The legendary Dong Ding contest in Taiwan

There are many tea contests in Taiwan. Some are more prestigious, some are less, some are trendsetters, some hardly keep pace. About twenty-five of them are widely acknowledged, but only one of them is a true legend: the Lugu Farmers’ Association Dong Ding Oolong Tea Competition that has taken place twice a year for over 40 years in Lugu, Nantou County, the home of the most famous Taiwan oolong – Dong Ding.

Dong Ding Oolong Lugu Farmer Association Competition Tea 3 Flowers Prize

The aim of these competitions is to officially maintain, promote and standardise high-quality production of this tea. There is a benefit for the growers who take part – a certain prestige that goes with the participation itself. Teas registered in the competition and those that go on to higher rounds sell better. The winners sell at astronomical prices.

The Lugu competition is the largest and most prestigious. In the recent years, there have been over 6,000 entries. This year, almost 7,000 samples of the Chin Xin cultivar processed as Dong Ding have been registered. Each sample weighs 22 Taiwanese jins (one jin is 600 grams). One jin is divided into samples that are assessed in the competition, the second jin is returned to the tea producer – usually for a further comparison with other teas – and the remaining twenty jins are stored for the case that the tea receives an award and they are eventually packed and sold.

Teas are assessed in two rounds, always anonymously. The first-round jury consist mostly of seasoned farmers from around Lugu, who are certified jurors. The standard way of preparing the competition brew is as follows: 3 grams of tea is infused in boiling water for six minutes. The tasting sets are similar to those known from India. The jury awards points for the appearance of dry leaves (10%), colour (10%), aroma (30%), the flavour of the infusion (40%) and the appearance of the brewed leaves. About a half of the teas are disqualified before the second round. Those that qualify are divided into three categories. The lowest award, “Two Plum Flowers”, is given to approximately 20% of the teas, “Three Plum Flowers” go to fifteen percent of the teas and the best fifteen percent qualify for the second round. Plum is Taiwan’s national tree.

The second-round jury consists of specialists from the TRES (Tea Research and Extension Station) who assess the teas as follows: the absolute winner and the other nine best teas constitute the TOP10, the first prize goes to the best 2% of the teas, second come the best 5% of teas and the third prize goes to the best 8% entries. Obviously, the number of the awarded teas is quite large. Apart from the top ten teas, which are awarded individually, all the others are eventually sold anonymously in unified packages of the farmers’ association with the award and a sticker seal on them.

By way of a conclusion, let us disturb the seemingly perfect image of this system and remember the 2015 scandal: one of the long-standing award-winning contestants, an esteemed farmer, was exposed to have entered a blend of Taiwanese and Vietnamese oolongs. Since then, all the entries have been scrutinised by means of isotope analysis, which is able to reveals leaves of other origin than Taiwan.

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