JING Tea Excellence at Origin Awards: the results

JING Tea Excellence at Origin Competition: the results

by Great British Chefs 19 June 2019

During a day’s judging at JING’s office in London, an esteemed panel of experts tasted the best teas the region has to offer. Discover which one came out on top and how they made their decision.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Darjeeling, in the north of India, produces tea like nowhere else. The high altitude, cooler climate and skill of the people who grow and process the tea plants results in a tea that’s lighter, more floral and delicate in flavour compared to other black teas. There are several harvests each year, the most exciting of which is the first flush, which takes place in late March.

Despite being an incredible tea-producing region, Darjeeling hasn't quite got the recognition it deserves, which is one of the reasons why JING founder Ed Eisler launched the Tea Excellence at Origin Competition – to celebrate the quality of tea in Darjeeling, promote the authentic tea craftsmanship and encourage the retention of skills needed to protect the heritage of tea-making in the region. ‘We’ve been thinking about launching a competition like this for about a year, and we hope that by launching it we can give the producers a chance to show the world their skills and the unique qualities Darjeeling tea contains,’ said Ed. ‘We want to get as many people as possible to taste the winning tea and realise just how special Darjeeling is.’

The competition

All the teas were assigned a number, with the judges having no idea which estates produced them during the tasting
Before actually drinking the tea, visual appearance and aroma all had to be scored

In total, seventeen teas entered the competition, all from Rainforest Alliance-certified estates. To decide which tea would be crowned the best Darjeeling first flush for 2019, Ed amassed a panel of experts to help him taste the seventeen teas entered. They were:

  • Edward Foster, director of tea brokers Thompson Lloyd and Ewart

  • Andrew Jefford, co-director of the Decanter World Wine Awards

  • Alfred Prasad, Michelin-starred chef and consultant

  • Oliver Lloyd, founder of Great British Chefs

Having this combination of tea experts, wine experts, chefs and food lovers meant there was a mix of palates and opinions, resulting in a more rounded taste test. All the tastings were done ‘blind’, which meant no one knew which tea came from which garden.

The teas were weighed out and brewed in exactly the same way, to ensure a fair and controlled tasting
Once the five finalists were decided, it was time to taste again and choose an overall winner

The judging process was extremely rigorous and complex, and there were several different characteristics that needed to be taken into consideration and scored individually. The appearance of the dry leaf, the appearance of the infused tea, the aroma of the leaves and of the tea itself all had to be rated before the judges started tasting them. Then there were aspects such as mouthfeel, balance, clarity of flavour and freshness to take into account. This method of judging is similar to what you find in the wine world – good tea and wine share many similarities when it comes to complexity – and it ensured a fair and in-depth judging process for this particular competition.

The judges debated at length over which of the five winning teas should take the top spot
After a discussion on the importance of 'typicity', everyone unanimously agreed on the frontrunner

After an initial round of tastings, the seventeen teas were whittled down until only five remained. This was where things got interesting, as the judges began debating which one should win. The teas were brewed once again and tasted regularly over the course of an hour, before the winning tea was unanimously agreed upon. Something called ‘typicity’ came into play here; the judges discussed whether it mattered if a tea tasted like a ‘typical’ tea from Darjeeling. It was decided that it should count towards the final score, as the competition was launched to champion Darjeeling as a region and shine a light on the talented people who have made its tea so revered.

The winner

Seeyok Tea Estate was revealed as the garden that had produced the best overall Darjeeling first flush tea
Gautam Mohan and Ashwini Sashidhar from Tea Promoters India – which owns the Seeyok Tea Estate – came to collect their award

After everyone agreed on the winning tea, the names of the five finalists were revealed. Seeyok Tea Estate took the top spot, beating all the other teas in Darjeeling to be crowned the best first flush for 2019.

'I think the winning tea exhibited all the requirements of a top-quality first flush Darjeeling tea,' said Edward Foster. 'It had the right balance, strength and colour, it was excellent on the nose and I believe it was a very worthy winner. I'm delighted it won.'

'Pungency, all-round satisfaction, brightness, freshness – the Seeyok tea had it all,' said Andrew. 'It seemed to encapsulate the region the best. It's important to point out that we went through a rigorous three-stage process to get to our winner – it wasn't a quick decision we reached after just one taste. We went back again and again and again and this particular tea kept coming through. I think the fact that the decision was unanimous shows what a great tea it is.'

Seeyok's winning first flush Darjeeling was incredibly floral and delicate, and absolutely wowed the judges
First flush Darjeeling teas capture the fresh flavours of spring, making them one of the most special and sought-after teas in the world

Being a chef, Alfred was keen to point out how well the winning tea would pair with food. 'The lightness and delicate aromas of the winning tea mean it would lend itself very well to seafood and fish cooked in a lighter, fresher way,' he said. 'Hot drinks go so much better with food than cold ones – just look at warm sake in Japan – and I think tea is a fantastic option to go for. Darjeeling tea is very special, and one of the few ingredients from India that is recognised by a Geographical Indicator (GI), which is similar to the PDO-protected products of Europe. I hope more and more ingredients from the country become as championed as Darjeeling's tea.'

Founded in 1869, Seeyok lies roughly forty kilometres from Darjeeling in the Mirik Valley. With 464 people working across its 154 hectares, the teas coming from this estate have been organic since 1994, with a holistic and biodynamic approach to farming. Encouraging flora and fauna to flourish in the grounds is of paramount importance, making Seeyok’s gardens a lush, rich paradise, and quality of life is a cornerstone of how the estate operates.

Seeyok was announced as the winner of the Tea Excellence at Origin Competition during a ceremony on 13th June. A limited batch of the winning tea is available to buy from JING’s online shop now, and the success of the competition means Ed and the team at JING will be launching similar competitions in the future. For garden owners Gautam and Ashwini, it's a huge boost to their business, and the win will help promote not just Seeyok Tea Estate, but all the incredible teas of Darjeeling.