Awards are great…sometimes. And other times they serve other purposes. It’s true just about everywhere, including in the world of tea. So I present here a few personal thoughts on these tea awards and welcome yours.
Awards for tea are a sign that someone thinks that the time and effort invested in the award-winning tea was well-spent. However, there is no guarantees with that award that you will like the tea so honored. Some of the awards aren’t even related to the tea’s flavor. The ones for package design and marketing plans come to mind here. Setting those aside, though, I have to note that even the awards related to taste, such as best in category (black, green, flavored, etc.), are rather iffy. The judges are focused on certain aspects of the tea and also taste it differently than you do, slurping in a mouthful, swishing, and then spitting it out. I don’t know too many folks who do that at home or in a restaurant or tea room, but then I haven’t done any official surveys. Plus, no two sets of tastebuds are alike, and taste perceptions are influenced by several things, including your health and what flavors you grew up with. Just check out popular ice cream flavors in Asian countries as an example. Wasabi Ice Cream with Honey is one, and Chile, Ginger, and Lemongrass Ice Cream is another; they aren’t very appealing sounding to me, even though I love these flavors in other things (in fact, I’m craving some wasabi right now just writing about it here).
Another issue is that not all tea producers or vendors can afford to enter such competitions and attend the events at which the awards are presented. So the winners are folks who can afford these things. It shuts out smaller, and possibly superior, growers/processors. I have tasted teas from these shut-outs and compared them with some award winners. And since I don’t use the slurp/swish/spit method, my taste experience is going to be more like yours, even though our tastebuds are different. And I can tell you that the shut-outs are often unknown (and therefore undervalued) treasures.
So, why pay any attention to the whole tea award thing? For the same reason we seem to be riveted to beauty pageants, the Oscars, and the Grammys. We just like competitions. It is the struggle of one against another, pitting skills and achievements. And just as we may not be thrilled by the winner of Best Picture or the Rock Album of the Year, we may not be thrilled with that winner of best tea in category. It happens a lot. After all, as I said earlier, 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. And don’t forget your own unique tastebuds.
That’s life. If you want to venture to try a tea because it won an award, here’s hoping the experience meets expectations. But don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. Enjoy the experience!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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