How the grade of Competition Tea is determined
There is a saying in Taiwan that The expert looks at the door and the dabbler watches the commotion. In this case the door is the expertise and skill necessary to create a tea of such high standards. The commotion is represented by the noise created over some of the very high prices given to these teas. Many people heard about a spring tea competition for Taiwan's Oolong Tea resulting in one unit (approximately 1.3 lbs) winning tea priced at 80,000 USD. At the same time a TV shopping network in Taiwan sold a tea with the same name for roughly 16 USD for the same amount of tea with a gift item of a full kung fu brewing tea set.
How is the quality decided? How is the price decided?
Competition tea can be divided into two camps. There are those that judge the process of making tea and then there are those that will judge the tea based solely on flavor. Usually the later is used to judge a tea. The focus is on the flavor to determin the tea's quality.
Are the most important factors in determining a tea's value 1) the people who sponsor the tea's competition? 2) the ability of the judges and 3) how many tea's are entered into the competition? All of these factors have an influence on the tea's value.
The most reputable sponsor in Taiwan today is the Agricultural Dept of Taiwan. The most reputable judges come from the tea improvement investigation department, which was developed in part during Japan's occupation of Taiwan under Japanese supervision.
Local specialty tea competitions are held locally and sponsored by the agricultural division in each tea growing region of Taiwan, such as the Ping Lin Aggricultural division and the Mu Za Aggricultural Division. An example of how the grade is divided as so (2005 data), 4822 farmers entered, the special winner is awarded to one farmer and first place (Tou Deng Jiang) is awarded to 97 farmers which makes up 2% of the contestants. Seconed is awarded to 240 farmers consisting of 5% of the entrants. Third place (San Deng Jiang) is given to 8.5% of the entrants. No award was given to 32% of the contestants.
There are competitions every season. This is done in part to do an analysis of the year's tea situation. For Wen Shan Bao Zhong and Mu Za Tie Guan Yin, there are only Winter and Spring competitions. Another way to distinguish tea grade; the impact of packaging is mentioned. As an end user, it is very important that the tea comes well packaged. As a buyer, one is not allowed to taste the tea before it is bought. One must base their decision to buy on the reputation and the quality of the competition event sponsor and the quality of the judges. Overall, the system is set up so that consumers will not be disappointed in the tea quality.
One should be wary of tea competitions that are held by organizations or people that hold their own competition. It is best to go with competitions such as these two teas. The Mu Za and the Ping Lin Oolongs are both certified under the department of agriculture, which is known to be the best.