PRODUCT REVIEW: Oribe-Style Chawan from Guerrero Ceramics

Product Information:

Product:  Oribe-Style Stoneware Chawan (Tea Bowl)

Product Description:

This handmade, wheel-thrown stoneware “chawan” or “tea bowl” was fired in an electric kiln to 2350°F. It features a clear and green glaze combination with iron oxide underpainting. This is known as Oribe-style. The decoration goes all the way around the bowl.

This style of tea bowl is “closed” with straight up and down walls, as opposed to the “open” style with outwardly sloping walls.

Please note: This bowl is one of my more “sturdy” tea bowls. In other words, it’s a bit heavy.

Click Here to Visit:  Guerrero Ceramics Shop on Etsy

Product Review:

You may have noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of Matcha lately.  Well, that’s because Red Leaf Tea has this amazing offer.  Free Matcha?  For doing what I do anyway?  OK… you’ve got me!

Also, I have noticed that after a few weeks of drinking Matcha on a daily basis, I FEEL better.  I have more energy, I feel less sluggish.  So, I’m going to try to incorporate Matcha into my daily tea routine, having some every day, rather than once or twice a week like I used to.

A couple of weeks ago, while cleaning my favorite (and only usable) chawan, I accidentally dropped it in the sink and it cracked.  (My other chawan was raku fired, and so I wasn’t entirely sure that it was safe to use.  It’s gorgeous, but, I was no longer comfortable using it as I feared it might be unsafe)

I was so sad.  I loved that chawan.  I started using porcelain cereal bowls until I could find a satisfactory replacement.  The bowls worked just fine, but they were thinner and lighter in weight than my chawan and I really like the heavier feel of a chawan that was crafted on a pottery wheel.

The temporary bowls just weren’t the same, and it affected my tea experience.  Whether I was ready to admit it or not, the simple fact is that the vessel has a little something to do with the enjoyment of the product.  That is to say, it matters.  The bowl (or cup, when drinking other teas) makes a difference to me, at least mentally.  The vessel that I drink from affects the overall experience.

So finally, I decided I HAD to get myself a chawan. I knew that I wanted to purchase the chawan direct from an artisan, because as an artist myself, I like to support other artists with my shopping.  I try to avoid purchasing from the big corporations whenever I can, preferring smaller shops and when it comes to products like chawans, I want something handmade and direct from the artist.

After a bit of shopping around, I finally settled on this beautiful chawan from Guerrero Ceramics on Etsy.  There are a lot of really gorgeous chawans on Etsy… but the reason I finally chose this one is simply:  the seller was nice.  I had written to him – admittedly about another bowl which was smaller and was intended to serve as more of a tea cup rather than a Matcha bowl – and he responded promptly and was very nice.  He provided me a direct link to his Matcha bowls and while I didn’t see anything that piqued my interest right away, about a week later, I revisited his site and found this beautiful Oribe-Style Chawan.

The Chawan arrived very quickly, and was packaged wonderfully!  I’m a sucker for packaging, and I think that when a seller takes the time to put some thought into the way they package your purchase for shipment says a lot about the seller.  The chawan came in a postal box, and tucked inside the box, wrapped in several layers of bubble wrap, was a gift box that bore the Guerrero Ceramics stamp, and inside the box, layered with more bubble wrap, was my wrapped chawan.  Now, when I say “wrapped” I don’t just mean bubble wrap.  Mr. Guerrero took the time to wrap the chawan in a bright yellow fabric – Japanese furoshiki style!

As for the chawan:  I just love it!  It is a bit larger than my previous chawans, almost the size of a typical cereal bowl.  But I actually prefer this size to my smaller chawans because it allows me ample room to whisk without sloshing any of the Matcha out of the bowl in the process.  It also allows me to double up on the amount of Matcha I prepare … because, I’ve found that with my smaller bowls, the Matcha just disappears way too quickly!  To put it simply, bigger bowl = MORE MATCHA!

If you find yourself in need of a new chawan, please, consider shopping handmade!  We artists need and cherish the support, and you won’t find a nicer artist than Jeff Guerrero from Guerrero Ceramics!

Murmur from Handmade Tea, part 1

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  White

About this Blend: 

Murmur starts with a white peony base which features the signature unopened tea bud and two accompanying leaves. This tea has beautiful delicate notes of juicy honeydew drizzled in honey, with accents of darker fruit and chocolate. Next, the strawberries are added to accent the white peony’s fruity notes and add a little tartness to the back of the palate. Lastly the cacao nibs contribute to the rich, classic chocolate taste that pops mid palate.

Read more about Handmade Tea here.

NOTE:  this tea was the tea of the month for February, 2012.  However, I did notice that – after a quick visit to the Handmade Tea website, that this particular tea is offered on FAB for just a couple more days!  So if you’re interested, you need to act now!  Also worth mentioning, Caleb at Handmade Tea is offering a 15% discount on the first month’s subscription to Steepster members who subscribe to the monthly service.  Read more about that discount here.

Taster’s Review:

I want to approach this review a little differently (as you have probably already noticed!) because, really, this tea and tea company are a little different from any other that I’ve yet to encounter.  This tea is true to its name, it is truly a handmade tea – something that you, the consumer, could have easily crafted yourself with the right tools at your disposal.  This tea required no real skill in tea flavoring, because it is NOT a flavored tea.  It is a blend that falls somewhere between tisane and tea.  It takes high quality, pure, unflavored loose leaf tea and mixes with it dried fruit, spices, and other components to create something that is a little like a fruit tisane and a little like a pure, whole leaf tea.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about the packaging and what is included with each package.  Each box is tied with red twine and sealed with a wax seal which adds a touch of class and makes one feel like they’re getting something very special.  Inside the twine sealed box is a large tin of tea that holds the blended tea.  In this case, it is a white peony blend with dried strawberries and cacao nibs.  There are also three tiny tins which hold small amounts of each of the components:  one for white peony tea, one for dried strawberries, and one for cacao nibs.  These individual components allow you to personalize your experience further.  Wand a little more strawberries?  Add them!  More chocolate-y flavor?  Make it so!  Or maybe you’d just like to eat the strawberries right there at your kitchen counter.  Sure, go right ahead!

So, let’s get right down to it.  I’m going to do three separate tastings of this tea.  The first time, I’m going to taste the blend as I received it.  The second, I’m going to taste the white peony on its own.  And then, I’m going to customize it by adding a few more strawberries and cacao nibs.

First Tasting

If you’re expecting chocolate covered strawberries – you’re going to be sorely disappointed.  This … isn’t a flavored tea.  That is why I decided to craft this review differently to begin with … this initial tasting.  I wanted a strong chocolate and strawberry presence, and it isn’t there.  A wee bit disappointing when you’re expecting one thing and you get another… HOWEVER… this IS really quite good, so it is a little weird for me to say I’m disappointed.  Instead, I would want to say that this isn’t a chocolate covered strawberry experience.  This is a white tea experience with hints of strawberry and chocolate.

What I taste mostly is white tea.  Nothing wrong with that:  this is an excellent white peony!  Sweet with honey-like tones and hints of melon.  I notice a dew-like taste to this, a taste that evokes thoughts of those early spring mornings when the new spring leaves and grass are sparkling with dew drops.  It is vegetative and fresh tasting, and overall, it hosts a beautiful delicateness to it.

About mid-sip, I notice the chocolate.  It doesn’t really pop in like “HEY!  I’M HERE!” instead it sort of creeps into the taste buds awareness … as if it is being drizzled over the palate.  The chocolate is subtle and smooth … but very delicious.  I wish it was stronger, of course, and it will be in my third tasting of this tea!

Finally, the strawberry creeps in at the finish, and lingers into the aftertaste, offering that berry taste that I’d experience if I were to bite into a fresh berry.  After I’ve eaten the berry, the aftertaste that remains… it’s that same aftertaste.  Sweet yet tart.  Not strong or overwhelmingly present, but, there in the aftertaste, haunting the taste buds with strawberry goodness.

Overall, this first cup of Murmur tea was really delicious, even if it didn’t fulfill my expectations … I still really enjoyed it.

I will be writing a second part to this review which will publish in a few days time which will include my impressions of the tasting of the white peony on its own, as well as the tasting of the customized cuppa.

Earl Grey Lollipop from The Groovy Baker

Where to Buy:  The Groovy Baker on Etsy

Product Description:

The candy base on this one is a nice vanilla cream, sweetened with just a touch of honey

~ flecks of high quality Earl Grey make it awesome.

Added bonus? They look all spooky and cool. =)

Taster’s Review:

Of the six different lollipops that I’ve tasted from the Groovy Baker thus far, this one was perhaps the most confusing.  I think I was hoping for a little more Earl Grey flavor.

Don’t get me wrong, these are still really tasty.  And I love the vanilla/honey flavor of the candy.  But I think that I was expecting it to have a little more tangy bergamot citrus tones, a little more brisk black tea flavor.  Those notes don’t come until you’ve licked on the lollipop for a while and some of the tea leaves that have been embedded in the candy have “steeped” some of their flavor onto the palate.

And when those Earl Grey flavors do finally arrive – YUM!  This becomes a real tea lovers treat.  The vanilla is creamy and smooth.  The honey notes are a delicious addition to this confection, reminding me of my earlier experiences with tea when I still added quite a bit of honey to each cup.  Now that my palate has matured a little, I am adding less of the sweet stuff (and sometimes no sweet stuff!) but my sweet tooth sometimes still wants it!  This lollipop satisfies those sweet tooth cravings while still appealing to the tea lover in me.

On the down side, the larger tea leaves can be a bit rough on the tongue.  I would suggest that the tea leaves be finely ground before sprinkling them onto the lollipops – I think it would also help to distribute the Earl Grey flavoring a little better.  But even with the larger pieces of leaves, these are still really delicious.

Here’s an idea:   use this lollipop as a tea stirrer – letting the lollipop dissolve in the tea.  YUM YUM YUM!

PRODUCT REVIEW: Matcha Green Tea Lollipop from The Groovy Baker

Where to Buy:  The Groovy Baker on Etsy

Product Description:

*Real* Matcha Green Tea imported from Japan ~

With just a touch of lemon and creamy vanilla ~ a bit of pear adds depth and the toasted almonds some crunch and complexity.

Pretty clear green ~ just really nice.

Made with pure cane sugar, never any corn syrup.

Taster’s Review:

I found these beauties on Etsy one evening while I was browsing on the site, looking for new tea products.  And, yes, they really are as beautiful as they look!

The first thing I taste with these is the pear.  It doesn’t dominate the confection but it does come on strong at the start.  The Matcha flavor starts off much softer – the flavor is there from the start it is just rather delicate in the beginning.  After several licks I noticed that the green tea flavor started to really come through nicely, and by the time I was about halfway through the lollipop, the Matcha was prominent.

One thing that this lollipop does lack verses a bowl of Matcha tea is the bittersweet characteristic of Matcha due to the sugar in the candy.  I think that this is where the almonds really play their part well.  The almond slivers are embedded into the candy, and I found myself nibbling at them.  It offered a tasty nutty flavor as well as an interesting feel and look to the lollipop.  Moreover, the almonds helped bring out some of the less distinctive notes of the Matcha.

I just loved these lollipops.  Sweet (I guess that is a bit obvious, since it’s candy!) but with a delicious complexity that I wouldn’t get from an ordinary confection.  The perfect candy for someone who’s “nuts” about tea!

PS:  You can read more of my reviews of other flavors of lollipops from The Groovy Baker here.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Green Tea Butter Caramels from Fusion Sweets

Where to Buy:  Fusion Sweets on Etsy ~or~ Fusion Sweets website

Product Description:

For some, the taste of childhood is Hershey bars and marshmallow fluff. For me, it is green tea caramel.

Reminiscent of vintage Japanese milk candies, our green tea butter caramels burst with the bright, fragrant, grassy notes of high quality green tea powder.

Taster’s Review:

These are oh-so-delicious!

The caramels are very soft and smooth in texture, although there is a little bit of “grit” (for lack of a better word) from the Matcha green tea.  This in no way detracts from the pleasurable texture of the caramels, though.

The Matcha gives these caramels a delicious twist on the classic caramel taste.  There are creamy, milky sweet tones from the caramel that meld so perfectly with the vegetative and vibrant notes from the Matcha.  It tastes … well, it tastes like Matcha and caramel!  And what a wonderful way to enjoy the health benefits of this green tea.

Yes, that’s right.  This is health food.  It’s good for me.  They’re Super-Candies! So, it’s quite alright to indulge in another … and another … and even another.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it)  My only lament about these “uper-candies is that now, they are gone…

If you love Matcha, these treats are a MUST TRY!  And buy a bunch, you’ll be glad you did!