The competitions select teas very strictly. Only teas of the best quality can enter the final competition, and the rest will be rejected. Teas from some competitions are very hard to get. Most competition teas are sold out before or soon after the awards are publicized. And for most competitions, it's extremely hard to get the top award teas. Generally speaking, I am most interested in competition teas that are relatively accessible with affordable prices.
Taiwan Oolong Competitions have unique culture, and in my eyes it's an admirable culture that can be adopted by other agricultural fields and other production regions. I think the advantages of Taiwan Oolong Competitions include:
1. All teas are submitted by farmers or tea merchants who are directly related to tea farmers. The honor goes to the farmers and local factories, the real producers.
2. Each award title is restricted to the specific 27 lb. tea submitted to the competition. The same farmer may submit multiple entries to a competition and may win multiple awards of various levels. But a farmer may produce hundreds of pounds of tea each year, and winning awards doesn't mean all this farmer's tea is award-winning tea. When you buy a competition tea, what you get is just the tea accepted and strictly inspected by the competition committee. Taiwan Oolong Competitions' solid credibility is established on this strict rule.
So far we have been dealing with award-winning teas from two competitions.
1. Mei Shan Village Farmers' Association (梅山鄉農會) Competition (Mei Shan is a high mountain region of Ali Shan Moutain range). It's one of the highly reputable competition of light roast high mountain oolong. Candidate teas are from tea plantations of 1200m (3600 ft.) elevation. There are five evaluation events every year in this competition. We focus on Spring and Winter competitions, products from which are the most popular. The award levels are (from the highest): Superior Grade (特等獎), Grade I (頭等獎), Grade II (二等獎), Grade III (三等獎), three-plum-flower (三朵梅) - we label this as Grade IV, two-plum-flower (二朵梅) - we label this as Grade V.
2. Nan Tou County Tea Commerce Association (南投縣茶商同業公會) Competition (Nan Tou is the home county of Dong Ding Oolong). This competition is featured with medium to high roasted tea products. It is one of the most inexpensive competitions in terms of the final prices of award-winning teas - this is compared with other competitions, but the teas are still generally more expensive then non-competition tea products in the market. There are two competition events every year, in spring and in winter.
The award levels used to be titled: Superior Grade (特等獎), Grade I (頭等獎), Grade II (二等獎), Grade III (三等獎), Excellence Award (優良獎) - we label this as Grade IV
But starting from this spring, the award titles are changed to: Superior Grade (特等獎), Grade I (頭等獎), Gold Medal (金牌獎), Silver Medal (銀牌獎), Excellence Award (優良獎). I guess the changes are because people simply prefer Gold or Silver Medal to Grade II or III. But the competition is still the same. In fact, all competition teas are of solid quality, and generally have better quality than teas of grand titles given by many commercial companies.