4 Key Takeaways for Global Tea Championship Entrants

The Global Tea Championship’s Spring Hot Tea Competition took place Sept. 16-17 in Boulder, Colorado. Three judges evaluated 225 teas in 44 categories.

Global Tea Championship judges Rob McCaleb, Scott Svihula and Lydia Kung. Photo by Beth Dobos.

Judges Lydia Kung of VeriLeaf Fine Teas, Rob McCaleb of Herb Research Foundation and Natural Healthcare and Scott Svihula of Hula Consulting share their reactions and insights.

“The judges learn from each other,” Kung said. “Our areas of expertise differ somewhat and mesh well. After scoring, the evaluation is discussed, with explanations for the scores from different and complementary perspectives.”

First-time judge McCaleb shared his reaction: “I’m super impressed with all of the products and the variability and the variety of teas that we judged.”

Tips for Global Tea Championship Entrants

After tasting, the judges offered these tips for entrants.

Tea categories: Kung noted that several teas were not true to their categories. “By fine tuning what the features of the teas should be, we’re improving the benchmark standards,” Kung said. She recommends that contestants study category definitions and believes the ultimate goal is to help identify benchmark teas for tea purveyors.

Kung added it is important for not just the entrants but those in the trade to understand that each entry is evaluated against a specific standard, and is not narrowly confined to other entries on the table. The overarching standard is the definition of the category, and the tea is evaluated within the context of the accumulated and combined memory of the judges, in the visual, olfactory senses and, of course, flavor.

Flavored features: With regard to flavored teas that contain camellia sinensis, Kung emphasized the importance of being able to taste the tea and the featured flavor. “Because the tasting is blind, there are no tea names or labels that might generate certain expectations or preconceptions. So the intended flavor must be readily discernible,” Kung said.

Blending skill: Svihula concurred on flavoring, noting that some contestants did not understand the proper usage of flavoring and blending techniques. For example, incongruity of the size of the pieces results in poor blendability. Another issue that arose was the use of flavoring botanicals that never fully dry and can become harbingers for bacteria and mold, which is a struggle for the industry, he said. He recommends blending in these types of botanicals after the flavoring has been added and has had time to dry.

Proper processing: Kung also stressed the importance of understanding the processing of the teas. In dry form, some teas elicit high expectations that might not be fulfilled in terms of flavor. Kung likes to examine wet leaves to assess the quality of the plucking and how well processing methods were carried out. For example, to see how well a Ti Kuan Yin was rolled.

Svihula said, “I thought this year’s September competition overall was better than last year’s. We had a lot more entries, which was great. We had a lot of different countries represented. The categories were well-balanced and we had a really good showing for each of the categories this year.”

Scott Svihula, Rob McCaleb and Lydia Kung, evaluate teas. Photo by Beth Dobos.

Global Tea Championship Entry Highlights

McCaleb said that in addition to tasting teas that fell into traditional themes, some unusual new products and combinations have never been done before. “It’s exciting to see how many different directions this industry can branch out in regarding making creative new teas,” McCaleb said.

Two American teas—one green and one black—impressed the judges both in terms of appearance and flavor.In terms of new trends that surfaced this year, Svihula said it was refreshing to see teas in the open classes—the pan fired general class or the steamed general class—that were not origin-specific.

“It was good to see a lot of varying origins trying to do newer teas that aren’t traditionally grown or processed in their areas.”

See the 2017 Global Tea Championship Spring Hot Loose Leaf results here.