Iced Tea Competition Judges Offer Insights

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Manik Jayakumar, founder and CEO of QTrade Teas and Herbs, and Eliot Jordan, Vice President of Tea at Mighty Leaf were two of the three judges in the recent Global Tea Championship’s Iced Tea Competition, which took place on August 16 in Montebello, California. They offered their reactions and insights. The growing popularity of flavored iced teas was reflected in the competition. “When specialty teas began to get popular in the U.S. it was the hot teas that that got very popular even in flavored and blended tea categories,” said Jayakumar. “Now we were pleased to see iced teas following suit - it is a matter of time specialty tea fans will embrace these iced teas,” he said. Jayakumar described several teas including an “outstanding” white, flavored tea that was the best in the whole competition. The tea, LaCreme’s Blueberry White Tea, scored 90 and received a Gold medal. Jordan echoed Jayakumar’s observation, “We all were impressed by the blueberry flavored white tea, it had a really good taste and then when we saw the leaf it was obvious that someone had used a high quality and more expensive tea for iced.” Jordan noted an improvement in the flavorings incorporated into the iced tea blends, “I believe the flavorings used were of higher quality than what I remember from judging this 4-5 years ago; fewer of the obviously artificial notes that can ruin the experience.” Jayakumar said the ready-to-drink iced tea category is growing and yielded several exceptional teas in different categories. The cold brew trend shows no slowing. The cold brewed teas tasted fresh, he said. Conversely, there were teas that exhibited less exemplary traits. “I found many teas to be too sweet and in the case of flavored tea—slightly excess flavors were used that disappointingly masked the tea’s character,” Jayakumar said. “We owe the population a favor by reducing sugar levels in the specialty category.” A recurring issue that appeared again in this competition was the entrance of teas in the wrong categories, causing the teas to be disqualified. One blend contained particles, known as inclusions, that stuck together due high moisture content. Other entries with were made with inclusions of varying, rather than uniform sizes. Jordan added, some teas had tainted or musty aromas. He recommended tea companies check the storage and packing conditions of their teas prior to entry. All things considered, Jayakumar concluded, “I enjoyed judging, although I have completed 54 years in tea, I’m still very fascinated with specialty tea the choices we have.”