All tea is graded consistently according to leaf size. Most people are familiar with the term “Orange Pekoe” and assume this refers to a kind of tea. But, in fact, this term is used by the tea industry to denote a particular size of black tea leaf. One purpose of grading and sorting is to ensure the uniformity of the leaf size; the other is to prevent smaller particles from detracting flavor away from tea brewed with large leaves.
Drinking whole leaf tea allows one to experience a wider range of complex and nuanced flavor profiles. This does not imply that smaller, broken leaf tea is of poorer quality, just that a tea’s taste and body will vary depending upon leaf size. So, grading is not related to quality – the climate, location and the type of processing all contribute to determining a tea’s quality. However, the shape and size of the leaf does play a role in influencing the essence of a cup. For example, breakfast tea’s like English Breakfast are commonly made with smaller broken leaves to ensure that a pungent and robust bodied cup of morning tea results.
To grade tea, tea growers employ mechanical sorters that use sieves to separate out leaves into whole leaf, broken leaf and fanning grades.
Green and oolong tea leaves are generally not graded like most black teas.
Whole Leaf Whole leaf teas boast a range of complex and subtle flavors. Below are grades for black tea leaves.
|F.O.P.||Flowery Orange Pekoe - Refers to high quality whole leaf tea made from the first two leaves and bud of the shoot. India produces large amounts of this grade.|
|G.F.O.P.||Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - The golden refers to the colorful tips at the end of the top bud.|
|T.G.F.O.P.||Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - FOP with larger amount of tips|
|F.T.G.F.O.P.||Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe - An even higher quality with more tips than FOP|
|O.P.||Orange Pekoe: Refers to a high quality thin, wiry leaf rolled more tightly than F.O.P. Picked later in the year than F.O.P.|
|S.||Souchong - A twisted leaf picked from the bottom of the tea bush. China produces this grade used in their smokey teas.|
Broken Leaf Broken leaf teas produce a darker cup and infuse faster than whole leaf teas.
|P.||Pekoe - A wiry, large broken leaf usually without golden tips. Sri Lanka produces large amounts of Pekoe.|
|B.O.P.||Broken Orange Pekoe - A small, flat broken leaf with medium body.|
Other broken leaf grades exist including 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
Leaf particles too small to be classified as broken leaf falls into two categories, fanning and dust. Many grades exist for each.
|F.||Fannings - Crushed leaf particles smaller than B.O.P. Infuses liquor quickly|
|D.||Dust - Smallest grade used for mass-marketed tea bags.|