The Global Tea Championship's 2018 Fall Hot Loose Leaf Competition took place Saturday, March 24, in Boulder, Colorado, where tea purveyors from seven countries competed to win gold, silver or bronze medals in 27 categories. Tea industry experts Scott Svihula, Suzette Hammond and Aaron Vick judged the competition and offered their insights.
Judges did not measure the 147 tea entries each other but rather against the universal benchmark of standards for each category. They awarded the lowest number of medals and the least gold and silver winners this time, according to Svihula.
“There were a lot of submissions from international sources: manufacturers, brokers and shippers at the country of origin,” Vick said.
This is a significant change from the entrant makeup in past years.
Svihula added, “I believe this is the first time since the reboot of GTC, that international submissions were higher than domestic submissions.”
Vick noted that the broadening of tea submissions resulted in some unintentional mismatches between tea quality and the categories in which they were entered. He believes this is in part reflective of the gap that can exist between what American consumers want and what international suppliers think they want. Some international entrants submitted high-end teas for more “commodity-type” categories. The judges also saw commodity-grade teas entered in single estate categories.
This competition had a new category, the Unique Open Tea Class, which gave special teas that did not fit into any of the pre-existing categories a chance at recognition.
“I was so looking forward to this category and the teas submitted didn’t let me down,” Svihula said.
Entrants submitted 22 open class teas, and the judges gave out 15 awards.
“There were some really amazing teas in this category,” Svihula said. “One you can tell put a lot of work hand rolling the leaf in to small rose-like blossoms. Yet others offered care in grading, delivering a wonderful infusion. I applaud those who took the effort to enter their quality teas into this inaugural category. Well done.”
Hammond and Vick noticed an improvement in the blended tea category in terms of the flavors and the actual blending of the teas’ components.
“The blended and flavored black tea categories, as a whole, are really improving,” Hammond said. “Nearly gone are the days when we’re receiving teas absolutely drowning in pungent flavoring oil and little else.”
Vick said some blending issues of the past, such as large chunks of dried fruit being mixed in with small leaf teas, have been replaced with a more competent understanding of how ingredients work together.
“One creative, whimsical blend that stood out to me was a campfire/s’mores blend, with tiny toasted marshmallows and high-quality cocoa shells,” Hammond said. “It was thoughtful, well executed and tasty, too."
However, Hammond added that there were also several weak, thinly flavored teas in the competition. Their flavor profiles were, “muddled, muted and lacked definition,” according to Hammond, who cited the breakfast blends and masala chais as disappointing. She recommends tea producers blend ingredients for a clear purpose.
Sri Lanka and Darjeeling produced high-quality teas, said Vick.
Vick noted that a recurring issue with tea submissions is product contamination. “Tea is hydrophilic; it absorbs aromas from anything that it’s nearby if it’s not well-sealed and protected,” Vick said. Tea can take on the scent of an another botanical like mint or cinnamon, or even that of coffee.
The judges want entrants to understand where their teas stand quality-wise within the full spectrum of teas of a certain type, Vick said.
Svihula reminds entrants that judges’ comments are meant to be constructive peer review and emphasizes the importance of reviewing the rules and regulations before submitting teas to the competition. International tea purveyors can also use the judges’ feedback to gain greater understanding of what American consumers want in tea.
“Congrats to all the medal winners! Your teas were well deserving of the medal and you should be proud of the tea submitted,” Svihula said.