Before your tea makes it to your daily cup, sorting and grading of tea is done. At the end of the manufacturing process, when the tea leaves are out of the drying machine, it consists of different sized tea leaves. These leaves have to be separated because smaller pieces will brew faster than the larger ones, resulting in an uneven brewing process. These leaves are separated and sorted according to their size, type, and appearance. These tea grading or classifications differ from country to country. White Tea, Green Tea and Oolong Tea are not graded like Black Tea. Most of the black teas are graded and sold according to leaf or particle size.
BLACK TEA GRADES
Whole leaf grades
- OP (Orange Pekoe) - It is whole long leaf tea with no tip and will not pass through a certain designated sieve size. These leaves are usually of uniform size and tightly rolled.
- FOP(Flowery Orange Pekoe) - It denotes large tea leaves, which are plucked from new shoots and made from two leaves and a bud. They are longer leaf than an OP but not as tightly rolled.
- GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) - Here "golden" refers to the golden tip at the end of the top bud. It can also be referred to as FOP with some golden tips.
- TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) - This is GFOP with extra golden tips. Tippy refers to the amount of golden tip in the tea. It contains a large proportion of golden tips.
- FTGFOP (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) - Finest refers to the exceptional quality of this tea. They contain higher quality TGFOP.
- SFTGFOP (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) – Here "special" stands for the fact that this tea is truly exclusive and distinctive. Sometimes it can also have a prefix with number 1 signifying that a particular tea is even more unique, so the grading will be SFTGFOP1.
Broken Leaf grades
- P (Pekoe) – It is a wiry, large broken leaf usually without golden tips.
- B.O.P (Broken Orange Pekoe) - A small, flat broken leaf with medium body. These are originally OP leaves that are broken. Broken leaf grades also include F.B.O.P (flowery broken orange pekoe), G.B.O.P (golden broken orange pekoe) and F.G.B.O.P (flowery golden broken orange pekoe).
Fanning & Dust
- F (Fannings) - Crushed leaf particles smaller than B.O.P, almost the size of a pinhead. It infuses liquor quickly.
- D (Dust) – Here, the particle size is the smallest broken pieces left after siftings, also called 'sweepings' and it is only used for tea bags.
GREEN TEA GRADES
Higher quality green tea consists of a leaf and bud, then two leaves and a bud and so on. There is no standardized grading system for green teas, but the common grades of green tea leaf include
- Gunpowder: (also called Pearl tea): Young leaves and buds are tightly rolled into pellets which unfurl in the cup
- Imperial: Loosely rolled pellets made from older leaves
- Young Hyson: Young leaves rolled long and thin
These grading terms are generally used for Indian tea, Sri Lankan tea, African tea and a few Chinese teas. Tea export from India includes most grades of black tea. Thus, India maintains its status as one of the largest tea suppliers fulfilling global demands for tea.
Finally, it is important to know that grades of tea do not determine its flavor or quality. Drinking whole leaf tea has a wonderful range of flavors and is visually quite appealing, but broken sizes also possess some great flavors and aroma.