Tea competitions that “speak” for their respective markets are great for the industry. In the tea lands, skilled growers and tea makers can infinitely adjust their pluck, style, and grade for export but first, they must understand market preferences. Respected annual contests such as the Emei Dah Pan Competition in Taiwan and the Lu Gu Farmers competition, which dates to 1976, are a model for peer review but in France AVPA (Agence pour la Valorisation des Produits Agricoles) judges tea from around the world for excellence “based on gastronomic rather than standardized refereeing.”
The Paris-based, non-governmental, non-profit organization, annually determines the best in edible oils, specialty coffee, and more recently, the finest of chocolates processed at origin (new in 2021), is the first independent body in a consumer country judging tea solely to promote the good practices of production and trade.
Agence pour la Valorisation des Produits Agricoles (AVPA) 2020 Winners
Kevin Gascoyne, an acclaimed tea taster and one of the founders of Camellia Sinensis, a Montreal tea retailer, says “The hype surrounding Taiwan’s ‘Competition Teas’ is all too often focused on the price, but as a taster/buyer approaching these teas, it is the chain of events leading up to the result that really strikes me. Each grower in the association has selected his or her best batch of the year. Leaf by leaf it has been munitiously screened and sorted to perfection. Every batch in these competitions is imbued with the pride of the tea maker; a story of the minute subtleties of natural and artisanal variables in the terroir and technique. The magic meeting of chance and choice, that leads to each entry. Once entered the identity of each lot is carefully concealed removing the influence of reputation or prestige of a specific grower from the decision.”
See: Classic Tea Competitions, below
Competition teas command a high price precisely for the reasons Gascoyne states. AVPA is pragmatic, judging teas generally available to less discerning but critically important everyday consumers.
“In spite of the global enthusiasm for fine tea, the majority of tea consumers buy teabags from supermarkets,” observes AVPA. “For classic origins (China, India…) as well as new ones (Africa, South-East Asia…), the contest thus gives an equal opportunity to all producers by providing them with an additional marketing asset to enhance their work.”
Organizers encourage market growth through product innovation and praise for teas produced in non-traditional growing regions. AVPA writes that “as purchasing power increases in producing countries tea is seen more and more as a consumer product.”
This year’s juries evaluated 210 teas, including herbals representing 21 countries. There were 22 gold medals, 27 silver, 28 bronze, and 56 gourmet diplomas. Here is a link to the pandemic-altered YouTube awards ceremony Nov. 16. Previous ceremonies were held at the Equip’Hôtel in Paris.
Lydia Gautier, an international tea expert, author, and AVPA tea editor and president of the jury that evaluated this year’s Monovarietal Teas (limited to Camellia Sinensis) writes that “tea is a living product with its terroirs, its vintages, it is also a product with a very strong cultural dimension since, in many countries, its consumption is ritualized, always synonymous with hospitality, conviviality, and sharing.”
Winners of this year’s competition are mainly from traditional tea lands including China and Taiwan (Taiwan oolongs are generally favored in France). Nepal Tea received a gold, two bronze prizes, and “gourmet” recognition for its White Prakash; Lochan Tea in Siliguri, India, won silver for its Bihar Black Fusion. Closer to home, Marco Bertona in Piedmont, Italy took home a gold for his Verbano White Tea and two teas from France were recognized, Maison Emile Aute in Brittany earned a bronze for Thé Breton, and Les Jardins de Gaia in Alsace won “gourmet” recognition for its Les Premiums tea.
Lochan writes that while the French pallet is slightly different from the British, just as American taste preferences are different from Russia, the “award judgment criterion is the same everywhere – taste and flavor of the tea.” He mentioned that Carin Baudry, a trained flavor specialist at La Quint Essence, who is oriented towards the creation of aromas “has changed testing parameters in Nepal and Darjeeling.” Baudry chaired the AVPA jury of tea specialists who evaluated herbal infusions, blends, and flavored teas.
Speaking as a grower, Lochan said that, “cultivating a new tea is a lifelong achievement. The 2020 AVPA Silver Award is the highest recognition of my personal efforts and achievements.”
“In the past ten years, we have worked silently on this land, repaying the surrounding farmers with income, helping them to get rid of poverty, with a tea that is now available on the international market,” he said.
AVPA explains that any competition that rewards the quality of producers’ work helps “sustain a future that depends on many issues. It becomes critical to show trade professionals and the general public alike that tea holds a genuine gastronomic value,” writes AVPA. As in previous years, AVPA offered “exceptional” producers financial support who would not otherwise have the means to benefit from its services.
AVPA Gourmet Or
Classic Tea Competitions
During the initial phases of the judging process Lugu Farmers’ Association Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition categorizes tea into four levels of quality: A, B, C, and D. Entries that fall into the D category are then disqualified (up to 45% of the total). The 20% earning a “C” are awarded two plum blossoms, a designation that increases their retail price well above comparable teas. Winners in the “B” Category (about 15% of the total entries) earn three plum blossoms and are sold for significantly more than their two blossom competitors.
The remaining “A” category entrants (about 20%) qualify for further judging and ranking by the senior team of judges. From this category, approximately 5% will be removed by the senior judges. These teas receive a three plum blossom ranking. The final 15% or so of total entries are ranked 3rd Class (8%), Second Class (5%), and First Class (頭等 － 2%). The remaining top ten of the First Class entries along with the Champion Prize-Winning Tea are then ranked.
Kenya: A New Model for Tea
By Aravinda Anantharaman
It’s an unusual name – ChakanCha, a combination of Cha (tea) and Chakan (good), one a Chinese word and the other, Korean. The partnership itself connects Kenya, Korea, and the United States in an unusual cross-geography collaboration.
The story begins in Kenya when tea farmer and Chairman of the Kenyan Speciality Tea Association, Boaz Katah, decided that Kenya needs to shift from being a solely CTC (cut, tear, curl) producing country and diversify into speciality tea. This shift began about five years ago, provoked by the dropping prices for CTC tea. When the Kenyan Tea Board offered licenses for speciality tea production, Katah opted for it. He set up the Tumoi Tea Estate in the Nandi Hills in 2013 with a focus on research and innovation in plant breeding and tea manufacturing. Artisanal tea making in Kenya was taking root.
Meanwhile, in Korea, Daehyuk Park had set up the Global Problem Solving Program (GPSP) at the Handong Global University to nurture entrepreneurs who could solve global problems in a sustainable and scalable way. His research led him to the Kenyan tea industry where he found that 3 million tea pickers live in poverty. He felt compelled to help. Labor is the highest cost of production with rising energy costs and the price of fertilizer increasing as well. Yet farmgate prices are a small fraction of the retail price for black teas. During the past 12 weeks, the price at auction has stubbornly remained under $2 per kilo in a competitive market saturated with lower-grade CTC. One reason for this is the long and convoluted, multi-player supply chain over which it takes as long as six months for tea to make its way to the customer.
Living wages, a new global value chain for tea, and a life of dignity for tea pickers became the points of focus. ChakanCha was established to connect the farmers directly with customers, as part of an emerging global value chain for tea. Transparency, sustainable practices, and fair prices at farmgate can be achieved by harnessing the advantages that technology offers, particularly for transaction and logistics.
ChakanCha is the first GPSP project where students worked to arrive at a solution for poverty among Kenyan tea pickers. Forty-two students came forward as volunteers to assist ChakanCha.
Last Spring, Daehyuk met Prof. TW Suh, founder of the Entrepreneurial Innovator’s Group (EIG) at Texas State University. The two programs are similar, each working toward a self-sustaining social enterprise. They decided to collaborate.
In Kenya, the Tumoi Tea Estate was promoting single-origin artisan teas, grown without herbicides or pesticides. They were also focussing on the important issues of sustainability, including higher than average wages and sanitation projects on the ground. They were among the handful of licensed growers who had persisted in making artisan teas. Tumoi was fertile ground sharing a vision and purpose ChakanCha.
For Tumoi, ChakanCha became a customer but more significantly, it offered a platform that would connect the garden with consumers globally. ChakanCha brought visibility to Tumoi and, importantly, set high standards to follow. Says Daehyuk, “For ChakanCha to become a viable business, tea lovers of the world should use it to source their teas.”
There is a global market that will find these teas very attractive. Says Indian exporter, Pranav Bhansali, “Kenya has been doing so well in CTC production in the last decade; their obvious progression would be into orthodox production.” Kenyan growers could be serious competition in markets dominated by India and Sri Lanka because the crop and soil are very young. “If Kenya decides to diversify into quality production of Orthodox or speciality tea, it will be a bold decision,” he says, “and will show other tea producing countries that quality is indeed more prized over quantity, going into the future.”
Alan Hughes of Noble & Savage, tea merchants in New Zealand, says, “I personally LOVE Kenyan teas. Being the third largest producer of tea in the world, Kenyan specialty teas are greatly needed to not only add value back to the areas they have come from but to let the world experience the beautiful tastes that only specialty Kenyan teas can provide. I hope to see Kenyan teas standing strong in the marketplace fetching a high price for the growers.”
Tumoi created Chakan Black for ChakanCha raise funds. Katah describes the taste as light with hints of coconut and no astringency. To launch ChakanCha organizers turned to Kickstarter, setting a goal of $20,000. The project was funded on November 30, with $20,846 from 152 donors who received Holiday Gift Boxes. The team will use these funds to market and distribute Chakan Black to customers worldwide. Says Park, utilizing the new smart global value chain, “we will be able to pay living wages but also raise a village development fund for tea farmers. 5% of sales will be earmarked for this.”
The team is excited to have reached their goal, and what it enables. Adds Katah “The success of the project is critical to our industry. ChakanCha is walking with Tumoi today. When the project picks up, it will walk with other cottage industries.”
Subscribe and receive Tea Biz weekly in your inbox.