Do Tea Awards Affect Your Purchases?

Harney Award 2011
Harney Award 2011

Awards are given to many things, tea included. They are a sign that someone thinks that the time and effort invested in the award-winning item was well-spent. However, just as in wine, a tea winning an award is no guarantee that you will like it. Winning an award in a category like best package design certainly doesn’t. But even winning an award for taste is iffy since what the judges like can be quite different from what you like.

So, do these awards have any real value for you, the average tea drinker, and do they affect your decisions on what teas to buy?

First, bear in mind that the people judging are usually experts in their field, whether we are talking about art, literature, or potables. (Beauty contests are another matter.) The judging of tea is done under special conditions using special methods by highly trained and experienced individuals. In other words, this is not like your life situation, your kitchen, your teawares, even your water.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see that awards are no more an indication of how well you will or won’t like a tea than is knowing that such-and-such celebrity drinks it or has his/her own tea brand or company. That doesn’t mean they are valueless, though. It just means that you may not have the award-winning taste experience you are expecting.

All of this came to mind with the news of John Harney of Harney & Sons winning an award recently. In his case, it’s a well-deserved award to someone who has devoted his life to bringing great teas to his customers while keeping the appeal wide enough so that casual tea drinkers can also find something to suit their taste. The company has been around quite awhile and have set standards for tea above what used to be the norm in the U.S.

Another item that relates to this is some feedback I got from another tea lover who had purchased a tea based on a tea reviewer raving about it. She, sadly, did not consider the tea one to rave about (in fact, she said it tasted like dirty socks!) and ended up giving it to someone else to try. The difference could have been in the water used, the teaware used to steep it, how it was steeped, and of course personal taste. Awhile back, I reviewed a highly acclaimed tea that I didn’t like at all and got an email from the vendor that I must have done something wrong. Well, of course, it was my fault!

I guess the bottom line here is the same as it is with anything else in life: there are no guarantees. If you want to venture to try a tea because it won an award, here’s hoping the experience is all you anticipate. Enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “Do Tea Awards Affect Your Purchases?

  1. I cannot agree with this more. Your taste is your taste, and nobody can tell you that it’s right or wrong. Not even the “experts.”

    If I may, here is something related that I wrote in another venue recently when a fellow tea lover purchased a tea based on my very positive review — and ended up not liking it:

    “I used to have a favourite film critic, who became my favourite because his taste in movies invariably reflected my own: if he loved or hated a film, odds were that I would too. The same is true with tea: when you find a taster or merchant whose palate and tastes are similar to yours, then you can more or less rely on their descriptions and judgments of the various teas. Still, tea drinkers should approach each new tea with an open mind and neutral palate and let the tea take them wherever it takes them. Consider catalogue or personal descriptions as a jumping-off point — then enjoy (or not) whatever it is you actually find in each tea.”

    Add “awards” to that list.

    BTW, my story had a happy ending: She sent the tea to me, and I sent her another tea that I think will be more to her liking in exchange!

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Great point! It goes for lots of things, I guess. I had a friend who would recommend various clothing stores, but her taste was so different from mine that I ignored these suggestions. 🙂

  2. Judy Trapp

    I do have a question about cleaning teapots. I am refering to a china, porcelain teapot. I have read not to clean them with soap and water to just leave it as is because the tannin clings to the pot and tannin collects tannin. On the other hand I have also read, that the pot should be washed in hot soapy water and dried as to not get any after tastes of another tea. Also, does the sugar cube left in the pot after washing really deordorize the pot?

    1. A.C. Cargill

      See this article on our blog by Lainie Petersen: Cleaning Teaware ( Personally, I use dish soap in my teapots and for cleaning all my teawares (I don’t own any Yixing teawares) and take care to rinse well. So far, no problem, and no transfer of taste and odor from one tea to another. No idea about the sugar cube. Never heard about that before. 🙂

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