Tea Grading Terms

Tea Grading Terms

There is quite a lot of jargon and acronyms surrounding tea. When I started selling tea eleven years ago my main focus was on selling really nice tasting tea, aimed at the everyday tea drinker. When I had my tearoom in France it was easy to talk people through their choice of tea and let them try a few. 

Now I no longer have the tea room it is more difficult to get across what can be expected from a particular tea, especially if your knowledge of tea is limited to the big name and supermarket own label teas.

Tea grading can be a can soon become very complicated; there is not a worldwide standard, with China, the biggest producer of tea not using the system most widely used.

The most familiar tea grading system described here, the Orange Pekoe system, categorises tea according to 

a ) the size of the tea leaf and

b)  which part of the tea leaf your tea contains. 

Both of which will affect the flavour. It is the inclusion of the buds (known as tips) that indicates the higher quality teas.

There are four main classifications of tea grades – Whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and dust. This article looks at whole and broken leaf teas.

Green teas have their own grading scheme, so these definitions apply to black teas.

Whole leaf teas

Orange Pekoe tea (OP)

The basic term for a medium grade whole leaf tea. Orange Pekoe tea contains long, pointed leaves that are larger than found in FOP tea. It is harvested later in the year when the end buds open into leaf.

Orange Pekoe tea does not usually contain tips and importantly doesn't contain any Orange!

Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP)

Flowery Orange Pekoe tea is made from the end bud and first leaf of each shoot. Flowery Orange Pekoe tea contains fine, tender young leaves with buds, also referred to as tips (a mark of quality tea).

Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP)

This refers to FOP tea that where the tips have a golden colour due to being picked earlier in the tea growing season.

Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP)

A FOP tea that has a larger proportion of golden tips than GFOP.

Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP)

Very high quality FOP. In the tea trade FTGFOP tea is humorously said to mean “Far too good for ordinary people”.

Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP)

Very high quality FOP with lots of golden tips. The numeral "1" is often added to the end of the description to indicate a top quality tea (e.g. SFTGFOP1).

Broken Leaf Teas

A broken leaf tea will contain the letter B in the tea grading - BOP, FBOP, GFBOP, TGFBOP etc.

A common misconception is that whole leaf teas are better than broken leaf teas. As with whole leaf teas it depends on when the tea is plucked and how many buds or tips there are in the tea. Other factors such as the geography and climate of the tea growing area will also affect the quality. 

Due to the increased surface area, a broken leaf tea will generally produce a darker more intense brew. Broken leaf teas will also brew quicker than whole leaf tea.

The most common broken leaf tea grade is

Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP)

This tea consists of small sized broken Orange Pekoe leaves.