Thursday, June 20, 2019

Spring 2019 Dong Ding Oolong competition

I spent my Dragon Boat festival in Lugu, at the spring 2019 ceremony of the Dong Ding Oolong competition. It's the biggest tea competition in Taiwan and the world! 6701 different teas competed for the top spot this spring! And 49% of the lots were kicked out for failing to pass their standard!

Here is a little reminder of how this competition works. The first round of tasting is performed by the farmers of the association who are trained as judges. Of course, the lots are anonymous and no judge knows whose tea he's tasting. These local judges are in charge of rejecting the teas that are not good or typical enough (for all kinds of reasons). And the teas they accept are classified in 3 categories: 2 plums (the lowest prize level, 20.4% of the lots), 3 plums (the second prize level, 15% of  the lots) and the best (15% of the teas).

In the second round of the competition, the best teas are sent to TRES (the Tea Research and Extension Station) where scientists taste the teas and give them the following ranks: The best tea, 10 follow-up, first prize (2%), second prize (5%) and third prize (8%).
The major benefit of going to this ceremony to purchase Dong Ding competition Oolong is that you get to taste the 11 best teas of the competition (if you purchase 5 jins = 3 kg of tea)! The teas are brewed in the same manner as for the competition: 3 grams with boiling water for 6 minutes in porcelain (see below) and then the brew rests 6 minutes so that the tasting temperature reaches approx. 42 degrees Celsius. First you smell all the teas and then you are allowed to taste a little sip of each.
Below is the competition winner. This year, the winner comes from Shan Lin Xi and the next 2 runners-up are from Alishan according to my information. There were no Oolongs from Lishan, because the harvests there were too late to take part in the competition. And, like last time, I patiently waited for all the visitors to leave the tasting and put the spent leaves in the small plastic bag. This way, I was able to brew the best Oolongs of the competition again later that evening!
The main takeaway from tasting these 11 best competition Oolongs is that they have very different flavor profiles. They are also a little bit lighter in roast than lower grade Dong Ding Oolongs. If you want to have a quick overview of 3 different styles of Dong Ding competition Oolong, I recommend you try this set of 3 prized Oolongs I have selected that day. One comes from Feng Huang (in the Dong Ding area), one from Shan Lin Xi and one from Alishan.
Cilin lake, Dong Ding
The Dong Ding competition dates back to 1976 and is the invention of Dr. Wu Zhen Duo (director of the TRES). It made Lugu, near Dong Ding, the new center of Taiwan's Oolong teas. I met old farmers whose eyes shone when I mentioned his name. "I'm one of his student! I was there for the first competition" said one 60 something old farmer (the maker of lot 913). His legacy is still thriving, and for a good reason: if you open a Dong Ding competition Oolong from over 10 years ago, you're very likely to enjoy an excellent tea that has aged with grace. These teas have powerful roast that give the Oolong a particular flavor and long aftertaste right now, and these teas can age so beautifully with time that it's sometimes good to forget it for many years...!
Cilin lake, Dong Ding

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