I have seen the Baozhong tea competition three times so far. The first time, our friend Mr. Tsai took us to visit Farmer Chen back in 2005. My ex-husband Rob and I showed up at Farmer Chen's tea shop as he was just about to leave to submit two batches of Baozhong for a competition. Mr. Tsai did a quick introduction and Farmer Chen told us to get into his car and submit the tea with him.
Tea Submitting 交茶
The place where farmers have to submit their tea is in a high school. Before we entered the place, Chen turned and said to Rob:" Why don't you submit a bag of Baozhong as well?" Rob took the bag and we walked into the hall. The man that sat behind the submission's table raised his head and looked at Rob. You should have seen his expression when he saw an unknown foreigner carrying a bag of Baozhong tea. Farmer Chen went forward smiling and said to the man at the table " This is my tea. He is a friend from Seattle. Maybe he will bring me good luck and this tea will win the grand prize!" Everybody laughed.
The man at the table gave Farmer Chen some paper. Later on, Farmer Chen told us that the paper has numbers for the tea that he submitted. Everyone who submits the tea receives a number. When the competition results are posted, people check their numbers to see if they won anything. For the competition to be fair, the town hall which hosts the competition will come up with different numbers for the tea. They don't want to judges to know which farmers have what numbers.
In the room, there were three big wood tables. Each table has four or so women surrounding it. They threw whatever tea they received on the table, measured it and packaged it in individual foil bags. Each foil bag has 150 grams of tea and there are 42 bags for one batch (一點). After they bagged the tea, 40 bags of tea will go into a white paper box with a number on the box. One bag is for tea judging and one bag is for the town hall for "building relationships" (公關茶). Each competition, they receive over 1000 batches of tea. They have to keep good records on which tea belongs to which farmer.
Tea Judging 評茶
The actual tea judging place is in a building that belongs to the Pinglin government. There is no decoration in that room at all. I saw two judges in two of the competitions and four judges at one of them. I was not allowed to talk to them at all. The Pinglin competition normally lasts four to five days. There are usually over 1000 batches of tea to be tested. This Winter, there were 1059 batches of tea.
For the first three days, judges are pretty much eliminating teas and choosing Honorable Mention Baozhong. There are two men that help to measure tea and time the tea's brewing. For the competition, they use three grams of Baozhong and brew for 5 minutes in the standard tea judging cups. After the brewed tea is poured into the white porcelain cups, judges will go over to the table, look at the dry leaves, smell the brewed tea leaves, and then taste the tea. After that entire table of tea is judged, a secretary will go over with the judges and write down the grades for each tea.
Judging Criteria 評審標準
What are they looking for in a competition: 20% of the appearance on the dry leaves (外型); 20% on the color (顏色); 30% on the fragrance (香氣); 30% on the mouth fell (口感).
The Winners 得獎人數
Grand Winner (特等獎): There is only one batch of tea for this prize
The Top Tens (頭等一到十): The top winners are ranked from 1 to 10. You can see their rank on the boxes that competition Baozhong is packaged and sold in.
1st Place Winners (頭等獎): There are around 50 batches of tea that received 1st place prize, so don't think that you might be buying the only first place tea.
Second Place Winners (二等獎): There are about seventy batches of tea for this prize.
Third Place Winners (三等獎): There are around 180 teas for this category.
Honorable Mention (優良獎): There are many winners in this category.
Tea competitions are ways to promote a specific tea. You can choose to believe in the judges' tastes or not. I personally believe that there are certain qualities and characteristics in good teas, but I don't believe that they can necessarily choose the best Baozhong. They might be choosing the best ones according to their criteria, which could be different fro your tastes.