Behind the Scenes of the World Tea Expo Beverage Challenge

The 2024 World Tea Expo saw the return of its tea competition in the new form of the 2024 Beverage Challenge, a competition that allows brands to highlight their finest teas on a global scale and gain recognition from industry experts. The winners represent the best teas and producers in the international tea market.  

Overall, 93 teas were entered from across 13 origins, and they were evaluated by a panel of expert judges live at the World Tea Expo based on the merits of leaf style, make, cup character, liquor, appearance, and overall finish.  

World Tea News chatted with Ravi Pillai, director of Quality and Development for DAVIDsTEA, who oversaw the entire Beverage Challenge, to find out about the process, judging, and quality of entries that were received.

The Return of a Tea Competition to World Tea Expo

Pillai has over 40 years of experience in the tea industry, starting with managing tea plantations in Sri Lanka, where he is from. He joined DAVIDsTEA in 2011 and has been with the company ever since. Aside from the Beverage Challenge, he has served on many judging panels in other tea competitions as well.

Pillai says his greatest passion is in promoting tea products and supporting growers, who he says are integral to the industry. “I come from that background, I started my career as a grower since I was managing tea plantations. So I see their challenges with all the development that has taken place, all the restrictions that have come in, and these are huge challenges for the growers,” he says. “If there is no product, then none of [the tea industry] is here.”

One of the benefits of the Beverage Challenge is that it highlights the growers as well as the companies, producers, and suppliers who enter, providing them with significant global exposure that ultimately helps with sales and marketing opportunities.

For the 2024 competition, only single leaf, single origin teas of the variety Camellia sinensis were accepted for consideration in the following categories:

  • Best Leaf
  • Best Liquor
  • Best White Tea
  • Best Green Tea
  • Best Oolong Tea
  • Best Black Tea
  • Best Pu-erh
  • 12 Best Origin categories

A Grand Champion winner was chosen from the highest scores for Best Leaf and Best Liquor.

“We opened it up so that everybody had the chance of winning in some form,” says Pillai. “Because that's another way of looking at encouraging people to send in their teas—through multiple opportunities, multiple categories.”

Mou Dasgupta brook37
Mou Dasgupta, Founder of Brook37, The Atelier with her awards for Best Leaf and Best Oolong Tea.

The Judging Process

In addition to Pillai, three judges took part in the evaluation of the submitted teas onsite:

  • Eliott Jordan, VP Tea, Mighty Leaf, Peet’s Coffee & Tea
  • Sharyn Johnston, World Tea Academy, and CEO/Founder of Australian Tea Masters
  • Carine Baudry, Founder, La QuintEssence

“I was really keen on getting people from different places, globally,” says Pillai.

The judging was done in groups by tea type, which is the only information the judges received about each tea.

The judging panel started by examining the leaf of each entry based on the following characteristics:

  • Appearance / Visual / Shape      
  • Uniformity / Neatness / Consistency in make      
  • Color / Brightness          
  • Overall / Texture / Feel

Then, the teas were brewed in batches according to standard brewing practices by tea type through oxidation process​ for steep times, water temperatures, and steeping weights. Depending on the number of entries for a particular tea type, the tea would be batched in groups of 10 so the judges had enough time to taste each sample at the right temperature. The tea liquor was judged on:

  • Color    
  • Brightness         
  • Character / Taste / Flavor            
  • After taste / Overall Finish

Pillai says the hardest part was considering all of the minute details, “Every leaf style, every origin is different. They can have a twisted tea, they can have a curled tea, maybe the tea comes out in multi colors and that's the leaf style. Those are natural characteristics of those teas, so we need to look at those and consider those things as well to be fair by the producer. We just cannot look for a good black tea when another black tea, the natural character of it, is a different color than that.”

Tea samples were scored on a scale of 0-10, with the highest scores winning in each category. Pillai says the scoring for all 93 samples was completed in one day thanks to the dedication and synchronicity of the judges. “All the judges went very smoothly, at the same speed. So that's what enabled us to do all the teas,” he says.  

Crowning the Winners

beverage challenge winner
The director of Wuhan YSBIO Organic, the Best Pu-erh Winner for its Puerh/ Pu-erh Palace. 

When the winners were revealed, there were definitely some surprises. For one, it is very rare for a white tea to win a competition like this, and Siddha Devi Tea Estate Pvt Ltd –  White Tea/Silver Wings won the overall categories of Grand Champion and Best Liquor.

Another surprise was in the number of smaller companies that won. “What I noticed were some prominent companies who have been winning in the past didn't win because some of the smaller companies and first-timers came out on top,” says Pillai. “Which is encouraging to them.”

At the end of the day, Pillai says the competition isn’t about winning so much as it is about being proud of what you have produced. “I want every competitor to be proud of what they have done because their teas were great,” says Pillai. “It made us proud to judge those teas. It's a privilege to look at those teas and sip those teas and touch those teas and say, ‘These are the great teas that are around the globe.’”

He urges anyone who didn’t submit this year to consider submitting for the 2025 contest. “They must come forward as well,” he says. “Don't think of competing just to win and beat somebody else but to be proud of what you're producing.”

Plan to Attend or Participate in World Tea Expo, March 24-26, 2025

To learn about other key developments, trends, issues, hot topics and products within the global tea community, plan to attend World Tea Expo, March 24-26, 2025 in Las Vegas, co-located with Bar & Restaurant Expo. Visit

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