With categories including Dragonwell, Pan-Fired Green Tea, Matcha and Flavored Fruit Blends, among others, the North American Tea Championship (NATC) named 17 first-place winners during its Hot Tea evaluation for Spring 2013. The competition was held July 30 – 31 in Las Vegas, Nev. at the headquarters of World Tea Media, organizer of the event. The Championship is the only independent competition – evaluated by professional cuppers – to distinguish the highest quality and best tasting teas that are commercially available in the North American marketplace. Some of the winning companies will be featured at the upcoming World Tea East, Oct. 20-22, 2013, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga.
“The North American Tea Championship accurately reflects the improving quality of tea that is currently retailed to consumers in both the United States and Canada,” said NATC Cupping Coordinator Mo Sardella of The G.S. Haly Company in Redwood City, Calif. “As with all NATC events, a full spectrum of quality teas was represented by the entries. And, as always, the decidedly skilled evaluation panel was able to consistently and methodically reveal the highest quality offerings through their thorough and well calibrated organoleptic evaluation techniques.
A Competition About Quality
Lydia Kung, an NATC judge, tea buyer and expert with Eastrise Trading Corp in Monrovia, Calif., said, “Daily cupping of teas is routine for experts in the industry, but cupping at the North American Tea Championship level is a very special opportunity. Compressing some 200 or so teas into two days of evaluation is a wonderful reminder of why we are in the business of tea.”
During the competition, Kung and the other judges evaluated every submission via blind and organoleptic analysis, including dry leaf, brewed flavor, brewed color, brewed aroma, brewed mouth feel and brewed harmony. An overall numerical value on a 100‐point scale was then calculated based on the ratings of each characteristic, and winning teas were determined by rank. The North American Tea Championship Hot Tea Class is evaluated twice a year – July for spring teas and February for fall teas.
According to Sardella, the North American Tea Championship is one of the only events in the world that defines, evaluates and ranks teas from all major specialty tea growing areas. “As the North American tea industry continues to mature, the NATC will become an excellent venue for retailers and wholesalers to obtain valuable feedback regarding their prized offerings, with the best teas setting the standard for the world to follow,” he noted.
“The categories that seemed to generate lengthy discussion at the cupping table were the green and white teas,” explained Sardella. “Specifically, the Evaluation Panel noted that a few teas pushed the boundaries of tradition, with regard to unique origin and processing styles. And while it is always a welcome challenge for the evaluation panel to assess the qualities of non-traditional tea types and styles, it should be noted that in general, the non-traditional teas – such as Ceylon white tea or ‘pu-erh’ tea from Korea – did not match up to the category definitions; as such, those teas did not score as well as comparable quality teas from traditional origins.”
Sardella added: “In the blended and flavored tea categories, the Evaluation Panel noticed innovation and creative flavor combinations abound. While not necessarily for the tea purist, the blended and flavored white and green tea categories provided some very unique and often whimsical points of view from the perspective of the retailer/consumer. As the industry continues to grow, the blended and flavored categories will expand as an entry point for new tea drinkers, and as an effective method for independent companies to create unique blends that represent their quality point of view. Technically, these categories are always challenging to evaluate, as the options for viable blending components are both infinite and extremely subjective.”
Advice for Future Competitors
After the competition, Kung offered two key tips for future North American Tea Championship competitors: 1. Taste the teas before they are sent. “In this competitive context, it is disconcerting and surprising to come upon tainted teas,” explained Kung. “Occasionally, the taint can be detected before the tea is sipped. In one instance during the recent competition, it was especially disappointing because the tea was obviously an expensive, well-crafted tea.” 2. Know the importance of proper storage. “This issue emerged again at NATC with some teas that seemed old or stale,” said Kung. “At this competition, when spring green and white teas are prominently featured, freshness is key.”
A complete list of first, second, and third place winners of the North American Tea Championship is available here.
The next North American Tea Championship will be held in November 2013 for an evaluation of packaged single-service tea. To inquire about entering the competition, e-mail [email protected].