Tea grades are used to identify the type and styles of dry tea leaf. Grading is done on the basis of the size of the leaf, types of leaves included in the tea mix, sheen or bloom on the leaves, aroma, taste and color of the liquor and other such parameters. A tea is graded to better understand its quality and assess its economic value. The highest tea grades are “orange pekoe”, which consist of young shoots, while the lowest ones are identified as “fannings” and “dust”. Different tea producing nations use different grading systems. The most widely used system corresponds to the teas coming from India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc, whereas countries like China, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea have their own grading systems in place. Indian tea grades are applicable to black teas and some green teas.
Whole leaves impart more aromatic flavors, especially when buds and tips are included in the composition. Broken leaves and fannings add more strength and briskness to the cup. Consequently, whole leaves are more expensive.
Grades assigned to whole leaf black tea
The finest tea grade is SFTGFOP1 – Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One coming down the ranks all the way to OP, the lowest grade in this set of teas.
Here’s how to decipher the grades:
Orange Pekoe (OP) refers to the presence of whole leaves in this tea.
Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) will indicate long whole leaves with buds.
Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP) is the above with the addition of the tips of the tea leaves.
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP) is a grade which is dense in tips.
Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP) is really, really good, remembered by the mnemonic – Far Too Good For Ordinary People
Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One (FTGFOP1) which is better than FTGFOP but not nearly as special as SFTGFOP.
Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP) is the superlative tea, simply the best.
Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One (SFTGFOP1) is a tea that’s just better than the best.
Tea Grades assigned to broken leaves
These fall on the other side of the scale from Orange Pekoe, going down in this order:
Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), Broken Orange Pekoe One (BOP1), Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (FBOP), Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (GBOP), Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (GFBOP), Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (TGBOP), Broken Pekoe (BP), Broken Souchong (BS).
Right at the end of the scale are the dubious sounding Fannings (F) and Dust (D).