them think about how the tiles meet at the corners rather than which way to turn the tile.


Just in time for a lazy summer in L.A. lounging by the fire.


Rainbows vs. Trumpians


The Velodrome down in Carson is the only indoor world class cycling facility in the country. Some people say “too bad it’s all the way down there in Carson,” but after you ride the 45 degree banked Siberian pine boards in its perfectly temperature controlled environment, you might think “we’re so lucky that Carson is so close.”

Lately, the thing about the Velodrome being in Carson is its proximity to Orange County, which seems to be the bastion of Trumpians and they are out in force, shouting loudly as cyclists tend to do, and man-spreading without even having to be present. Yes, that’s their shorts, turned inside out, in the foreground.


And when one Trumpian (with a gut so large we call it “the baby”) decides to make one too many jokes about missing female parts and nuts as he asks for help in putting an old bike together, and concludes the conversation by claiming Clinton killed some of his army buddies, the solution is to make a rainbow tool roll based on Eddie Van Halen’s guitar for my old Trek, which we converted to a fixed gear awhile ago for riding to museums and ice cream runs. Why convert? It was impossible to ride. I rode that thing every day when I was in college, happy as a clam. But times do change.

Here’s how it was, original parts from 1984.


Not only was that saddle unbearable, the handlebars were too far away, the brakes too stiff and the gears auto-shifted themselves when going uphill. So we did a little makeover.


And here comes the tool roll, which has been named the “Eddie Van Halen.”


I know I’m going to be so happy the next time I get a flat, and see this when I unroll.




Mars rover, Mars rover, let C#41 on over


When the sign in the parking lot shows the speed limit in KM/HR, you know you’re in for some serious science. Last weekend was the Open House at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the freeway signs near Pasadena were bubbling over with excitement like it was beaujolais season. “Hurrah! It’s here! A Ticket to Explore JPL – this way!”

There were also cops in extra-large and extra-darkly-tinted vehicles at every major intersection, and IDs required for entry (tickets were free but had to be reserved in advance). It occurred to me as we drove in that there was going to be enough people at this event to warrant a terrorist threat. In space, if we detected an asteroid that might hit us, JPL would probably launch something to swing the asteroid off its path or actually collide with it (depending on who’s president). But here on the surface of Earth, if something’s going to hit us, we have to rely on good old-fashioned bag searches and vapor-waking dogs. But then again, some of my friends used to joke that as kids in Los Alamos during the cold war we were safe from getting bombed because wouldn’t the Russians want to keep all our scientist parents alive?


Having attended a few “Family Days” at the Lab in Los Alamos I’m always wishing for a little less hype and more day to day stuff at these types of events. For example, the real JPL mission control room pales in comparison to a “Control Center” fabricated for the movies, but there is nothing like seeing the ID-activated vending machines that track the use of special machining drill bits and tools, the safety glasses overflow storage, or old soap dispensers from the 60’s.

NASA’s mission control (the red LED lights don’t actually do anything):

NORAD Control Center from the movie WarGames (when that red light starts to wail, well…):

Plus, all the obtuse illustrations and charts of data that are scientifically significant but don’t look good on social media are hanging in the hallways you can’t get to, and you can only put your nose to the glass to look into the labs with nano-technology experiments sitting on top of Laminar Flow Isolating table supports (awesome for playing air hockey).



But there’s nothing more fun than watching the real Mars rover crawl over some Southern Californian rock, and then laying down and getting rolled over by its little cousin. Apparently each wheel has its own engine. Felt like some little kid next to me kept elbowing me to move over.



They sure have tire tread all figured out.


We skipped the long wait for the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, after hearing the guy say, “If you can hear my voice you’re looking at a 45 minute wait for about a 5 minute visit,” opting instead for the guy who lured everyone with a: “Welcome to the solar system where we’ve got AC.”



My story about an asteroid named C#41 who crashes into the moon was just published at Entropy so we paused in the middle of the solar system and had a wake for the little guy.


A visit to the Fabrication Facility AKA the machine shop put any resemblance to Disneyland out of my mind, but the ice cold water bottles that cost $1 (A BUCK!) probably did the trick as well. At the shop there were 3-D printers, vending machines for bits and gadgets, rolls and rolls of thermal fabric. We were told the next big thing was going to be 3D printing using metal, namely powdered aluminum, which is so explosive the technician must remain completely free of charge, as a single spark will send the whole building into space. No party tricks like rubbing a balloon back and forth across the top of your head to get it to stick to a wall…

We got to meet the guy who’s idea it was to add the star to the top of this postmark. His friend designed JPL’s postmarks for years, and he told us anyone can suggest a design to the post office and they decide whether to create a stamp for the occasion. Hm…


Very unlike “Family Day” at the Los Alamos Lab, there were plenty of stickers to go around, and JPL bags being given away by the dozen at the end of the day.


Devil in a Blue Dress Easter egg hunt


We didn’t mean to go on an egg hunt, or even a bike ride on Easter. It was simply Sunday and we’ve been on a Don Cheadle kick, and just saw Devil in a Blue Dress, and thought some of the houses looked awfully familiar. The Internet told us that some of the houses where the movie was shot were still around and very close by. A movie about Los Angeles in the 40’s that was shot in the 90’s still looks the same in the 2010’s.

Last week there was something on the radio about half-marathon-ers who curated routes which explored different parts of the city, ending their runs at some gastronomical treat. I am for any kind of gastronomical treat at any time but I’m not that excited about sitting down all sweaty, mowing something like a “Porno Burrito” and then getting up and running/cycling home. Crafting a ride to movie locations, and picking up a new seat post clamp for my track bike seemed like a more reasonable thing to do.

Club Finale:
Club Finale


Easy Rawlin’s house:
Easy House 1


Frank Green’s apartment:
Other House 2


The first couple of locations were all within a mile or so of our house but since we were on a theme, we decided to check out where Easy Rawlins gets harassed by some white punks at the Malibu pier, which extended the ride to over 50 miles. (The pier is quite close to where Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, something for next time.)


Pier 2

On the way, we stopped by a bike shop, then a second one, then a third, in search of one that was open. Turns out, it was Easter, and for some reason this meant bike shops all across town were closed. All. Except. One. Owned by an Israeli. Thank God.


And just to be completely non-denominational I opted against buying the clamp made by the company called “Guru.” Besides, the Guru was 5 grams heavier.


You can’t pick your neighbors like you can’t pick your family

This being Los Angeles, a home is not a home without a fireplace. I’ve been told that a working fireplace bumps up a home’s value more than a working garage. That’s great because we have neither. Our house is over 100 years old and has a firebox that’s out of code (made for little people who wore the clothes that can fit inside our little closets) and topped with old sandy mortar and bricks which any small wind, pale fire, or decent earthquake could bring down… on top of our neighbor’s driveway, and their cars, and their tenant’s cars, and their tenant’s whatever’s cars.

When we first bought the house the guys from Boston Brick and Stone (of all places) told us that to rebuild the entire chimney to code would require use of the neighbor’s driveway for 2-3 weeks. Ha! We don’t need a stinking fireplace, we said.

Since then, the owner-lady next door has called David a bitch for asking her to remove a dirty mattress she leaned against our house, her ex-gang-banger son has gotten out of jail and moved in, occasionally launching into vile and manic threats interspersed with Trump-fueled immigrant bashing, Spanish love song crooning (he’s not half bad), and the magic car alarm that goes off like a timer. My favorite incident was the night he screamed at another neighbor who just happened to be walking by to call the police because he saw some sketchy people go by. This reminded me of my favorite childhood book called The Monster at the End of this Book, starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover.


Basically, Grover is terrified to learn that there’s a monster at the end of the book and tries to keep the reader from turning the pages. Turns out… you can probably guess.

The idea of that slight wind, pale fire or decent earthquake bringing down the bricks was weighing on us, so recently we decided to take the easy way out: remove the top part of the chimney (being mindful of the house value, ahem), keep the old firebox, and install an Eco-Smart fire, since we are certainly both Eco and Smart. The chimney guys said they still needed permission for two full days of scaffolding in the neighbor’s driveway. We sighed. We fretted. We considered moving to Topanga.

Finally I asked a man next door who turns out to be the current husband of the owner-lady for permission and he said, “No problem, feel free to knock on the door and let us know which days you need the driveway. Any time.”

I almost shit my pants in surprise. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I didn’t. The first day we needed access to cut some trees they forgot to move the cars. I don’t know how the gardener got around the situation but he managed.

Day 1.
I wake up early to see five cars in their driveway, including one that is usually always parked on the street, and I think about putting on my heart rate monitor to stay calm. I try not to take it personally, take a deep breath, and try to be grateful for the small things, like, I just got my new night guard from my dentist. Sometimes a certain behavior is not necessarily a declaration of war.

Just before the agreed upon time they come out in their cute P.J.’s, and slowly the cars move out, into the street.



The chimney is half taken down (and it’s an easy job, just a slight tap with what looks like a toy hammer and the brick comes loose) when who should come by but our neighbor’s neighbor, who we call the hoarder. Because he is one. He’s got his little wheelbarrow filled with our bricks and he’s carting them back to his safe little place next to his house. Last year he got rid of all his crap and told us “No more! What was I thinking?”


Day 2.


Things are going well so I decide to make some lemon bars for the neighbor. I know they like lemons. How do I know? Apparently they used to take them from the tree in the back yard when the previous owners lived here. That’s before the previous owners put up a fence in the back. Last summer our bamboo sent a shoot underneath this fence and up into their yard. The owner-lady hacked it down and sent it flying back at us like a spear.


They’re not as pretty as they could be, but hey, I’m building bridges, not walls.

I pack the lemon bars up and bang on the door. And get thoroughly rejected. REJECTED! She says, without even opening the screen, that she doesn’t want anything. Nothing.

This being Tuesday there’s no place a lemon bar feels more at home than dog agility class, and there’s something very funny about Lemon Bars in Cars.



Next project: the fireplace itself. Stay tuned. The tile guy says, “Heath tiles suck.”


The smell of steel – MIG welding class


Before taking the Intro to MIG Welding class at Molten Metal Works I thought the only similarity between welding and riding at the track was that in welding you move circularly in a straight line, and at the track you ride a straight line in circles.

Turns out there’s so much more connecting the two (too bad the technique used to build a bike is usually brazing or TIG welding, more on this later), beyond the specialized equipment, footwear, head protection, and complete opposite needs in clothing (lycra = flammable as f**k, but I certainly would enjoy seeing a bib short pad go up in flames).

My track certification was taught by Andrew the Vietnam vet with a belly the size of a bike helmet, and the MIG class was led by Zach, 40 years younger than Andrew, with biceps the size of the argon tank, yet graceful like a true ex-Marine. Both classes spend a huge percentage of time on The Safety Lecture: at the track it’s all about being aware of where the other riders are, and your mantra is: “If in doubt, go faster.” In the shop it’s all about being aware of where your own body is, the process being electrical, if you’re not paying attention you can and will complete the circuit. “If in doubt, unplug.”

The acronym for how to move the wand for MIG welding is D.A.S.H. – don’t know what the H stands for, but the other letters stand for Distance, Angle and Speed.


Sound familiar?

Our project for the class was to weld a metal pillow. 2 flat squares of metal in a lap join, grind the welds, then fillet join a plate (which we got to cut on a hydraulic band saw – with Zach watching like a hawk) and a bolt in order to use an awesome drill/tool I forget the name of to blow up the pillow, giving your work a stress test, to see if your welds bonk. FUN!

First we had to practice taking out and installing the “consumable” filler wire, which is fed through the welder to the gun at a controlled rate, to be mixed and melted with the steel to create the join. The cord from the welder to the gun is quite long, so when we pulled out the wire Zach said we could either toss the wire in their recycling or take it home. It’s steel wrapped in bright shiny copper so of course I wanted to take mine home, and David let me have his too. I placed my coils of wire at my station as we convened at the demo table to watch Zach clean his metal sheets with isopropyl alcohol (cleans bike tires too!). Next thing I notice is the two ladies also in the class roving around everyone’s station collecting their coils of wire. The nerve!*

When I said “Hey, they’re kyping my filler!” they mumbled something and tried to give one coil back. I had to demand that I originally had two pieces, and they conceded.

My wire. MINE!

Some practice beads:

Some tack welds:

Attachment of the plate and bolt using a fillet weld:


All the helmets had different pictures of bands on them. I used the Iron Maiden one, here’s David with his Justin Bieber sticker:

Courtesy to other people is to say “Welding” before you pull the trigger, in case they don’t have eye protection on. Courtesy at the track is to say “Stay” before you pass them, in case they forget that thing about riding in a straight line.

The final product! Sealed nice and tight. Not that I’m going to attempt a balcony or a trailer hitch any time soon.


Here’s the video that started all of this obsession with steel.

In addition to the fact that my Italian is as full of agricultural expletives as Dario Pegoretti’s, he and I have the same joke about Parmesan cheese (“Next time at least buy the Grana Padano”) and drink wine by “going up the mountain backwards,” meaning, we drink the good bottle before we drink the crappy bottle, so we can be sober for the first. MIG welding is the first step towards learning TIG or brazing, so someday I will become Dario Pegoretti.

*I confess to doing a similar type of move in Japan, when the people I was traveling with didn’t eat their kinome leaves, thinking it was a branch of cheap garnish. But at least I asked!

Only floss the ones you want to keep

“They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old”

(From “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues)

Corn nuts, grilled toast, ice cubes, lemon slices here we come!


Implants are amazing things. They’re made of titanium, which apparently is the material closest in electrical charge to human bone, so it has the best chance in fooling your body’s stem cells to fuse with it.

But bone growth is a slow process so after the posts go in there’s a lot of gap-toothed waiting around, and staring at the little screws that cover the post for so many months makes you wonder what options there are to implants other than plain old boring white.

Other than my having ingested way less alcohol and drugs, and my needing only one seventh of his total implants, Shane MacGowan and I are like implant BFFs. We got our implants on the same week, just in time for the holidays, only he got one in gold, but I got one with a photo of him with his gold tooth.




I’ve managed to keep most of my teeth, just in a jar rather than in my mouth.


Apparently the new set of teeth will help Shane enunciate better when he’s singing. This is very exciting.