Preliminary Tea Judge Training In Taiwan

August 30, 2016 2 Comments

The Tea Research And Extension Station conducted tea judge training courses for three different Townships in Nantou County in the last month. While the first two were only minutes away from our sourcing director Andy's home in Zhushan, he was invited to northern Nantou to sit in on the course that was given at the TRES Yu Chi Branch located above Sun Moon Lake. Here is the view from the office building at the Tea Research Station.

The naturally occurring tea tree was cultivated in this area by early settlers in the Qing Dynasty, before the Japanese colonization of Taiwan that began in 1895. The Japanese developed Black Tea production in the area around Sun Moon Lake by importing the Assam tea strain from India, which in turn was both accidentally and then purposefully cross-bred with the indigenous strain. This was registered by the TRES in 1999 as Tai Cha #18, but is now commonly known as Red Jade or Ruby Tea. This strain was successfully promoted and its production has increased the quality and value of Taiwanese Black Tea greatly in the last decade or so. The Chinese characters in red on the granite stone below read "Taiwan: The Home Of Black Tea".

Thirty local residents within a given township are accepted into this course offered annually, where they attend four days of classes in preparation for the national exam at the Research Station's HQ in Yangmei, Taoyuan County. Passing this exam is prerequisite to attending advanced training courses in tea judging that are regional specific and focus on the competition standard for the tea type produced in that area. For example, to qualify as a preliminary tea judge for the Lugu Farmers' Association, graduates from this basic training must pass the much more rigorous course designed and conducted by the Lugu Farmers' Association. Andy's tea mentor Tony Lin has been mainly responsible for developing the Lugu F.A. judging course in conjunction with their Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition — the world's largest and most prestigious Oolong competition.

In this course, participants must be able to discern among the eight most prominent tea types produced in Taiwan by identifying the dried tea leaves, the brewed tea leaves, and the brewed tea. The photo below shows the spectrum of teas from Green to Oolong to Black in succession for the students to study. They are as follows:

1. Bilochun Green 2. Baozhong Oolong 3. High Mountain Oolong 4. Dong Ding Oolong 5. Tieguanyin Oolong 6. Oriental Beauty Oolong 7. Small Leaf Type Black 8. Red Jade Black.

 After studying the tea types visually as well as by smelling the brewed leaves and tasting the tea, the class was given a practice test to identify the tea types by viewing and tasting the brewed tea only.

This was followed by a practice test of discerning the tea types by tasting only using black tea bowls, which was actually easier than seeing the color of the brewed tea, as the proctors purposely filled the bowls to different levels among similar looking teas —making it more difficult to assess the color and visual consistency of the tea.

Finally, the students were asked to identify the tea types by assessing the dried and the brewed leaves only. They were also asked to match the dried leaf samples with the brewed leaf samples in this test. Andy was happy to find that he was 100% accurate in all the tea identification exercises, although it was a rather basic challenge, and he would have been a bit embarrassed to have scored anything less!

This was the final day of the four day course, where students prepared for the practical part of the exam of tea identification. The day before also involved practical training where students had to identify four basic flavor categories of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Not only were they tested to discern among these flavors, but they also were tested on gradations of one given flavor from weakest to strongest. This is meant to develop a more sensitive palate, where tea judges need to discern if there are impurities in the flavor of the tea.

Prior to the practical exam preparation, lectures were given on farm management, tea processing, and regional production trends that would all be included in the written exam. Andy felt privileged to have been invited by his friend Mr. Guo Kuang Fu — the director of the Yuchi branch of the TRES. He learned that this course is really a basic training for tea farmers to have a broader understanding of tea production in Taiwan overall, and to familiarize themselves with tea types outside of their own growing region. From here, they can decide to pursue further training in tea judging, or simply have a more educated understanding of Taiwan's tea industry. It was also a pleasure to simply spend some time at the Yuchi TRES Branch and enjoy this historical and scenic spot!

2 Responses

Debbie B
Debbie B

September 13, 2016

Congratulations Andy! What a wonderful step forward in the world of all things Tea! Thanks for the photos, and the great explanation of the course training and testing…very interesting. Well done!


August 31, 2016

Andy, this is truly great and inspiring!
I am happy you passed the tea identification exercises. :) :D

You are a constant source of inspiration and a voice of knowledge.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in News

Eco-Cha Tea Club: Charcoal Roasted High Altitude Oolong Tea Tasting Notes
Eco-Cha Tea Club: Charcoal Roasted High Altitude Oolong Tea Tasting Notes

May 14, 2019

Tea grown at high altitude is known for its substantial composition and smooth texture, particularly when the leaves have been sufficiently oxidized. This batch of tea offers that creamy texture and subtle complexity of flavor as a base, with a pronounced charcoal roasted component at the forefront. The charcoal roast is prominent in the first few brews, and the underlying complexity of the tea flavor comes through more and more with each brew.

View full article →

Shan Lin Xi high mountain tea harvest
New High Mountain Teas Are In!

May 09, 2019

Spring growing season had a long slow start this year, due to almost no rain until the beginning of April. The long awaited rain gave the tea trees what they needed to bring their spring buds into maturity. And we got a full week of good weather toward the end of the month, which turned out to be perfect timing for both our Shan Lin Xi and Alishan High Mountain Oolong sources.

View full article →

Eco-Cha Tea Club: Charcoal Roasted High Altitude Oolong Tea
Eco-Cha Tea Club: Charcoal Roasted High Altitude Oolong Tea

May 08, 2019

We feel that the constitution of these tea leaves that were grown at high altitude with optimal farming methods, and crafted by some of the top tea producers in the industry, is what makes this batch so special. We cherish both the knowledge and the quality tea that Mr. Zhuang generously shared with us. We will miss him dearly.

View full article →