Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?


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Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby JRS22 » Apr 29th, '12, 10:03

I've been reading this section since falling in love with Wuyi Oolong after EOT sent me a sample. The terms 'competition' oolong and 'competition' brewing pop up regularly here. Is this strictly a Taiwanese oolong issue or does it apply to Chinese wuyi also?
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby gingkoseto » Apr 29th, '12, 17:05

The competitions for Taiwan oolong (the official and well-established ones directed by government agencies) are relatively independent, non-commercial event (not purely or directly commercial). That distinguishes them from most other tea completions in the world. Most (or all) of those competitions in Fujian, whether commercial events or government organized, are not yet well established, so I don't think their competition titles mean much.

Besides, the competition Taiwan oolong you buy would be directly from the competition batch. But for most (or all) Fujian oolong competitions, there are no direct channels to buy the competition products. This is a unique phenomenon to Taiwan oolong competitions. Each candidate tea must be submitted in a unit of around 27 lb. (20 Taiwan jin) to the competition committee and remains there till the end of evaluation. If the tea wins an award, only this 27 lb. is sold in the market under the award title. This is very different from most other food competitions where a winner company can print its award title on a lot of product packages.
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby MarshalN » May 3rd, '12, 05:34

The competitions was set up to improve the quality of tea and also to discourage cheating (i.e. adulteration of teas, etc). When you buy competition tea from Taiwan, they should come in official cans with official seals. Anything else is not what was submitted to the competition and may not be competition grade.

China doesn't really have such system, so yeah, like gingko said, Taiwan only, basically. If you're buying "competition" oolong that doesn't come in the original can/packaging, assume it's not competition tea unless proven otherwise.
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby JRS22 » May 3rd, '12, 09:04

I've tried a variety of oolongs but the ones I really really like are the wuyi oolongs from EOT. That might be starting At the top, but I received a sample of a handmade tea with my last order and it was love at first sip. Are oolongs of that type available from Taiwan?
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby wyardley » May 3rd, '12, 13:04

JRS22 wrote:Are oolongs of that type available from Taiwan?

"that type" meaning what? That general style? Those cultivars? Charcoal-roasted oolongs? Wuyi yancha is, by definition, grown in the area in and around Wuyishan; while it's true tea from some surrounding areas is often sold as yancha, I think most people would argue if it's grown outside of that area, however broadly you choose to define it, it's not Wuyi yancha anymore.

Many Taiwanese teas use Wuyi cultivars (most of the cultivars used in Taiwan come from across the strait from Fujian province, though they have developed a number of hybrid cultivars of their own now too). While there are exceptions, the trend there is towards greener oolongs (less oxidation, less roast), and while some Taiwanese producers use hardwood charcoal for roasting rather than electric, I haven't found many roasted Taiwan-produced teas that I really prefer (I've had some excellent ones, but they are hard to find, and they're mostly in a different style from Wuyi yancha).

Baozhongs are shaped the same way, and are sometimes made in a more heavily oxidized / roasted style, but the taste is not really the same to me as Wuyi yancha -- whether this is because of terroir / growing conditions, production know-how, or consumer preference, I can't say for sure, but probably a combination of these three.

In terms of teas that are similar in terms of flavor profile, traditional dong ding and Muzha tieguanyin (both rolled style teas, not wiry style teas) have some similarities, but they don't really taste the same.
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby etorix » May 5th, '12, 09:16

China may not have 'competitive' tastings in the same way as Taiwan

but there ARE tasting-meetings where farmers/growers compete amongst themselves

whether to impress each other or the buyers ..
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby niisonge » May 23rd, '12, 13:59

I live in Fujian and I can tell you, there are tea competitions here also. Just about every tea-producing town has a tea competition. Thus, there are tea competitions for just about every type of tea.

Last year, I helped pick Zhengyan Rougui on Matou peak (commonly known as Ma Rou). My friend, who runs a tea wholesale business entered it in a tea competition here in Fuzhou, it won an award. Two of his other teas (ones I did not pick or have a hand in making) also won gold. (There's a cash award for winning - of a few thousand yuan).

After the tea wins an award, it's up to the vendor to sell the tea as he/she sees fit. Usually, they will add some special packaging like (2012 tea competition gold winner). The prices of competition teas tend to be higher, because their perceived as "better" than non-winning teas.

Then the winner will go to a printer and have a special plaque made indicating the winning status. Many of them might adorn the walls of some tea businesses. But I don't really think they mean anything. Past success is not necessarily and indicator of present quality.

When I asked my friend about his win, he said it was his first time entering such a competition; he didn't want to be bothered with entering competitions. When I asked why he didn't enter before, he said his teas could have won gold on many occasions but he didn't see any need for ever trying.

What I'm trying to say is: tea competitions (and gold-winning teas) or only as good as the number and quality of entrants. There could be even more stellar teas out there that didn't bother to enter.

In my experience, some of these tea competitions are just a form of marketing hype. But there are also some more legitimate tea competitions (last year's gold-winning Zhenghe gongfu was really excellent - never had a Zhenghe gongfu like that before).
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby gingkoseto » May 23rd, '12, 14:35

I didn't mean to say there was no tea competition in Fujian. I had yan cha of gold medal titles. To me, they were definitely good, but their champion title didn't play a role in my purchase decision. On the contrary, I would buy competition tea from Taiwan each year before tasting any, because I trust their titles.

When there isn't a well established system, the outcome of the competition can't benefit a broad range of buyers, and probably doesn't benefit the farmers as much as it potentially could. In the market, there are some gold medals or competition "kings" of Tie Guan Yin or Yan Cha. But when there is no consistent system or transparent distributing channels, there is no way for a buyer 3 level down the trade chain to tell if the tea is really a champion winner (no matter what quality of competition it is to begin with) or the title is no more than a label on the package.

I think the official Taiwan oolong competitions are pretty much a collective marketing strategy, well organized and with positive influences. Both buyers and farmers benefit from it. Even in Taiwan competitions, the participants and winners of various levels are numerous. A third grade or fourth grade competition tea is not that expensive (at least not in Taiwan), but we can somewhat see the title as a quality approval stamp and trust this approval. The system is not flawless. But systems as trustworthy as this are rarely seen in other teas or even in other types of gourmet foods/beverages.
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby wyardley » May 23rd, '12, 16:34

I agree with gingko. While in Taiwan there are still a broad range of competitions (some of which are more prestigious), at least you are more likely to be getting the "same" tea when you buy a "prize winning" tea. Otherwise, you don't know if the gold medal winning yancha you had is actually the same tea that won the prize. However, this model does exclude certain teas which are produced in small quantities, due to the amount that the farmer has to submit (I have also heard some anecdotal references to farmers having to "dilute" competition teas with other teas in order to meet the quantity requirement).

One other thing to keep in mind is that competitions almost always use competition style tasting to determine the best tea. I think this benefits teas which have few obvious flaws and which brew well in this style, but sometimes might exclude some teas which are very interesting or tasty.

I have a hard time not being influenced by hearing that a tea won a medal (this is human nature, I guess, and it's nice to have something to narrow down the field when there are so many choices out there). But at the same time, few, if any, of the best teas I've had have been sold as competition-winning teas.
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Re: Competition Oolong - Taiwan Only?

Postby niisonge » May 23rd, '12, 20:26

I really don't care for tea competitions here in China mainly because they seem to be a tool for companies to inflate prices of certain teas to astronomical levels.

In China, those types of teas have become a way to show off; with a lot of people buying into it. But I've had a lot of competition teas which I didn't think were that spectacular when compared to other teas I've had in the same category.

Tea competitions work by comparing relative weaknesses in teas set off against each other. So their focus is not really in brewing excellent tea, but in evaluating for weaknesses in particular samples of tea. Of course, if a tea tastes really good when steeped for 5 minutes using boiled water; then it goes to reason that it will taste so much better when using gongfu technique.
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