Have you come across packets or tins of tea that have different letters along with their name? The acronyms are tea grades added to the title by the producer to give more information on the tea. The letters do not describe the aroma, body, or any other sensory aspect of the tea. It tells of the leaf, which can be vital information when buying tea from a catalog.
There is no worldwide standardization of tea grade. It only applies to black teas from certain countries. Since they vary, even the best student can get confused. However, learning to read the acronyms of graded tea can make shopping for tea a lot easier.
Factors such as the country of origin, picking method, the variety of the tea and the manufacturing method affect the quality of tea. Most black tea grading and selling system depend on the particle size or the leaf type.
Besides, the harvesting and manufacturing process of tea can have a massive impact on the finished size of the leaves. Any effect on the size of leaves also affect the grade of the tea. There are two basic methods of producing black tea:
- The traditional orthodox method- it requires hand picking of two leaves and a bud that are at the top. The method results in all possible grades and leaves’ sizes.
- The CTC (crush, tear, and curl) method- it is popular because of its convenience and efficiency. You can then, use a machine or handpick the tea produced by this method. The harvesting machine picks the two leaves and a bud plus other leaves that are on the tea bush. The leaves are then processed using the CTC machine. It gives the leaves a palletized appearance and divides them according to their sizes
By investing some time to learn about grades of tea, your cup of tea becomes more engaging and personal.
Grades of Black Tea
1. Whole Leaf Grade
a) Orange Pekoe (OP)
It is the highest grade given to manufactured tea. At the end of the branch near the flower and the bud is where you pick these leaves. The OP consists of the smallest leaves in the branch. The traditional picking system often yields the highest grades.
The tea grade describes a whole leaf showing no tip and does not pass through a specific designated size of the sieve. The leaves are of equal sizes and the length ways roll.
- Tightly rolled sides
- Golden tips
b) Pekoe (P)
Its wiry and short leaves are the characteristic features that differentiate it from the OP. It is also a bit more twisted compared to the OP. It has a bitter flavor along with a sweet finish and has a rich color when brewed.
- Shorter and smaller than the OP
c) Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP)
It produces high quality tea, and in some countries like China, it is the first grade. It is an OP grade that includes some buds or tips.
- Longer leaves than OP
- The leave is not as rolled up as of OP
d) Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP)
The leaves have a golden tip, and sometimes this grade is referred to as Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP).
- Long leaves
- The leaves are not tightly rolled up
- The leaves have golden tips
2. Broken Leaf grades
a) Broken Tea (BT)
- The leaf is black
- It does not roll at the sides, but rather it’s open
- It is a fleshy and bulky leaf
b) Broken Pekoe (BP)
It refers to broken leaves which belong in the Orange Pekoe category. The broken aspect results from the leaves being reduced in size by a machine. It creates a large surface area allowing the tea to infuse quicker than the whole leaf variety. It is the most popular of all tea leaves. Numbers 1 and 2 are sometimes placed to distinguish better grades from traditional tea grades.
- Neat leaf of medium size
- Abundant stalk and fiber level
c) Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (F BOP)
The grade of tea consists of broken orange pekoe and includes some tips or leaf buds.
- It is courser
- It has a bud or tip
3. Fanning (F)
They are smaller than the BOP with the broken leaf size being of a pinhead.
4. Dust (D)
It is the lowest grade of tea. CTC manufacturing method or the orthodox method results in the production of this tea grade. It is often the smallest size left after sifting and is used for tea bags. The grade consists of the finest buds that turn velvety when dried. The leaves are long and tippy and have a silver color. It does not include any black leaf. It has a very delicate flavor. However, it is ideal for medicinal use.
Importance of Tea Grades
You may now be wondering why all that information should be necessary. It is very vital as knowing the acronyms and their meanings provide a lot of information on the tea. The information is particularly essential when it comes to choosing tea profile. Each grade has its distinct qualities.
You have now known that small tea leaves provide stronger liquor than whole leaf trees. Therefore, if you are looking to have a strong black tea, you should shop for broken tea (look for a B in the grade). Conversely, if you want soft sweet flavor, one with the highest quantity of buds should give you that experience. Tea with a lot of buds in the tea has an F (flowery) and G (golden) on the grade.
Also, leaf grades can help us understand how to evaluate a leaf’s appearance and know what to expect from it. The information is not only important when making tea but also in starting up a business. A catalog is necessary when it comes to the purchase of tea.
You require a deep level of knowledge so that as you go through the list sent by the seller, you know what to expect. The grade discussion, acronyms and designations will assist in having an idea of the expected tea’s appearance and style.