Tuesday, September 17, 2013


While Atlanta was a good introduction to the South, the “Old” South really came alive in Charleston. We took a horse carriage tour through the city and enjoyed excellent food at CafĂ© Paradiso and Five Loaves. But the highlight of Charleston, and perhaps of the entire South trip, were the Magnolia and Boone Hall and plantations.

Magnolia is sprawling. We took a mini train tour around 7 square miles of swampy plantation. Along the way, through the humid, warm air, we saw exotic birds and alligators. These animals were sometimes propped up on wooden planks set in the ponds to allow visitors to see the animals sunbathe. Imagine what it would have been like to work at this plantation as a slave 200 years ago, especially in the more remote areas. Behind every bush could be an alligator eyeing you as you picked cotton. 

Visiting Boone Hall was a last minute decision. As we were enjoying our continental breakfast on our last morning in Charleston, we considered our sightseeing options: leave soon for Savannah, go to Fort Sumter, or visit Boone Hall. We decided on the last option based on a recommendation from the hotel concierge and because Fort Sumter would take at least half a day. As we started on the drive to Boone Hall, it began to rain. When we arrived at the gates of the plantation, it began to pour. We struggled with whether or not to visit Boone Hall in the rain and eventually decided to turn back. Five minutes into our return journey, we decided “damn the rain,” changed our minds, and turned back to the plantation. This was the best decision we made on the trip.

Upon entry into Boone Hall, we were rewarded by a magnificent drive through a seemingly never-ending oak tree linked driveway. I have never seen a grander entrance to a home, and this includes all of the castles I have seen in Europe. Inside the plantation, we took shelter from the rain in the cafeteria. There, we saw a Gullah woman acting / performing to educate visitors about the history of the Gullah people. The Gullah people originated from various countries in West Africa and came to Charleston (and other Southeastern cities) to work as slaves on plantations like Boone Hall. The theme of her excellent performance was that during the slave trade to the South, all ethnic groups influenced the others. On the slave ship, Africans from different countries influenced each other on the lower decks were slaves lived. Above, Europeans from different countries (French, Dutch, English, etc.) influenced each other. And of course, the Africans and the European cultures inter-mingled on slave plantations to create modern day Southern culture. Ever heard of Gumbo? This is a classic Southern dish that is thought to have been brought over from the Gullah people.

 After the performance, my dad and I walked through 9 slave cabins, which were turned into several exhibits on African American history, from the time the first slaves arrived in America to the present. I was amazed at the accurate historical records of each and every slave who was transported to the Port of Charleston. My dad commented that the slave cabin exhibit was very enlightening, especially to one who had not experienced American History classes. Before leaving the plantation, I walked through the oak-tree lined driveway (in the rain, which had not let up). What a sight, and what a feeling to walk under those mighty oaks. This will be my most enduring memory from the trip. Rain soaked and happy, we went to the Boone Hall Family Farm to eat lunch prepared from vegetables grown at Boone Hall. Then, it was time to head south to Savannah.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Our sojourn into the South began and ended in Atlanta. My parents arrived a day earlier and saw a few extra sites, including the house of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. This ended up being my mom's favorite spot on the entire trip.

Before moving to the highlights of Atlanta, I need to give a shout out to Delta airlines, which I flew direct from LAX to ATL. I have written off United and American Airlines as terrible domestic airlines, and now actively try to fly Delta when possible. The service is a step above American and United. I recently learned that Delta has a non-unionized workforce. I wonder if Delta employees are especially compensated on customer service. I recently flew Delta direct to JFK had a good experience as well.
Here are the highlights of Atlanta:

Margaret Mitchell House & Museum

I missed this attraction, so hopefully my mom will comment about this in the comments area. I have seen Gone with the Wind, but have not read the book. Maybe I will someday.

World of Coca-Cola

I am a soda fanatic, as you probably gathered a few blog articles ago. This is a fun attraction, even if over the top. Basically, the secret of Coca-Cola must stay a secret so that future generations can continue to the soda. The tasting room on the top floor is the real treat in the museum. Here, you can enjoy Coke flavors from all over the world, and even try some experimental flavors. As you leave, you're given a cold 8oz Coke bottle for the road. 

CNN Center

CNN is fun to visit if you are interested in media. The studio was fairly quiet when we went, but we did see a few news anchors getting ready for the Sunday news.

Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum

The Cyclorama, located in historic Grant Park, is interesting way of telling the story of the Battle for Atlanta (which the Yankees won). It is one of the largest of its kind. 

Atlanta History Center

The Atlanta History Center is amazing. Our time was cut short here since I had to fly back later that day. However, we had enough time to go through the Civil War exhibit. If you know nothing about the Civil War, or even if you have a solid understanding, this exhibit is worth it. It will fill in the gaps in your knowledge.

Silver Skillet

Only one of the most Southern breakfast joints you could dine at. The Silver Skillet has barely changed since 1956. The meals are cheap and good, and the waitstaff has been here for a long time. Make sure you have the grits and biscuits. 

Up next, Charleston....

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Over the July 4th break, I took a road trip to the American South with my parents. When I tell people about my trip, the first question I get is – why there? Many people associate the South with poverty and backwardness. This is unfortunate because the South is one of the most culturally rich parts of the United States and is definitely worth a visit for history lovers. In fact, before the Civil War, the South was richer than the North, and was one of the most prosperous regions in the entire world. The power and influence of the region from that era is still visible today.
Our trip started in Atlanta. From there, we drove 5 hours to Charleston, then 2 hours south to Savannah, and then back to Atlanta. It was a manageable 5-6 day trip that provided us with a good overview of the South’s oldest and finest cities. In Atlanta we explored the World of Coke museum, the CNN Center, and several other museums relating to the Civil War. In Charleston, we visited 2 plantations – Magnolia and Boone Hall. In Savannah, we strolled through squares, climbed a lighthouse on Tybee Island, and dined at the Pink House. Through it all, I drank large amounts of sweet tea, which is thoroughly refreshing on hot, humid days.
So sit back and relax as I take you through sprawling oak trees, buzzing cicadae, warm buttered biscuits, and stately Georgian mansions as we explore the South’s most historic cities in the days to come.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Real Sugar, Real Goodness

Keeping on the drinks theme, it's real sugar or bust for me, as of 1 week ago. I have officially quit false sugars like Splenda, Nutrasweet, Stevia, etc.

In today's era of calorie consciousness, diet sodas are all the rage. In fact, of the top 10 soda brands in the US, 4 are diet. Diet Coke is #2 in the US, ahead of Pepsi.

I have always been a soda lover, and I think I always will be. It's less the sweetness and more the excitement of the carbonation that makes drinking soda an adventure for me. For the first 20 or so years of my life, I drank regular soda in moderate quantities. Then, needing to make weight for the lightweight crew team in my sophomore year of college (< 155 lbs), I experimented with diet soda. For the next 10 years, I switched to diet soda almost exclusively.


Recently, I have been hearing more theories about the potential harms of false sugars. In general, they are:

1) Cancer

2) Diabetes

3) Increased Hunger

Theory 1 wasn't enough to cause me to quit diet sodas. Why? Because everything, in extremes, causes cancer....in mice. With the quantity I was drinking, I didn't see this as a realistic risk.

Theory 2 suggests that the body releases insulin when false sugars are ingested, because the body confuses false sugars with real sugars. This lowers blood sugar level. With more insulin release, the body can become insulin resistant (type 2 Diabetes).

Theory 3 is related to theory 2. Greater insulin release lowers blood sugar levels, which makes you more hungry. Thus, you eat more.

Theories 2 and 3 have driven me away from sugar substitutes.

Now, I consume only real sugar. Here are some of my strategies:

1) I drink regular sodas (colas, etc.) but limit the quantity. For example, I'll drink half a can of Coke,  (70 calories).

2) I drink commercial sodas that have less sugar. There are many brands of less-sweet sodas these days, including one brand called "Dry Sodas". There is a Lavendar flavor that has Lavender extract with only 70 calories in 12 oz (same size as a Coke, half the calories).

3) I make my own soda at home. I buy mineral water or club soda and mix that with a citrus fruit juice (orange, lime, or grapefruit). I then add some sugar syrup, which I make by boiling sugar with water. For a 16 oz drink, I probably consume about 80-100 calories.

4) I order unsweetened iced tea at restaurants, and then sweeten to taste.

I'm happy with my changes, although they will take some adjustment after so many years of diet soda consumption. What are your thoughts on sugar substitutes and real sugar?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Drink Water

Hydrate. It's easy and it's important, more than you realize. 75% of America is dehydrated. Not me, not anymore.

I have seen the light, and now I hydrate as much as possible. I may overdo it sometimes, but I'd rather overdo it than underdo it.

For most of my life, I have been headache prone. I noticed this during my middle school years when I rode my bike to and from school. Every day, without fail, I got a headache after riding my bike home in the afternoon. As a result, I took 1-2 tylenol every weekday.

In my high school years when I played tennis for my school team, I got headaches in the evening and was back to Tylenol. After college, when I developed a gym routine, I got headaches after running 3 miles on the treadmill.

I always assumed that I was just more headache prone. This may be true as I do sweat a lot. But the underlying cause of my headaches was dehydration. However, I drank several cups of water a day, and didn't "feel thirsty", so I assumed that I wasn't dehydrated.

My approach to hydration changed this year when I trained for the Big Sur Marathon. I thought about how I could hydrate on long runs of 7+ miles on Saturday, and I decided to purchase a Marathoner Hydration Vest. This vest allows you to suck fluids while running (think CamelBak). I also tried to increase my water intake throughout the week. I assumed that even with these strategies I would need to take headache medicine because I was "genetically predisposed to headaches". But to my surprise, I largely avoided headaches during my training.

This experience showed me the light. Through regular hydration, even while training for a marathon, I could avoid dehydration headaches. My mistake earlier in life was thinking that if I wasn't thirsty at that moment, then I didn't need to drink water. I now realize that water needs to be consumed whether or not you're thirsty. Water is like gas for your car. You fill up your body with it, and your body spends it on essential functions (all your organs need it for survival) and sweating. When you drink water to quench thirst, you're already too late in some respects. That water is going to take 30 minutes to be absorbed, by which time your headache has already set in.

Now, I know how to stay hydrated. I buy a 24 pack of 16oz water bottles and keep some in my car. I drink water in the morning, with lunch, and at dinner. I also take a trip to the water cooler every 2 hours and have an 8oz cup of water. After the gym, I drink one of my water bottles. Drinking right away after a workout is important, not 30 minutes or 1 hour later. At that point, headaches are likely to set in. I also know that caffeine is a diuretic (it dehyrdates you). So, if I have a cup of decaf coffee or iced tea or a beer, I drink extra water to compensate. In fact, even if I order another drink at a restaraunt, I'll also order a glass of water and have it continuously refilled.

All in all, I'm averaging 10+ cups per day. My landlady is also an ex-phlebotomist (blood drawer) and she complimented me on my veins. Clearly visible arm veins are a sign of good hydration (which mine are). She acknowledges she is dehydrated and you can barely see her veins. Yesterday, she had only had one cup of water.

I still occassionally get headaches, but the frequency has gone down drastically. Also, water is helping me curb my appetite so I bring my portion sizes under control. For you, dehydration may show up in other ways - tiredness, lightheadedness, etc. But by focusing on hydrating and making it a habit, you can live a much healthier life.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Big Sur International Marathon

Feasting my eyes on the rugged coast line as I ran past Point Sur, up to Hurricane Point, and over the Bixby Bridge, every sacrifice in the last 5 months of training was instantly worth the opportunity to complete the Big Sur Marathon. Nine years ago, my experience running the Boston Marathon was quite different. Because I didn’t train, I nearly collapsed at the finish after 6+ hours of running and was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess in an ambulance to get crutches. I opted (unwisely) not to train because I was worried about injuring myself during training. I told myself then that if I ever ran another marathon, I would train properly. Also, if I ever ran another one, it would be Big Sur. While Boston is the ultimate city marathon with thousands of screaming fans, Big Sur is the opposite – called the “most scenic marathon in the US (and maybe the world)”, breathtaking views and the occasional musical band are your main company.
Fast forward to Sunday, April 28th 2013 when I completed the Big Sur Marathon in 4:49.38, 40 minutes faster than I expected. I decided to run this marathon late in 2012 after doing a Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder reminded me how much I enjoy racing. I like wearing a bib number and I enjoy the camaraderie of the racers. Most of us aren’t trying to win – we just want to have fun. We can also relate to each other – each of us made similar sacrifices in the training process and chose that particular race on that particular day, when there were so many other options. And, when we’re done, we can be exhausted and contented together. Oh, and the medals are pretty cool too J
I started training in January 2013 – giving myself 5 months or prep time. I ran 4x per week: Monday – short run (3 miles), Wednesday – medium run (5-10 miles), some Thursdays – short run (3 miles), Saturday – long run (10+ miles, maxing at 20 miles twice). I also included some weight training, focusing primarily on my back. The lower back muscles are heavily engaged to maintain posture while running. To keep myself on track for Big Sur, I signed up for the San Dieguito Half Marathon in February. This was a great tune up for the marathon as it was chilly and hilly, similar conditions to Big Sur.
I incorporated a lot of rest and cross-training into my training. I rarely ran on consecutive days. Also, I didn’t do long runs every Saturday. Some of my ‘long runs’ were actually hikes. I found a great 7 mile (roundtrip) trail in Santa Monica called Los Liones. Most of my long runs happened along the beach in Santa Monica because it was easy to fill up my 2L Camel Bak with so many water fountains. I also swam to get a good cardio workout to ease the impact on my joints.
Despite a lot of work travel in the first half of 2013, my training wasn’t affected. I was usually back in LA on Saturday for my long run. I also woke up at 5:30am on most days and ran in the morning as much as possible. This was especially important for Saturday long runs. First, I could beat the heat. Second, there’s a psychological boost to running early in the morning. After the early morning long run, I was exhausted but I could eat, nap, and then be productive in the late afternoon.
I also quit drinking for 2.5 months. This wasn’t strictly necessary, but it allowed me to stay mentally focused and prevented any Saturday morning hangovers that would have made it difficult to do my long run. My social life suffered a bit, but the marathon was more important to me.

The Race
I stayed at my parent’s house at 7th and Lincoln in downtown Carmel. Somehow, I convinced my mom to make mild food (that may have been more difficult than the actual Marathon) which I ate the day before. I forced myself to go to bed by 8:30pm on Saturday. This allowed me to wake up reasonably refreshed on 3:30am of race day to catch the 4am bus from Carmel Plaza to the start. Driving to the start is not allowed – all roads are closed to traffic. We traversed the race route in reverse to the Start. Along the way, I sat next to a recently retired man and veteran of 39 marathons. According to him, “I did one marathon and swore I would never do another one. Then I said maybe I’ll do another one and see if I can do better. Pretty soon, I was hooked. I ran 3-4 per year. Since I retired, I have run 9.” I have to agree. Running can be addictive.
We arrived at the start, which is near Pfeiffer State Park, around 5am. The scene was electric and upbeat. It was pitch dark and thousands of runners were either:
·         Huddling for warmth
·         Snacking on bagels and coffee
·         Waiting in line for port-o-potties
Some runners had come solo (like me), while others were in larger groups. There were quite a few Boston Marathon runners, who were running Boston to Big Sur. In this competition, runners’ Boston Marathon times are added to their Big Sur marathon times. I can’t imagine running 2 marathons within 2 weeks!
Did I mention it was cold? But fortunately, I was prepared with my sweats. To handle the 40 degree temperature, I had a sweatshirt, two shirts, skull cap, gloves, and running pants. Those of you who know me know that I am wary of caffeine and almost never drink regular coffee. But this morning, I made an exception. I had a mouthful of coffee to warm up and get motivated for the task ahead.
The Start
At 6:30am, I left the waiting area for the start. I aimed for the back, Wave 3, which was marathoners with expected finish times of 4:45 and up. Wave 2 was for 3:45 to 4:45 marathoners, Wave 1 was for 3:45 and below, and Elite Runners, folks who had a chance to win the race, were stationed at the very front. The race began promptly at 6:45am, but it wasn’t until 6:55am that I crossed the start line. And then, after 5 months of training, and an obscenely early morning wake-up that is usually only experienced for international flights, the race had begun!
Miles 1-5
Miles 1-5 are slightly downhill. Having watched Tom Rolander’s course video several times, I remembered his words of caution: “Don’t go out too fast! The early downhill miles are deceiving. Save your legs for the highlands. You will thank me!” I took it relatively easy on these miles. Along the way, we passed vacationers staying at the River Inn. They came out of their cozy rooms and cheered us on while covered in blankets and sipping on coffee or hot cocoa. Still, though they were warm and I was cold, I wouldn’t trade places with them because I will choose participant over spectator whenever possible.

By mile 4, I had passed the 4:45 pace group. I was feeling pretty good about my chances to run a sub 4:30 marathon at this point. Little did I know that the pace leader was simply pacing herself. She wanted all runners to warm up in the first 5 miles before she really kicked it into high gear.

Miles 5 – 9
We reached the flat lands and calm before the storm. According to Tom’s video, runners would have their fastest miles in this stretch. This wasn’t the case for me. After leaving the confines of the forest, the wind picked up dramatically in the flat lands and blew cold air straight in our faces. There is nothing as demoralizing as a cold head wind in a marathon. Still the scenery remained stunning with cows on our right and the ocean to our left. Towards the end of this stretch, we caught a view of Point Sur enshrouded in morning fog.

Miles 9 – 12
All uphill. That’s it. These are the toughest miles on the course as runners climb to Hurricane Point. The Teiko drums provided some inspiration at mile 10, but there is nothing to do but climb. While some runners opted to walk, I preferred a slow jog to maintain momentum. It was tough, but the cold wind of the previous miles felt worse. At Hurricane Point, I looked back on Point Sur, now fading in the distance, and marveled at how far we had come. The fog had lifted and I had a great view.
Miles 12 – 17
At Hurricane Point, we were treated to GU energy gel, a life saver in marathons. GU consists of:
·         100 calories of complex carbohydrates (potentially easier to digest than simple carbs)
·         Amino acid blend – combats muscle fatigue
·         Electrolytes – Sodium and potassium given that this is lost in strenuous activity
·         20mg Caffeine – wakes you up and lowers perceived effort
After this marathon, I became a full believer in the power of GU, which tasted like pure honey to a hungry runner. I asked a nearby runner if we would get another GU. He said yes, around mile 20. Fantastic! The thought of another GU would keep me going for another 8 miles.
What goes up, must come down. We had a full mile of steep downhill to get to Bixby Bridge. Here, my right ankle started to hurt. Though I was wearing my blue Super Feet orthotics, the inward movement of my right knee caused a tendon below my right ankle to stretch and pain a little. So, I popped an Advil.

About half a mile from the Bixby Bridge, I heard the famed grand piano. I wish I could remember what he was playing, but it sounded heavenly. The combination of GU, Advil, stunning sights, heavenly music, and the realization that I was halfway done brought me to the highest runner’s high.
Until this point, I had been snapping pictures often (Tom Rolander’s number 1 . But, I realized that taking pictures was tiring me. Also, my half marathon split was about 2:31, which put me on pace for a 5 hour marathon. Now, I wanted to finish in under 5 hours. I had to sacrifice some picture taking to do this.
Miles 18 – 26.2
The home stretch! I passed the famous “wall” at mile 20 fueled by another sumptuous GU packet. It was during this stretch that I relied most on my training. The first time I ran 20 miles in training, I shuffled through the last few miles at a slightly faster pace than walking. I was broken. The second time I ran 20 miles, about a month ago, I was tired but I knew I could do more. This time, I passed mile 20 and did not hit the wall. I knew I could finish strong. There were some gentle uphills during this stretch but they were not bad. Also, it was warmer and more comfortable at this time (10-11am) which made running easier.

There were some interesting attractions in the last few miles. Around mile 22 or 23, we came upon the famous strawberry lady. I ate a nice, cold strawberry. Also, the live music continued, with music by the Carmel Middle School band and a harp band.

Running my fastest pace of the course during these last few miles, I finished in 4:49.38. There is certainly room for improvement in my time, but not bad for a difficult course.
Final Thoughts
I loved my Big Sur experience – the scenery, the feeling of accomplishment, and having my entire family there to cheer me on. Where do I go from here? If another marathon, I would do several things differently in preparation:
·         More speed workouts (shorter and faster distances).
·         Bring gloves and hat to race
·         Re-examine shoes and arch support – I wore blue Superfeets and that mitigated some over-pronation, but the downhill on Mile 13 still did a number on my ankles.
Of course, I can do other things. I can run shorter distances like half marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, etc. This might improve my speed. Also, it’s much easier to be in half marathon shape than marathon shape. In addition, I can explore trail running. Trail running races happen on hiking trails rather than the road. In addition to being scenic, they are also lighter on the knees than road running. They can be more hilly, however. Lastly, I can try another obstacle course. The Spartan Race is similar to Tough Mudder but is more of a race and doesn’t have the electricity or cold water torture obstacles. To train for the Spartan Race, which comes in 3, 8, and 11+ mile distances, I need to strengthen my upper body.
This marathon made me re-think the importance of speed. Although I’d like to be faster, I’m a fan of Born to Run which emphasizes the joy of running. I enjoy the journey of a long run and the sites along the way. Big Sur is so beautiful that the longer I can be out on the course, the more I can enjoy it (within reason, i.e. less than 6 hours). So, if running is enjoyable, then running more is better, and I should consider “ultra-marathons”. An ultra-marathon is anything greater than 26.2 miles.

For now, I’ll enjoy my Big Sur experience. I look forward to normal life with more socializing, drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (my first beer after returning to light drinking) and sleeping-in!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

San Dieguito Half Marathon

On Sunday, 2/11/13, I completed the San Dieguitio Half Marathon with Neilesh Patel in Rancho Santa Fe, CA (near San Diego). The course is stunning. We ran through morning fog and saw views of fields, lakes, and the like.
I chose to run this half marathon to check my progress as I train for the Big Sur Marathon on April 28th. The San Dieguito Half Marathon is a hilly course and would therefore by good practice for Big Sur which also has significant elevation changes. My goal was to finish the race without getting injured in less than 3 hours (the course limit).

The race began at 8am. It was a cold morning, with the temperature being 45 degrees. Because of this, we decided to run especially slow for the first 3 miles to warm up. About 7.5 miles into the course, we sped up and started to overtake runners. The weather started to warm up around 9am and the conditions became ideal for running. The first half of the race was much tougher than the 2nd half (fortunately) and our 2nd half was faster than our 1st half.

The race organizers did a great job of providing water frequently on the course. Water and VitaLyte (a sports drink) were available every mile. One nice spectator had oranges 5 miles into the course - thank you! At the 7.5 mile mark, we were given powerbar gel packs. These gel packs gave us new life.

We surpassed our expectations by finishing the Half Marathon in a time of 2:15, at a pace of 10:30 per mile. Our conservative race strategy was validated - we passed over 100 runners and may have been passed by just a few runners.

Most importantly, I learned what I need to do over the next 2.5 months to successfully complete the Big Sur Marathon. I'm targeting running 4x per week and sleeping 8-9 hours per day. All junk food will be off-limits but I will be upping my carb and protein intake. In the process, I'd like to lose 5 lbs and get close to 150 lbs. My weekly runs will be 3-4 miles (easy run), 5-10 miles (medium runs), 3-4 miles (easy run), 10-20 miles (Saturday long run). On othe other days I'll be doing maintence lifts for the upper body. I will also use my Vibrams for 1-2 runs per week so I can strengthen smaller feet muscles and tendons. A lot of socializing and fun will have to be sacrificed for the next few months as I go to sleep by 9pm, but I think I will be rewarded on race day with a Big Sur medal.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sweet Tea

These days, I enjoy a cool glass of Sweet Tea whenever I can. My new interest in sweet tea has coincided with my recent interest in the South (the Southeastern US).

Charleston Tea Plantation
No region of the US is more "English" than the South. Americans in the South emigrated from England, Scotland, and Ireland, where they were farmers. They continued their farming profession in the South, growing cotton, tobacco, tea, and the like. These immigrants were used to drinking tea, but it was too hot in the South to drink hot tea. So, they cooled the tea and drink. Hence, iced tea (or sweet tea). I'm hoping to make several trips to the South this year. I got things kicked off with an impromptu trip to Charleston, South Carolina. More about the South in another blog.

For most of my life, I have been a tea lover. Only recently did I get interested in coffee (decaf only). Now, I'm back to tea. Here in LA, we are privileged to drink coffee and tea at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I'm also very swayed by logos and names of products. So, one day, a few months ago, I stopped by my local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and noticed an iced tea called "Pacific Coast." This name reminded me of my July 4th trip to Oregon, where I drove up the Oregon Coast (the most spectacular part of the Pacific Coast is in Oregon, trust me). Coffee Bean Pacific Coast tea is similar to Earl Grey, but it's less strong and has a slight roasted flavor. I can imagine no better tea to drink when watching the waves in the Pacific on an overcast day in Oregon. I drank so much Pacific Coast tea that I decided to buy a box and make Iced Tea at home.

Sweet tea is easy to make. However, there a few details that can drastically change your tea tasting experience. One pouch of Pacific Coast tea makes 64 oz of tea. First I boil the water in a large pot. When the pot boils, I add a pouch of tea. Now, how long you steep the tea is the key to the taste. More steeping leads to darker, stronger tea with more caffeine. The instructions say to steep for 5 minutes. I did this the first time I got a tea that was too strong for my taste. In my most recent pot of tea, I steeped for 2 minutes. This tea tastes good, but I think next time I'll try 2:30 of steeping.

The next step is to add your sugar. It's important to add your sugar when the tea is boiling so the sugar dissolves well. I used raw sugar and like the taste. Refined sugar could also be used to get a smoother taste (I won't judge you). I suppose honey could also be used, although I'm not sure I like the taste or smell of boiling honey. My first pot of sweet tea wasn't sweet enough, my latest batch is really close - maybe a tad bit more sugar.

The next question is what temperature to serve the tea at. I refrigerate the tea after it cools down. The next day, when I'm ready to have a glass, I cut 1-2 slices of lemon and put into a nice glass. I then pour my tea in and leave it out to warm a little. If the tea is too cold, then, like any cold drink, you won't get the full taste of the tea. When I'm ready to drink the tea, I add 2 ice cubes to cool it down. Whenever I see iced tea served, the glass has ice. So, I add ice. I've been doing some research into whether there is a difference between cooling a drink via the refrigerator or via ice. I'm not sure there's a difference. Ice will melt and dilute the drink, which may be good or bad depending on what you're looking for. Back to the lemon - I like the lemon for the citrus taste and to lighten the color of the tea. However, you forgo the lemon and get more of a tea flavor. If you're going to do that, then you need to be extra careful not to over steep the tea as the lemon won't be there to mask this taste.

So where do I go from here? I will experiment with mint and honey. Down the line, I may try peach, raspberry, and other fruit.

So the next time you visit me, there will be a nice, cool glass of sweet tea waiting for you.
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