Tea Time – Tea Squared Selection

Today for you I have a great selection of green teas from Tea Squared. They were kind enough to send me a variety of loose-leaf green teas as well as some flavoured matcha latte powders. They’re based in Canada, so if you’re like me and looking for new tea suppliers without having to pay through the nose in shipping and duty, they’re a great place to check out. I’ve been trying them out for a week now, and ready to share my thoughts!

First up, we have the green teas. I wanted to sample a variety of these, to get a feel for the tea in its purest form as well as how it blends with other ingredients.

Sencha Fujiyama – This is a classic loose-leaf sencha tea. I always think teas like this are the best way to tell if a company knows what they’re doing. It’s very easy to mask a mediocre tea leaf with flavours and additives, but in pure form like this the tea itself has to be good, and Tea Squared got it right here. It’s light, fresh, and grassy. The colour is lovely, a bright clear green. If you’re looking for a clean sencha tea to go with everything from meals to sweets, this is definitely worth a shot.

Ryokucha – This is a blend of  sencha  and matcha tea with roasted rice. It adds a wonderful, earthy, toasted note that pairs so well with the light taste of green tea. It’s one of my favourites, and I have several different brands floating around the house. This one compared fantastically to them all. It strikes the perfect balance between the tea and the rice, and makes a great comforting cup.

Sencha Sensation – This is familiar sencha tea with a fun and colourful blend of natural ingredients like fruit, nuts, and pink peppercorns. I was very intrigued by the combination, and very pleased by the results. I was a little worried the tea would get lost under all the strong aromatics, but it’s very well-balanced. It’s a little fresh, a little fruity, and a little spicy. I can’t wait until the weather gets warmer to try this one iced and sweetened with a little honey!

These teas were all great, and I would recommend any of them.

After the classic sencha teas, I tried a couple of their Ma-Cha line of matcha lattes. These are meant to be mixed with a small amount of boiling water to create a sort of concentrate, which is then mixed with steamed or cold milk.

Vanilla Almond Ma-Cha Latte – This one was deliciously sweet but not overpowering. Personally, I noticed the vanilla more than the almond, but that’s not to say the almond wasn’t present – it was definitely noticeable. I made it with the unsweetened cashew milk I had on hand, and it was absolutely delicious. I bet it would be even better with almond milk, but I didn’t have any on hand. Once I’ve gone through the large bag they sent, I’m definitely going to be buying the individual packet size of these to keep at work and for travel.

Naughty Cacao Ma-Cha Latte – This one ended up being much darker than I expected. It looks like a really rich chocolate milk than a matcha drink. Heck, it tastes like a really rich chocolate milk, but with those familiar earthy notes from the matcha that pair incredibly well with the chocolate. I thought the chili would be a gimmick but it’s definitely present, and you can feel a lovely warmth build up in your throat as you drink it. Nothing unpleasant or overwhelming but it definitely makes its presence known. If you’re really not a spice fan, this one might not be for you.

There is one negative with these, minor as it is. You’re probably thinking it. Yes, the lady on the packaging is a little cringe-inducing for anyone familiar with geisha and kimono in general. I suspect she’s from a stock photo site, and I don’t fault the company for using her. I do hope they find a more authentic-looking image if they redo the packaging in the future though.

If you’re looking for an authentic matcha experience, these won’t scratch your itch. However, if you’re looking for a healthy and delicious alternative to some of the drinks at your local coffee-house that has the familiar earthiness of green tea with some interesting overlapping notes, they’re absolutely worth a shot.

 I received this item from the retailer or manufacturer for honest review purposes.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

Biku Designs Recycled Kimono Jewellery

I’ve been admiring the jewellery from Biku Designs for quite a while now. Owned and created in Tokyo by a lovely woman named Victoria Close, all the beautiful items are made using recycled kimono fabric and representing the values of mottainai. Between gift shopping during the holidays and making more practical purchases like tatoushi and arms for the mannequin I didn’t have much of a budget for pretty fun things. However, to celebrate the new year they released a fukurobuko (福袋), or lucky bag. This a tradition where vendors will offer a bag or bundle with a surprise selection of products available for a really steep discount.

I snatched one up right away, knowing it would give me a lovely variety of items to wear and feature, and I’m so glad I did. The items arrived well-packaged in a lovely little custom bag, emphasising the fukubukuro aspect of the bundle, which was a lovely touch. Each item inside was separately wrapped in red tissue, which made unwrapping it feel like a special event.

I kind of wish I’d waited to open it so I could take better photos, but it arrived while I was at work and I was so excited and impatient I ended up tearing into it and only snapped a few photos on my phone. Today, though, I made sure to take better photos that really show off the beauty of each item.

First was a beautiful fabric cuff, tied in a knot that reminds me of an obijime. I love that there’s a chain on this, because I’ve got very broad wrists and a lot of times bracelets are snug on me. Making this so adjustable is a very thoughtful finishing detail.

Next are a beautiful pair of stud earrings with embedded kimono fabric. You can tell Victoria put a lot of care and attention into these, as the patterns are perfectly balanced. I don’t typically wear stud earrings but they’re all my mother wears and I know she’ll love these, so I’m happy to give them to her.

The third item is a brooch, and again the attention to detail is obvious. The underside is just as well-finished as the top is, and the pattern feels balanced. This will also work very well as an obidome, and I can’t wait to pair it with an outfit!

Last up are a pair of french wire earrings with blue and white fabric under resin cabochons. These are the sorts of earrings I love and wear quite frequently, and I know these will be a cherished part of my regular rotation.

Every single item is clearly made with an abundance of care and attention. There’s not a single messy or unfinished edge to be seen, and everything feels delicate while remaining solid and wearable. If you’re looking for accessories with a bit of wa flair to add to your everyday wardrobe, or a gift for someone who loves Japanese textiles, I definitely recommend checking out Biku Designs.

I love all the items included, and the colours feel very “me” – blues and greens, like my hair! I had been in contact with Victoria before, and included a link to this blog but I have no idea if she actually selected the items for each bag or if it was just a happy accident. Either way, I’m thrilled!

You can find Biku Designs on their website, facebook, instagram, and twitter. Unfortunately the lucky bags are sold out, but there will be plenty of new stock on the website in the near future.

 I purchased this item myself and chose to review it.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

Kizuna Subscription Box – Deliver Japan to your door

Today I’ve got another awesome Japanese subscription box to share with you all. This is Kizuna Box, a monthly themed box delivered right to your door. Kizuna offers a Snack box, Healthy box, and a Lifestyle box, which is the one I received. Due to a lot of complicated allergies and food sensitivities, I tend to avoid snack-focused boxes, but theirs do look like a lot of fun.

Each month there is a new seasonal theme. I received December’s box, which had the theme of Toshi-Koshi Box, all sorts of lovely items for the upcoming New Year.

The box arrived wrapped in a plain weather-resistant mailer, but the inner box had this lovely label on it so you know exactly what you’re receiving. The items inside the box are very carefully wrapped and elegantly presented. Included is a little pamphlet explaining each item – a very important touch when dealing with a box that’s not in your native language. Because this was the end-of-year box, there was an extra gift, an ema that I’ll elaborate on below, and there was a separate note explaining that too.

Let’s start with the housewares and lifestyle items.

  • First there’s a masu, or cypress wood sake vessel. It has the cutest little chidori motif, and I’m a sucker for anything chidori!
  • Because we’re coming up on the year of the boar, the next item is a charming ceramic boar, painted with gold and decorated with a little crystal.
  • A small selection of stationery, including a card, a small decorative banner, and a package of envelopes meant for gifts of money for the new year. They’d make great little personal notes to tuck into a gift or a loved one’s lunch or purse as a surprise.
  • A furoshiki with really cute toy representations of all the animals of the zodiac. This is a really nice touch, since it’s got all twelve it can be displayed every year.

After the lifestyle items come the food items!

  • Nissin brand donbei, or instant soba noodles with tempura.
  • A great rice/donburi bowl. It’s got a really versatile striped pattern, and feels great in the hands. The donbei will fit perfectly in here, and you can bet when I eat it I will be posting a photo on Instagram.
  • These chopsticks themselves are simple enough, the chopstick rest is the real star here. It’s a hagoita, decorated with tiny orizuru paper. I’m admittedly afraid to use it, since it doesn’t look particularly washable. I may put it in a display case with other odds and ends rather than risk dirtying it.
  • Kagami-mochi candy, representative of the traditional larger traditional mochi displays for the new year.

And now the bonus gift, an ema with a toy dog on it, representing the end of 2018. An ema, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is a wooden plaque you write a prayer on and hang at your local shinto temple. This one comes with a note suggesting that if you don’t have a temple nearby, just to hang it somewhere in your house as both a wish and a decoration. I have a few goals I’d like to accomplish in the upcoming year, so I’m going to use it to bring me some good mojo. I actually have two for this upcoming year, as my friend Kansai Gal sent me one in her box of goodies too.

 

Overall, Kizuna Box is a great experience, and I definitely recommend it. It’s clear they put a lot of thought and effort into curating items to fit each theme and it’s always fun to get a bunch of beautiful surprises in the mail! You can subscribe to Kizuna Box for $34.95 per month here, along with their sister subscriptions of Kizuna Snacks and Kizuna Healthy if you find those more appealing.

Kizuna Box is approved by both Tribble and Vinnie!

 I received this item from the retailer or manufacturer for honest review purposes.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

J-Okini Shop Featurette

Today I’ve got a review for you, featuring J-Okini: Products From Japan. This is a lovely little shop stocks a wide variety of beautiful gifts and accessories, focused on traditional crafts and materials. Founder Sumie Nakamura was kind enough to offer me a few items to review when I reached out to her, and I can’t wait to share this great shop with you!

The first item I chose was this beautiful pair of mizuhiki earrings. Mizuhiki is an ancient Japanese art form that involves creating tiny, tightly-wound cords out of washi paper and bending them into knots and shapes. They are often used as decorative items or tied in auspicious knots attached to gifts and cards.

These earrings are absolutely beautiful and very well-made, They arrived carefully packed in a sweet little gift box, which both helped protect them in the mail and would make for a beautiful gift presentation. What I love about these is that they will undoubtedly look great with kimono but would also look amazing with western-style outfits that need a bit of wa flair. I actually found a really great little black dress with traditional looking kiku and ume motifts on it at Wal-Mart, of all places, and these earrings will definitely elevate that dress to a more chic level! I can’t wait to pair them together.

Browse their selection of mizuhiki accessories here.

Next up is this charming tiny little zipper pouch. I can’t get over how well-finished it is for something so small. I’ve including the Canadian quarter for scale – it’s the same size as a US quarter or a 50 cent Euro coin. It would make a great change purse or a little case for a special piece of jewellery while travelling.

Despite its tiny size, it’s smoothly finished inside and out and the zipper is great quality and opens without any fuss. I love the cube shape so much, it reminds me of a large die. I tend to leave the house without my hearing aid or jewellery when I fly, because I know I’ll have to take it all off when I get to security and deal with the hassle of collecting it all afterwards. Next time, I think I’ll put it all in this charming little cube and equip myself properly once I’ve settled in at the gate.

Browse their selection of kimono fabric wallets and pouches here.

Aside from these items, they also offer a wonderful variety of teas and tea tools (bowls, whisks, strainers, etc); a huge selection of bento boxes and products ranging from the adorable (I’m in love with this Geisha set) to the elegant (like this classic kimono-inspired motif); and obiage that can be worn as elegant silk scarves, or if you’re a fellow kimono addict, can be the finishing touch to your coordination.

Whether you’re shopping for yourself or looking for a gift for a loved one who is passionate about Japanese culture, J-Okini will have something for you. They are based in Europe (Malta, to be precise) so if you’re in that area they’re an excellent place to shop from. They will ship worldwide, though! It took a while for the package to get to me, but I place the blame for that squarely on the recent Canada Post strike, not J-Okini.

 I received this item from the retailer or manufacturer for honest review purposes.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

Review – ZenPop Stationery Subscription Box

Today we’ve got something a little different, but very cool. ZenPop.jp offers a selection of themed subscription boxes featuring all sorts of neat products from Japan, curated and delivered directly to your door! There are boxes that focus on sweets, one with a focus on ramen, a mix of sweets + ramen, and then the one I have here for you today, filled with an adorable assortment of Japanese stationery. I was offered the choice, but since I have a fair number of food allergies I felt like this was the safer bet. I’d hate to receive a box of things I couldn’t review properly!

The box was mailed on Nov 4th and arrived on Nov 29th, but Canada Post was on rotating strikes for most of the month so I’m fairly certain the long delivery period was due to that, not due to anything on ZenPop’s end. The first thing I noticed was the mailer box itself. They could just as easily send these in plain mailers, but seeing this custom packaging with the adorable mascot in the mail added to the whole experience. It’s a really nice touch!

Upon opening the box, you’re greeted with a sweet little thank-you note and a paper detailing the contents of the package. This insert was very useful, since the packaging on the items is nearly all in Japanese. Removing the insert and unfolding the tissue paper feels like unwrapping a present, and was very exciting. Since this is the last box of the year, the overriding theme is winter/new year, which seemed like a wonderful introduction to the service.

  • First up is a sweet little 2019 calendar. The cards are roughly the size of a photo or large index card, so this will easily fit on any desk. The designs are super cute.
  • Next is a packet of incredibly charming dog stickers. This past year was the year of the dog, so this is a nice little farewell to 2018. The stickers are really nicely made of heavily textured paper with gold accents. I know I’ll be using these in next year’s planner.
  • The third item is a nice little paper and envelope set. I’m really quite terrible at keeping up with physical correspondence but maybe with such cute stationery I’ll be more motivated!
  • This fourth item is really awesome – it’s a portable staple-less stapler. Is it still called a stapler? Who knows! But it’s really nifty. It cuts and folds the paper into a secure little flap. It’s not ideal for large reams of paper, but for someone who is constantly losing receipts and medical papers in the bottom of her purse, this is going to be really helpful.
  • This next picture actually showcases three items. First up – the notepad, which is a great little portable size and has sweet little winter scenes on it. My only issue is that it’s clearly intended for a Japanese audience and the rules on it are vertical. But for scribbling a quick note or two, it’s still totally useful. The red pen is a really fun little glitter jelly Sakura pen – I tried my best to capture how shimmery the writing is, but I’m not sure it picked up well on camera. The Beetle Highlighter by Kokuyo is incredible! The tip is very strange-looking, definitely reminiscent of a staghorn or rhino beetle, but it makes it very practical. Depending on how you hold the marker you can either get a standard wide line, a thin underline, or even a double-line. These would be incredibly helpful for a student or someone who needs to take a lot of notes.
  • Next is another adorable doggie item, this time they’re little self-adhesive flags. Great for marking up textbooks, planners, or just your current relaxing read. I can’t wait to see these cute faces sticking out of my stuff.
  • The ninth item is clearly intended for the holidays, and may not be useful in its intended purpose to people outside of Japan. These are decorative envelopes intended for gifts of money. However, they’re a good little size and very sweet-looking, so you could absolutely use them for a love note or a gift card.
  • Last but not least is a roll of washi tape, again with pretty winter landscapes on it. I love washi tape and use it to decorate so much stuff, this will definitely get great usage.

Overall, I’m really quite impressed by this box. For $29.50 you get a fantastic assortment of items that are both adorable and very practical. If you’re like me and you love getting little surprises in the mail, or you’re looking for a unique gift for someone who loves all things cute and Japanese, I highly recommend one of ZenPop’s offerings. Click here to check out ZenPop for yourself!

Bonus: ZenPop is 100% Tribble Approved!

 If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me.I received this item from the retailer or manufacturer for honest review purposes.