The Global Tea Championship’s Spring Hot (Loose Leaf) Competition took place Sept. 28 in Boulder, Colorado. Judges Lydia Kung, Danielle Hochstetter and Jhanne Jasmine tasted and evaluated 136 teas that were submitted by 45 companies for competition in 37 categories.
Kung has judged in this competition several times and Hochstetter and Jasmine were first-time judges. They shared their insights with regard to the competition itself and the teas involved.
“I thought [the competition] was well-organized and is designed to give all the teas a fair shake,” Hochstetter said. “I hope producers know that it is truly blind—we don’t know who the entries are from and no one is influencing us as we cup.”
“It was quite apparent that a lot of dedication and hard work went into this well-organized event, and it took a great deal of time and many pairs of hands to make it happen for which I was very grateful.” Jasmine said. “There was a strong sense of fairness in judging and an atmosphere of integrity while evaluating the teas.”
Kung spoke of how the competition offered a unique occasion to taste teas grown in different regions that are processed in the same manner. “Viewed with a wide-angle lens, this type of tasting session offers a great teaching opportunity about origins and processing method,” Kung said. “The lesson about tea as an expression of a particular place has been well-taught. In the competition, there is the opportunity to cup teas usually identified with one region but which come from disparate locations, all appearing together because they share the same processing method, such as the Open/White tea group.”
At times, there were discrepansies between how good the tea leaves appeared and the actual taste of the tea. “We saw beautifully crafted leaves that raised expectations about flavor, only to be disappointed by the cup,” Kung said. For example, an ordinary-looking maofeng outperformed a well-known signature green tea in terms of taste. “Had there been more time, it would have been fruitful to consider what went slightly amiss in processing,” added Kung.
Teas that stood out included a couple of entries in the 1st Flush Darjeeling group, which “showed a style that is produced in small quantities, with very light liquor, and milder flavor than the more standard style with its green and tan hues in the dry leaf,” according to Kung. Hochstetter said, “I think experimentation is important in any industry. There was one tea with bright green, rather flaky open leaves in the steamed green category. The color of the wet and dry leaf was quite arresting and the cup quality was decent, too.” She also felt there were some Senchas with great umami flavor and a good classic Keemun. Jasmine said, “Teas that made a lasting impression for me personally were in the categories of Gyokuro and Mao Feng. I was also taken with a unique Lapsang Souchong which wasn’t as smoky as one would expect from a traditional Lapsang Souchong, but it was complex and well-balanced with a wonderful mouthfeel and taste to match.”
Jasmine also emphasized the value of experimentation, “I found the open categories to be very intriguing. It was wonderful to see so many unique entries where gardens were experimenting with styles and techniques that strayed from their traditional processing methods,” she said. “They really seemed to be attempting to create something unique or perhaps even special. Historically speaking, experimenting with how leaves respond to different processing methods is how great varietals are discovered for certain styles of teas.”
The judges offered some feedback for tea companies. Hochstetter noted the impact improper storage can have on tea, “Even a great tea can become mediocre with inadequate storage,” and added, “there were a couple of tainted teas… it can be hard to judge the tea on its merits, since the real flavor is masked.”
Kung also suggested entrants taste 2-3 samples from the batch being represented prior to submitting it for the competition.
As in the past, the issue of teas not representing their categories arose. Jasmine said, “The judges did eliminate a couple of tea entries that were ill-placed in a category.” She and Kung underscored the importance of studying each category’s description and entering teas that are “true to character” and “characteristic of the category.”