The Global Tea Championship’s Spring Hot (Loose Leaf) Competition took place Sept. 29 in Boulder, Colorado. Three tea experts—Lydia Kung, Richard Enticott and Rob McCaleb—judged 168 teas submitted by 44 companies from 16 countries.
When evaluating the tea entries the defining characteristics of each category provided the benchmark for comparison, rather than other submissions in the same category. Furthermore, teas that scored enough points to win a gold medal always—in leaf appearance and flavor—exhibited clearly and distinctively the features one expects of the category, said Kung.
Enticott said, “For regional varietals I was looking for exceptional quality of leaf and liquor specific to the origin, region, elevation and style. For the blended submissions I was looking for well thought out and creative presentation of ingredients in dry form and a well-balanced flavor profile in the cup.”
Notable teas included the High-, Mid-, and Low-Grown Ceylon teas and the Oolongs. The Ceylon teas “provided a very satisfying, if brief, overview of the wonderful teas this region offers,” said Kung. Enticott thought the Oolongs were of exceptional quality and best represented their category. He added, the Darjeeling White tea—while not typical of a traditional Chinese white tea—was nonetheless an excellent tea.
“It was also heartening to see a good number of teas in the Aged/Baked Oolong group, since this is a category not always well known to consumers,” said Kung. “The techniques used during the post-manufacture processing demand highly skilled and experienced workers, so it was gratifying to see a larger than expected representation.”
Enticott liked how the strength of the flavoring used in the flavored blends and flavored herbal blends had been toned down since the last time he judged in Feb. 2017. “I think this is a positive trend so as to give a more natural flavor profile coming from the botanicals themselves as opposed to a flavoring agent,” he said. However, the desired flavor profile should be distinctive and easy to discern, added Kung.
Kung felt the overall quality of the teas in this competition surpassed that of previous competitions since hardly any teas were tainted.
An issue that arose was certain teas did not befit the categories in which they were submitted. Kung recommends entrants review category definitions and evaluate their teas against the characteristics outlined.
Enticott stated that only extraordinary teas will earn medals. “I know from having judged previous competitions that the bar is set extremely high to ensure only the very finest submissions will receive enough marks to win an award. Not getting an award does not mean the tea was not excellent—but does suggest it was not exceptional.”
Overall, the competition reflected the growth of the specialty tea industry and the quality it has to offer. “The grouping of over 100 teas is wonderful affirmation of the bounty in this field,” said Kung.