Last Sunday, I observed the final team of five senior judges at work.
At this point in the judging process, about 20% of the total amount of tea entries remained to be ranked among the 5,882 overall participants. Prior to this, 6 teams comprised of 5 professional judges each were overseen by 3 advisors to determine the rankings of the entire lot of tea entries in the world's largest Oolong Tea competition. Through a complex system developed over the last 30 years or so, the teas were closely examined to determine their overall quality among a vast array of artisan-crafted Dong Ding Oolong Tea.
In the initial phases of the judging process, the teas are categorized into four levels of quality: A,B,C, and D. By the end of the initial phase, those entries that fall into the D category (up to 30% of the total entries) are disqualified from the competition. Those rated in the C category (roughly 30% of the total entries) are given the grade of two plum blossoms and are marketed at a significant margin above the standard regional market price. Those in the B category (about 20% of the total entries) are given the grade of three plum blossoms and can be sold for significantly more than their two blossom competitors.
The remaining A category (about 20%) qualifies for further judging and ranking by the senior team of judges. From this category, approximately 4% will be removed from the A category by the senior judges to receive a three plum blossom ranking. The final 16% or so of total entries will be ranked among 3rd Class (9%), Second Class (5%), and First Class (頭等 － 2%) with only the remaining top ten of the First Class entries along with the Champion Prize Winning Tea to be ranked.
The final results of the competition will be posted publicly on Thursday May 22nd. You can imagine the level of anticipation among the local artisans (only residents of Lugu Township can enter the competition) who are waiting to see how their best batch of the season ranks among their peers in the most prestigious Oolong Tea competition in the world!
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We recently visited Mr. Liu when we hosted a visitor from Italy who was keen on experiencing the local tea culture. Our guest was truly elated to be served tea by a true artisan of the trade. Mr. Liu served us three different teas that were all locally harvested this past spring. They varied only in their degree oxidation and roasting. And the one that was sufficiently oxidized, but only lightly roasted, immediately impressed us.