Review: Norbu Tea Lao Cong Zi Ya – Taiwan Wild Black Tea – Spring 2011

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This was the conversation I had with Norbu Tea back in November (paraphrased for humor’s sake):

Norbu: “Is there anything else you’d like to try?”

Me: “Nope, I think I’m good.”

Norbu: “I have these Taiwanese old tree teas.”

Me: “No worries, I think the ones I mentioned will do me fine.”

Norbu: “No, dude, seriously…you HAVE to try these.”

Me: “Your logic is sound.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to them until several months later. By several, I mean…er…March. And what an idiot I was. There were two separate mountain varietals Norbu had picked up – three teas from the “Lao Cong” (or “Old Tree”) varietal and one from the “Zi Ya” (or “Purple Shoot”) varietal. This was the only black tea of the bunch.

The leaves for this were very similar in appearance to Taiwanese “Ruby” black tea. They were long, obviously black, and some even had a reddish hue to them. As for aroma, it was loudly malty, partly minty, medium-earthy - all around pleasant.

Norbu Tea recommended two different approaches for this. One was the typical Western-style, while the other – surprisingly was gongfu. I had never done a black tea with a gongfu prep. Eh, sure, why not? I thought. First time for everything. I brought water to a boil, let it rest for a bit, used roughly a tablespoon of leaves for the gaiwan and did four successive steeps – two at thirty, two at forty.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed up bronze with an aroma I could only describe as “zesty”. Taste-wise, it delivered much like a high-altitude Ceylon would – emphasis on the floral forefront and middle, followed by an aftertaste that tapers off nicely.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor color remained the same, but the aroma was a little woodier. On the flavor side, this still had a floral front, yet it transitioned to something a bit more chewy – like a Dian Hong.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Lighter in color, scent, and taste than its forebears. This was more reminiscent of an oolong. A Taiwanese oolong, though, which still made it good. Very honey-like quality.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): The liquor was only a pale, white tea-ish gold at this point – a definite sign of taper-off. The scent had hints of malt and flowers to it, which was pleasant. That and the taste echoed its most recent predecessor in to the oolong comparison, only on the crisp side. Oddly enough, the aftertaste was quite similar to a Darjeeling orange pekoe.

I took some more of this stuff to work with me following the gongfu brew-up. As such, I only had a quickie Western method to contend with – 12oz. coffee cup and 200F water. Luckily, I’d bagged about a tablespoon-worth for the trip. After about a three-to-four minute brew-up, it was on par with a good Bai Lin Gong Fu – dark, earthy, sweet on the end and damn good. I still preferred the gongfu prep for, but if one had to, it could hold up to a less sophisticated approach. Definitely worth your valuable time and taste.

— To purchase Norbu Tea Lao Cong Zi Ya – Taiwan Wild Black Tea – Spring 2011, 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.

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