The Global Tea Championship Fall Hot (Loose Leaf) competition took place in Boulder, Colorado, Feb. 23-24. Judges Lydia Kung, Gilbert Kendzior and Rob McCaleb meticulously examined, tasted and evaluated each of the teas over the course of two days. The diverse array of entries elicited a variety of reactions.
Kung said the strongest tea entries clearly exemplified the definitive features of the category in terms of leaf appearance, liquor aroma and taste; adding that these teas possessed an inviting and nuanced complexity of flavor. “The felicitous coming together of these traits, in turn, leads us to consider how we establish benchmark teas, and how we may continually elevate these criteria,” said Kung.
Kendzior would have liked to have tasted more original teas as opposed to blends. To that end, the teas he found to be superior were the English Breakfast types, especially the Farmer Bros. Artisan Collection, followed by the Lumbini Valley wiry tips, which had wonderful strength and mouthfeel, saying, “the leaf was equally attractive, being full of tip.” Additionally, he thought the 2004 Bliss Cake cooked pu-erh, which was deep red in color, was excellent and a true representation of its type.
There were also teas that exhibited room for improvement. Some teas did not embody the particular qualities specific to their categories. Another recurring issue was that of added flavors overwhelming the taste of the Camellia sinensis in the blends. Furthermore, some blends had such a broad variety of ingredients that they seemed to lack an objective in their taste profiles, producing a muddled effect.
An issue this competition brings to light is that of the difference in standards between tea industry professionals and those of the general public. McCaleb noted consumers tend to prefer strong and distinctive flavors such as cinnamon. Whereas, judges tend to prefer more balanced blends. Consumers also might like to see colorful ingredients that are large in size, but judges usually prefer more evenly sized particles.
“The amount of sweetener used is another instance where a proper balance is important, sufficient to entice consumers but not so that the beverage becomes unpleasantly cloying, at least by industry standards of excellence,” added Kung.
She underscored the importance of tea education along with the welcoming the reminder that tea professionals be cognizant of their own assumptions, using an instance of a teabag-cut tea outperforming some whole leaf teas as an example.
The final category, the Unique Open Class, attracted teas that intrigued the judges and inspired discussion about possible new trends and new ingredients.
“For the next tasting event I would love to see more entries direct from countries of origin, a winning award for their entries can only help with their marketing,” said Kendzior. “Let’s see for example some of those wonderfully flavorful high grown Ceylons, thick rich second flush Assams, and the bright golden Kenya or Rwanda teas. How about more entries from China and some of the smaller producing nations such as Malawi, Tanzania, Ecuador and so on?”