Review: Norbu Tea Ya Bao Camellia Varietal Wild White Tea (Spring 2010)

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Geoff’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"Some of the flavor characteristics also match those of white teas not produced in China. A spicy note in the finish was very similar to a Darjeeling white."
Geoff’s Teaview: 9.7/10
Other Teaviews: Katie gave it 9.5/10
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During my last year of college - while others were busy drinking themselves into a stupor - I participated in role-playing games with friends. One particular friend came up with a sci-fi "homebrew" space opera where we - the players - were allowed to invent our own backstories - just as long as it fit into the universe and made sense. I created a somewhat sociopathic, mildly dim-witted, idiot savant of a hacker by the name of Nathal Kaustrien. I loved the character; he was like a smarter (more talented) version of me. In creating his backstory, I also invented a mad scientist uncle for him. His first name was Norbu.

Keep in mind, this game was long before I developed an interest in tea. Imagine my dumbfounded surprise - four years later - to discover a tea company with the name of a mad scientist I created. Perhaps it's kinda fitting given their wares. I haven't seen so extensive a catalog of pu-erhs and oolongs in my life. The first time offerings came around in review circulation, I was on hiatus. I missed the boat. This time, though, I was ready.

My first Norbu Tea out of the starting gate was their Ya Bao Wild White Tea (i.e. the one you're reading about now). As I've mentioned in prior entries, who am I to turn down the opportunity to try out new white teas? This one was especially unique given the varietal of Camellia sinensis used - "Ya Sheng" or "wild pu-erh". The ancient trees - sometimes referred to as Arbor trees, for some reason - grow wild, and leaves can only be picked in the early spring. Raw pu-erh is sometimes made of this varietal, and is prized for its rarity. A white tea from this varietal is even more rare.

The appearance for these buds were unlike anything I'd seen before. They didn't look like leaf buds at all, but rather flower buds off of some wild-crafted weed. The smell also echoed this with a pungency that could only be labeled as...well..."wilderness". I likened the aroma to Sideritis syriaca - the shrub used for Greek Mountain "tea" - except lacking the citrus profile. The untamed, milky scent was quite inviting.

There were gongfu-style directions on the Norbu site, but I was relieved to see that this could also be prepared as any normal white or green tea. Their white tea directions called for 160F-180F for a steep of six-to-ten minutes. Wow, I thought. Usually, I never steeped a white for longer than five - three on average. I went with 1 generous teaspoon of buds in 8oz of 165F steeped for the minimum six.

The liquid infused as the Norbu profile stated, clear with a faint yellow-green tinge to it. The steam aroma matched the dry buds in its wildernessy delivery - milky, slightly minty, shrub-like, pleasant. And those traits also translated to taste without a loss of character. I would say this was the first tea I've tried where the dry, wet, and flavor presentations were exactly the same. Sniffing a batch of un-brewed buds will tell you exactly what you'll be tasting. Some of the flavor characteristics also match those of white teas not produced in China. A spicy note in the finish was very similar to a Darjeeling white.

A second "Western-style" infusion at an undetermined time turned up an entirely different flavor experience. Gone was the wilderness white, only to be replaced by something akin to olive leaves, apricots, pears, and maple. A profile similar to a Kenyan white tea, I'd guess. There was even a kick in the aftertaste that reminded me of bergamot rind. This is my second superb white tea in two days time. For awhile, I'd neglected my white tea roots in favor of darker dealings. I'm glad there are still some out there that can lure me back to the light side.

— To purchase Norbu Tea Ya Bao Camellia Varietal Wild White Tea (Spring 2010), or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

Teaviews Member: Geoff Geoff
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One Response to “Review: Norbu Tea Ya Bao Camellia Varietal Wild White Tea (Spring 2010)”

  1. Pamela Dean Says:

    I’m aging this ya bao in a white paper (food grade kraft) bag alongside the green sheng and am keen to find out what awaits, a year or two hence, in the sheng pumidor.

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