Review: Norbu Tea 2010 Spring Hon Yama Zairai Sencha

Green Tea, Norbu Tea, Sencha Tea Add comments
Jamie’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"The tastes are unique and definite in each infusion. Character abounds. This leaf is sophisticated and yet surprisingly straightforward and easy to work with and is full of great flavors. "
Jamie’s Teaview: 9/10
Other Teaviews: Geoff gave it 7.9/10
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Before starting in on this review, I just wanted to mention a few interesting things that I learned about this tea and indeed tea growing in Japan while researching Norbu's site regarding this specific tea offering. This tea is an Asamushi style sencha, which means it is lightly steamed. Zairai in the title denotes a type of tea tree; in Japan, mature tea trees are called Zairai. I found the background notes on this tea at Norbu's website to be incredibly informative and fascinating to boot. I expect you'll agree with me if you take some time to peruse the information. Norbu also offers beautifully detailed steeping information, which I appreciated! One of the things that Norbu mentions (I'll paraphrase pretty heavily here) is that leaf from Zairai trees in Japan commands a much lower price than other varietals. As a result, many farmers have tried to destroy these Zairai trees to replace them with stock that will fetch a higher price at market. The author of this information celebrates (and I can't help celebrating along with) that the trees have incredible root systems that make them very hard to eradicate and so they grow back again, making leaf like the one I sampled today available, hooray!!

I had a 10 gram sample and opted to prepare this offering in a twelve ounce pot to share with my husband. It's a day off for us and we have time to really savor this one. I followed the steeping schedule recommended by Norbu. I made three infusions with times of 90 seconds for the first, 30 seconds for the second and 2 minutes for the final infusion that I prepared. I kept my water temperatures between 145 and 150 degrees.

For the first infusion, a 90 second steep at 150 degrees yielded a bright golden green cup with some little leaf particles decorating the bottom of our cups. The flavor is very light and fresh - overwhelmingly sweet and with a surprising (and delightful) fullness in the mouth. There is something reminiscent of a broth in the body and the steaming done on the leaves is discernible in taste. Imagine a delicate spring vegetable that you want to steam cook very lightly, so that the essence is brought out but no more than that. That's the way the steamed taste comes across to me. There is a very slightly complex (bittersweet here would be far too strong a descriptor) edge to the sweetness of the cup, just a little hint of something. The vegetal qualities become more apparent as the tea cools and the textural creaminess or brothiness expands a bit as well. Very good!! This cup leaves a pleasant astringent aftertaste in the mouth that is clean and fresh.

The second steeping was of a 30 second duration using water that had cooled to 148 degrees. This treatment brings about a bright green gold infusion perhaps a little more intensely green than the first. This cup has a completely different taste than the first. Aspects of it are more nasal; I feel as though I am tasting this in different parts of my mouth. The taste of the tea comes across as more "cooked" too - there is a great sense of fullness to it. The sweetness is present but far more vegetal in aspect. There are elements in the taste that I just can't accurately describe...but they are "like" grassy, bitter, grainy and sweet in their presentation. Astringency is pronounced but elemental rather than in any way harsh. This is also a very enjoyable cup. A clear, clean taste lingers in the mouth.

A final third infusion I allowed a two minute steep at 150 degrees. I used about 2 ounces less water this time. Wow. This cup is also quite different. The color is lovely again, leaning more into green and without any cloudiness at all. This cup has a strong flavor - not weak at all. I expect more infusions could be had but I can't handle much more green tea at this point in the day! The flavor has definite astringency as a primary component and the sweetness is present but edged with a fine bitter flavor that I am in love with - it's fresh and even bracing and then the tea ends each sip with renewed sweetness and light astringency. A miniature voyage in each sip. I am reminded of dark chocolates in the 70 to 75% range. Japanese greens often remind me of quality dark chocolate and this one particularly does.

This is an EXCELLENT tea. The tastes are unique and definite in each infusion. Character abounds. I am so glad that these tea trees are difficult to eradicate, because they yield a leaf that has opened up a new chapter of taste to me in a Japanese Sencha. This leaf is sophisticated and yet surprisingly straightforward and easy to work with and is full of great flavors. It is a May 2010 harvest and is currently offered at 25 % off. This is a tea that I would like to try more of and recommend heartily.

— To purchase Norbu Tea 2010 Spring Hon Yama Zairai Sencha, 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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