by Courtney Van Evera
Solar withering, indoor withering, kill green, stem removal, and roasting are the names of the different parts of the Taiwanese oolong tea production process. Colossal amounts of care and precision ensure the timing and degree of oxidation throughout this process. When are the stakes the highest? At the Taiwan tea competitions.
The tiny island nation of Taiwan manages to produce and drink more tea than it exports. Taking their tea seriously, it’s no wonder a competition eventually developed to bring out the top tier. In 1976, the first official competition took place in the LuGu township, which is the home of the Tung Ting cultivar. Many cultivar locations in Taiwan have their own tea competitions that compare a singular type of tea against itself. The historical LuGu Tea Competition is arguably the most prestigious, a look at this model offers a unique look into the rigorous Taiwanese tea competitions that produce some of the world’s most delicious and valuable Oolongs.
Seven thousand tea vendors enter the competition, held once in winter and once in spring. Identifying marks of the tea estate are not allowed: this competition is blind. Each entry submits 22 jins of Tung Ting oolong (1 jin = 1.1 pound): one jin is judged by officials, one jin is tasted by consumers, and the rest is auctioned off!
During the judging, a teaspoon is put into a 5 oz. ceramic pot and steeped for 6 minutes. Thirty teas are surveyed at one time. The judges are certified by the Tea and Research Extension Station after graduating from a tea evaluation course. They use the following categories:
- Appearance of dry leaf: 10%
This portion is where the evidence of the careful production process lies. The judges will note the shape of the leaf to determine whether it was capably plucked, dried, and rolled. They will carefully observe the color of the dry leaf, an indicator of the skill over the withering and oxidation components of the production process.
2. Appearance of brewed tea liquor: 10%
The liquor should be a lustrous and transparent gold.
3. Aroma of Brewed Tea Leaves: 30%
This aroma should be a precise hint of how the Tung Ting Oolong will taste: botanic and buttery.
4. Taste, Aroma, Character of Brewed Tea: 40%
In assessing the taste and aroma of Tung Ting Oolong, judges will seek characteristic floral notes linked by buttery undertones, and note any dissenting flavors.
5.Appearance of Brewed Tea Leaves: 10%
The last sight of the tea leaves indicates the very first step of making tea: the growth and cultivated quality of the leaves. When Tung Ting Oolong leaves become unrolled after steeping, quality leaves will be full and unbroken.
The LuGu Tea Competition has one champion. The tea champion does not get a cash prize but rather a hefty starting value for the bidding of his or her tea, which sells for about 8,000 USD per kilo at the end! After the champion, the judges award 1st through 10th place, then the top class, second class, and third class of Tung Ting oolong with about 200, 300, and 500 entries respectively. Following those, there are the 3 Plum Blossom, 2 Plum Blossom, and 1 Plum Blossom awards bestowed among 3,500 entries.
A variety of extraordinary Taiwanese Oolong Teas occupy the Great Wall of Tea at Happy Lucky’s Teahouse.
Our Tung Ting Oolong stays true to the boast-worthy and slightly sweet flavor desired during the Tung Ting Taiwanese Tea Competition. The leaves, rolled during the oxidation process into tiny pearls, slowly unfurl with each steeping as they release flavor!
Our Wenshan Baozhong is cultivated on another mountain peak in Taiwan, and is famous for twisting and paper wrapping during the production process. The sweet, floral flavors exude in expanding degrees, while the tea leaves untwist as they steep.
Our Bamboo Mountain is made from newly sprouted leaves, withered in the sun on bamboo trays, then rolled in classic oolong style yielding a lighter body than roasted oolongs. It has a long, sweet finish and a multi-layered character over multiple infusions.
By tasting a variety of oolongs, you can get a sense of what it might be like to develop the discerning palate of a Taiwanese Tea competition judge!