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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This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club was made by Mr. Su — an 80 year-old artisan of traditional Dong Ding Oolong Tea. He planted a plot of the Tie Guan Yin strain in his backyard several years ago, and this is the second time we've sourced this tea type from him. Mr. Su is our favorite representative of traditionally made tea in Taiwan, and it brings us a special kind of joy to be able to share his tea with our tea club members.
This batch has a particularly sweet character, with slightly tangy, fruity notes and a pleasantly clean lingering aftertaste. It has just enough of that cured, almost fermented character that makes it reminiscent of a traditionally made Tie Guan Yin Oolong. But given that it was only roasted once, it maintains a mild flavor profile similar to a Hong Shui Oolong.