Judges Share Insights from the Global Tea Championship

The Global Tea Championship’s Spring Hot (Loose Leaf) Competition took place Sept. 28 in Boulder, Colorado. Judges Lydia Kung, Danielle Hochstetter and Jhanne Jasmine tasted and evaluated 136 teas that were submitted by 45 companies for competition in 37 categories.

Kung has judged in this competition several times andHochstetter and Jasmine were first-time judges. They shared their insights withregard to the competition itself and the teas involved.

“Ithought [the competition] was well-organized and is designed to give all theteas a fair shake,” Hochstetter said. “I hope producers know that it is trulyblind—we don’t know who the entries are from and no one is influencing us as wecup.” 

“It was quite apparent that a lot of dedication and hardwork went into this well-organized event, and it took a great deal of time andmany pairs of hands to make it happen for which I was very grateful.” Jasminesaid. “There was a strong sense of fairness in judging and an atmosphere ofintegrity while evaluating the teas.”

Kung spoke of how the competition offered a unique occasion totaste teas grown in different regions that are processed in the same manner. “Viewedwith a wide-angle lens, this type of tasting session offers a greatteaching opportunity about origins and processing method,” Kung said. “Thelesson about tea as an expression of a particular place has been well-taught.In the competition, there is the opportunity to cup teas usually identifiedwith one region but which come from disparate locations, all appearingtogether because they share the same processing method, such as theOpen/White tea group.”

At times, there were discrepansies between how good the tealeaves appeared and the actual taste of the tea. “We saw beautifully craftedleaves that raised expectations about flavor, only to be disappointed by thecup,” Kung said. For example, an ordinary-looking maofeng outperformed awell-known signature green tea in terms of taste. “Had there been more time, itwould have been fruitful to consider what went slightly amiss in processing,”added Kung.

Teas thatstood out included a couple of entries in the 1st Flush Darjeelinggroup, which “showed a style that is produced in small quantities, with verylight liquor, and milder flavor than the more standard style with its green andtan hues in the dry leaf,” according to Kung. Hochstetter said, “I think experimentation is important inany industry. There was one tea with bright green, rather flaky open leaves inthe steamed green category. The color of the wet and dry leaf was quitearresting and the cup quality was decent, too.” She also felt there weresome Senchas with great umami flavor and a good classic Keemun. Jasmine said, “Teasthat made a lasting impression for me personally were in the categories ofGyokuro and Mao Feng. I was also taken with a unique Lapsang Souchong whichwasn’t as smoky as one would expect from a traditional Lapsang Souchong, but itwas complex and well-balanced with a wonderful mouthfeel and taste to match.”

Jasmine also emphasizedthe value of experimentation, “I found the open categories to be veryintriguing. It was wonderful to see so many unique entries where gardens wereexperimenting with styles and techniques that strayed from their traditionalprocessing methods,” she said. “They really seemed to be attempting tocreate something unique or perhaps even special. Historically speaking,experimenting with how leaves respond to different processing methods is howgreat varietals are discovered for certain styles of teas.”

The judges offered some feedback for tea companies. Hochstetternoted the impact improper storage can have on tea, “Even a great tea can become mediocre with inadequate storage,”and added, “there were a couple of tainted teas… it can be hard to judge thetea on its merits, since the real flavor is masked.”

Kungalso suggested entrants taste 2-3 samples from the batch being representedprior to submitting it for the competition.

Asin the past, the issue of teas not representing their categories arose. Jasminesaid, “Thejudges did eliminate a couple of tea entries that were ill-placed in acategory.” She and Kungunderscored the importance of studying each category’s description and enteringteas that are “true to character” and “characteristic of the category.”