NATC Competition Drives Excellence in Tea Industry


Momentum continues to drive tea excellence in the North American Tea Competition where manufacturers put 200 teas to the test.

Categories ranging from the traditional Dragonwell and Pu-erh to the contemporary Blended White Tea and Flavored Herbal Blends. A highly-skilled team of experienced tea professionals from around the industry methodically cupped each tea from every category, evaluating leaf appearance, liquor color, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel. 

The competition was a tremendous success, and continued the momentum of previous competitions to elevate the focus on quality and reveal the best tasting teas available commercially in North America. As the tea industry continues to grow and evolve, so too does the quality and diversity of the teas that find their way to the NATC Judges’ table. While there are too many aspects of the competition to report in brief, some of the highlights from this season’s event are listed below: 

Notable Improvements:

Pu-erh category – In past NATCs, the pu-erh category rarely exceeded the judges’ expectations of quality and variation as the category should reflect. This year’s offerings, however, showed a very eclectic range of pu-erh, representing all sub-categories of the type (green and dark, loose leaf and compressed). It seems evident that the increased demand for pu-erh teas in the West has sparked demand for increased variety and enhanced quality out of Yunnan, China.

Matcha category – Matcha teas showed an overall improvement this year: more high-quality ceremonial-grade teas were represented this year than in years before. Further, nearly all samples received for the competition were at the peak of freshness which made the evaluation process much more effective and favorable for the entrants.


Flavored and blended teas – While the categories of flavored teas and blended teas continue to grow and diversify, the greatest challenge in the competitions setting is for these blends to maintain viability when evaluated using analytical cupping methods. Many offerings combined very creative components (teas, whole fruit pieces, herbs, spices, and even nuts), yet in some cases the overall quality and harmonious extraction did not fully translate to the cup. Overall, the winners of these categories demonstrated a combination of thoughtful blending and flavoring formulas with more refined applications that complimented the delicate qualities of the tea rather than overpowering them.  

Tradition vs. innovation – A recurring topic that continues to arise at the NATC cupping table is the balance of tradition and innovation within Specialty Tea. More non-traditional tea types and origins are being entered into once traditional categories, challenging the judges to further define tea types. Judges’ interpretations of leaf appearance, flavor and mouthfeel, stirred up healthy discussion about the importance of creating a venue for both tradition and innovation for North American tea consumers. While this topic may be controversial to some, the NATC judges look forward to these discussions as they create a much-needed venue in the tea industry to understand and appreciate quality for what it is rather than what it is expected to be.


Darjeeling category – This year’s Darjeeling entrants showcased the ever-widening spectrum of creative, non-traditional Darjeeling outturns available to consumers. Where in the past, this category showcased classic leaf styles and well-established cup characteristics, this year continued to challenge the judges’ senses in the process to reveal the top picks in this category.  New and experimental leaf styles continue to push the boundaries of orthodox tea categorization, and cup quality follows suit with new and interesting flavors and textures expressing the terroir and manufacturing skills available from Darjeeling. While some of these non-traditional approaches earned high scores, others fell below the judges’ standards for quality Darjeeling tea.

White tea category – This year’s white tea category was by far the most surprising of the Competition. Similar to Darjeeling with regard to boundary-pushing leaf styles, flavors and textures, the White Tea category represented the greatest diversity of manufacturing origins (including: China, India, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, Malawi, and Nepal).

Mo Sardella

About Mo Sardella

Mo Sardella, The G.S. Haly & Co. Mo Sardella has been working in the Specialty Tea Industry since 1998, where he began his career at Peet’s Coffee and Tea based in Berkeley, CA. Since then, Mo has focused on tea education programs, and helping to maintain the consistency and quality of Specialty Tea available to North American consumers . Mo joined The G.S. Haly Company in 2010, where he continues to his knowledge and excitement about specialty teas from traditional tea producing areas around the world. Through active and collaborative partnerships with tea producers and suppliers, Mo continues to develop his skills at the cupping table, and his depth of knowledge about tea.