A bit about matcha, how it can benefit your health and why it’s expensive

I have recently taken up a habit of consuming matcha. It is refreshing in this hot weather to drink an iced latte matcha that mixes plant-based milk such as soy or almond milk with the green matcha powder. Apparently, matcha can be pretty good for your health for several reasons, as follows:

Each food has been measured for their antioxidant capacities, in a unit called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). List of ORAC-rich food items – Source: matcha

It can be expensive

There are two main and popular grades of matcha: ceremonial and culinary. Ceremonial grade is the highest grade of matcha that is made of very young tea leaves and requires a lot more care during the process. Hence, it’s quite expensive. Ceremonial grade matcha reportedly has a delicate flavor and should be used in tea ceremonies only. On the other hand, culinary grade match is cheaper because it reportedly is made of tea leaves that are young, yet older than those used to make ceremonial grade. Culinary grade can be used in baking, cooking and beverages.

To get a sense of how expensive matcha can be, take a look at the listings on Amazon for “matcha green tea powder” keyword

Source: Amazon

I buy my matcha from a local shop called The Tea Smith in Omaha. One ounce of culinary grade matcha from The Tea Smith costs $4.5. There is a cheaper alternative that costs only $2.5 per ounce. It is cheaper because it mixes matcha powder with sugar cane. It baffled me as to why matcha is expensive. I did a little research and apparently, the process of producing matcha is quite laborious and unique. Tea leaves have to be shaded from sunlight a couple of weeks at least before they are picked. After they are picked, they go through several steps of steaming, air-drying and removing stems & old leave parts. In the end, there are only soft particles left, which weighs about 1/10 of the original leaves. The particles are then stone-grounded, using uniquely crafted and carefully maintained stone mills. Each mill produces only one ounce or 30-40 gram of matcha per hour.

There is also a Chasen

A Chasen is a whisk specially used to mix matcha powder with water. I bought my whisk for $18.5! I was shocked at the price at first, but would soon understand the reason why after I learned how Chasens are made. Watch the videos below to know how they are created. Trust me, you’ll be blown away by the craftsmanship, patience and incredible talent of the Japanese

This video touches a little bit more on the hachiku bamboos used in the matcha whisks.

In sum, even though regular consumption of matcha can cost a bit, I do think I will continue with this habit in the future, unless there are scientific studies proving that matcha is hazardous to humans. I think given that matcha is linked with a lot of health benefits, it’s a cheap investment into the most valuable asset one can have. Also, as I learned about the art of producing matcha and Chasen, my already big admiration and respect for the Japanese craftsmanship and culture only grew bigger.

Let me know what you think about matcha. Stay safe and have a nice weekend!

Today I learned – Miso

Admittedly, even though I usually order a miso soup when at a Japanese restaurant, today is the first time I learned that miso refers to the name of a paste, not the soup itself. The fermentation process of making miso is highly complex, time-consuming and demanding. Depending on the flavors required by consumers, some miso can take 3 years to be ready for consumption. It’s interesting to see how it evolved over time, adopting technology and changes in modern life. Nowadays, consumers can drink miso soup like coffee or make miso balls which dissolve in hot water, making instant delicious and nutritious soup.

Today I learned – Japanese earthquake resistant architecture

Earthquake is a part of life in Japan. To adapt the inevitable presence of earthquakes, the Japanese have come up with ingenious, intelligent and skillful ways to make buildings and architecture as earthquake-resistant as possible. It’s amazing that they could build wooden structures hundreds of years ago and they are still standing strong today, despite countless shakings over time. The idea is itself remarkably admirable, but the craftsmanship that goes into building constructions is truly outstanding. Smaller models took years to be built. Wooden pieces were crafted by hands so that they could slot into one another without nails. Concrete is checked and poured carefully to have the perfect spread. I was overwhelmed with admiration for the Japanese folks while watching the genius at work. Highly recommend this eye-opening clip

Today I learned – 11th March 2020

Thanks to the good folks on Twitter, I came across an excellent analysis on Coronavirus. A huge thanks to Tomas Pueyo for the time and effort. It must have taken a great deal of preparation and writing to get this done.

You should have a read here.

WHO already officially called the Coronavirus a pandemic. Two days ago, the US had around 700 cases. Yesterday, the count went past the 1,000 mark, and it is just the count of confirmed cases. The capacity to conduct tests nationwide is nowhere near to the necessary level. So, it’s unknown how many cases there truly are.

Some companies have asked employees to start working from home and limit physical meetings. I truly believe it’s time to take this very very seriously and exercise precaution such as social distancing, hygiene practices or some doomsday stocking.

It makes sense to take everything you read online with a grain of salt, including the words that you are reading right now and especially when it is confusing time like now. But I would say that when countries shut down their entire border, including developed ones such as Italy, Denmark and real lives have been lost, it’s better careful than sorry.

Today I learned – 16th February 2020

There are a few things I learned after this informative clip by Al Jazeera Youtube channel

  • There is a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam
  • Nile is the only major river in the world that flows from South to North
  • A snapshot history regarding the rights to the water provided by the Nile
  • “Start Here” offers amazing video clips on complicated issues around the world, especially in the Arabic countries

I will continue to read more about the Grand Renaissance Dam conflict. If you haven’t heard about it before, this clip is a pretty good start

Today I learned – 30th Jan 2020

Rise of contactless payment reported by Visa and Mastercard

It is so much faster and easier to just tap your card or phone on a reader than to use the chip or swipe. The frictionlessness of this payment method has clearly wowed users enough that it is on a rise, especially in the US.

In the card-present environment, we continue to see meaningful momentum in tap to pay, what we consider to be the most friction-free way to pay in person. We have reached a point where 1 in every 3 card-present transactions that runs over our network is [tax] versus 1 in 4 a year ago this quarter. This past year, we’ve doubled the number of countries whose face-to-face transactions are at least 2/3 contactless.

Transit continues to be a key user case and an important way to habituate tapping behavior. In New York City, on the NPA, Visa crossed 2 million taps in November from the beginning of the pilot and 3 million in January. The FDA recently announced the tap-to-pay expansion to their entire system by the end of 2020, and we are currently pacing a 350,000 Visa taps a week on the MTA and nearly 1 in every 10 transactions in the New York Metro area is a tap-to-pay on a Visa card.

Source: Visa in its Q1 2020 Earnings Call Transcript, provided by Atom Finance

Echoing the sentiment was Mastercard in its Q4 2019 Earnings Call

..On to contactless, where as I said, we’re making real progress. This quarter, contactless made up over 30% of global card-present purchased (inaudible). Contactless provides a frictionless and fast payment experience, which is opening new categories of spend, including displacing cash on small-ticket purchases. The U.S. point for growth on this front and the New York City MTA is a good example of the potential for rapid adoption by consumers. In fact, they surpassed 5 million taps since the launch in May. And the MTA has planned to roll out contactless acceptance system-wide by the end of 2020.

I’m pretty certain that U.S. contactless will keep growing throughout 2020 quite attractively. Because if you look at the numbers of the number of bank partners that have committed to issue contactless cards for a [minute], let’s even forget Apple Pay and Samsung Pay that enable every card through their archive to be used. If you just look at the number of cards, we are talking about 70% of our total cards in the U.S. market will be reissued over this 12-month to 14-month period. My own personal cards are already contactless from Citi.

On the acceptance side, kind of all new terminals going on are embedded with contactless. So (inaudible) large retailers Target and 7-Eleven and CVS have announced that they will accept contactless payments. And in fact, over half of U.S. card-present transactions are now happening at contactless-enabled merchant locations. And when the MT rolls in on system-wide in New York City, and there are other transit systems beginning to do the same in their cities, I think you will get the impetus.

Source: Atom Finance

Vietnam as an important emerging market for Apple

My country was mentioned repeatedly in the latest earnings call of Apple. In a positive light that makes me think that we are going to be, if we are not already, an important emerging market for the Cupertino-based company

Geographically, we established all-time revenue records in many major developed and emerging markets including, among others, the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Source: Seeking Alpha

For iPad, we saw growth in key emerging markets like Mexico, India, Turkey, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam

Source: Seeking Alpha

Phone revenue of $56 billion grew 8% year-over-year, as we saw a great customer response to the launch of our newest iPhones. We set all-time revenue records in several countries, including the U.S. Mexico, the UK, France, Spain, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Source: Seeking Alpha

Productivity and Business Processes keeps leading the margin game for Microsoft

Microsoft has three main business lines:

  • Productivity & Business Processes that includes Office 365 Commercial and Consumer, LinkedIn and Dynamics
  • Intelligent Cloud that includes server products and cloud services led by Azure, and Enterprise service
  • More Personal Computing that includes Gaming, Search, Windows and Surface

Azure likely receives the most attention, yet it is Productivity & Business Processes (PBP) that consistently took the crown in the margin game at Microsoft. In the latest earnings report, Microsoft reported almost 44% margin for PBP

Source: Microsoft
Source: Microsoft

Even though there have been only 2 quarters so far in 2020, the segment has generated more revenue and operating income than the full year 2019

Source: Microsoft

Today I learned – 8th January 2020

I came across this video about technology in Taiwan and it was enlightning. I didn’t know much about TSMC and the marvellous autonomous factory that it runs. Such a magnificent feat of engineering!

I also knew little about Gogoro. Admittedly, I think I heard briefly about it in passing, but the clip touched upon the startup even more, bringing my interest in Gogoro to a new height. It made me wonder how such a concept could be applied in Saigon, the biggest city in Vietnam and where I am from. Saigon is helplessly overcrowded. The streets built decades ago are poorly equipped to handle over 10 million citizens. The toll on people’s health is a serious threat. A concept like Gogoro could benefit the city as a whole.

Lastly, I found it interesting the presenter used the word “disgusting” in the clip. I am not a native speaker, but I do think there are many better alternatives than the used adjective. Scooters are a part of life in Asia. What’s so disgusting about it? And why?

Today I learned – 1st Jan 2020

US lags behind the world in tap-to-pay

The latest annual report by Visa wrote:

Contactless payments—or when a consumer taps to pay at checkout with a contactless card or mobile phone—continues to see strong adoption around the world. In 2019, excluding the United States (“U.S.”), tap to pay had surpassed 50 percent of face-to-face transactions that ran over the Visa network. This is up from less than 30 percent just two years ago. There are now more than 50 countries where tapping to pay represents at least a third of all domestic face-to-face transactions processed on our network, up from 35 countries at the end of last fiscal year.

The U.S. is starting to catch up to this global adoption rate. In 2019, U.S. financial institutions began issuing contactless cards to customers nationwide. There are now more than 100 million Visa contactless cards in the U.S., and we expect that number to grow to 300 million by the end of 2020

Contactless payments can also open up new payment experiences, such as transit. Transit continues to be an important use case for introducing consumers to the benefits of tapping to pay. In 2019, Visa helped launch contactless transit solutions in cities around the world, including Belarus, Edinburgh, Florence, Manchester, Miami, Milan, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, São Paulo and more—making it easier for people to get around while reducing operating costs for private and public transport operators.

Visa’s 2019 Annual Report

In July, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the following in its earnings call

In the United States, in addition to a successful integration into Portland’s transit system in May, we’re beginning to rollout of New York City transit and will launch in Chicago later this year. In China, Apple Pay launched the payment card for Didi the world’s largest ride hailing provider.

As I’ve said before, transit integration is a major driver of a broader digital wallet adoption, and we’re going to keep up this push to help users leave their wallet at home in more and more instances.

Source: Seeking Alpha

While iPhone and Apple devices are wildly popular in the US, a recent study reported a low adoption rate of 9% of Apple Pay among Apple-device owners. It’ll be interesting to see how transit helps with the adoption of Apple Pay and, as a result, contactless payment in the US. In Omaha, to the best of my knowledge, there is no contactless payment at Walmart. Adoption at such a chain that attracts traffic like Walmart will definitely increase the use of tap-to-pay.

US seemed to have a bigger cash transaction on credit card than the rest of the world

While studying the reports from Visa and Mastercard, I noticed something quite interesting. The US seems to withdraw more cash from credit card each time than the rest of the world. The figures from Visa and Mastercard are pretty similar, signaling a true pattern. The following data is from Visa and Mastercard in the quarter ended Jun 30, 2019.

 Cash Volume ($ billions)Cash Transactions (millions)Average Cash Ticket
US1415$933.33
International49223$219.73
Source: Visa
 Cash Volume ($ billions)Cash Transactions (millions)Average Cash Ticket
US1010$1000.00
International41190$215.79
Source: Mastercard

Today I learned – 29th December 2019

I was reading the annual reports of Walmart and a couple of things stood out that I didn’t know before

Walmart’s increasing focus on eCommerce, Technology and Supply Chain in the US

Walmart’s CAPEX in eCommerce, Technology & Supply Chain stood at $3.9, $4.1, $4.9 and $5.2 billion in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively. To put it in perspective, compared to the overal CAPEX in the US, the investment in eCommerce, Technology and Supply Chain made up 46%, 57%, 60% and 68% approximately in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively. The increase highlighted Walmart’s focus on those areas in order to be competitive in a highly competed industry.

Source: Walmart’s annual reports

Member’s Mark revenue

In April 2017, Walmart re-introduced Member’s Mark, which is its private label umbrella brand at Sam’s Club. In 2018 and 2019, Member’s Mark’s revenue exceeded $10 and $12 billion respectively. The private label made up approximately 18% and 23% of Sam’s Club without-fuel revenue in 2018 and 2019 respectively.