In this month’s academy we’ll be talking about tea grading from the highest quality Orange Pekoe (OP) to the lowest Fannings and Dust. Grading does not necessarily refer to the texture, taste or aroma of a tea but the quality of the leaf itself. However, the better the ingredients the better the BRUU.
There’s no universal grading system, in China for example teas are graded by number, with 1 being the highest, based on leaf style and shape and how carefully the manufacturing process has been carried out. However, across much of Europe tea merchants widely use the letter grading system which is deemed the most reliable.
So let’s start with the highest grade tea which is called Pekoe (P). Pekoe means a whole leaf has been used in the manufacturing process. Orange Pekoe (OP) is a slighter larger whole leaf, confusingly the term orange does not refer to the teas colour. It is unknown why it is used but experts say the term derives from the Dutch royal family Orange Nassau.
Teas plucked from the second or third flush which contain a lot of unopened buds or tips are consider to be Flowery (F) tea grades. Therefore, a tea like this with whole leaves is referred to as a Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP). If the leaves were Broken (B) then it would be termed a FBOP. Sometimes the tips are plucked early in the season when the colour is golden then they are called Golden Flowery.
In many of today’s teabags the lowest tea grade is used, which is called Fannings or Dust. These are the ruminants which are left behind when the tea leaves are being processed.
Glossary of tea grades
Whole leaf grades
OP1—slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor
OPA—bold, long leaf tea which ranges from tightly wound to almost open
OP—main grade, in the middle between OP1 and OPA, can consist of long wiry leaf without tips
OP Superior—primarily from Indonesia, similar to OP
Flowery OP—high-quality tea with a long leaf and few tips, considered the second grade in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh teas, but the first grade in China
F OP1—as above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the FOP classification
Golden Flowery OP1—higher proportion of tip than FOP. Top grade in Milima and Marinyn regions, uncommon in Assam and Darjeeling
Tippy Golden F OP—the highest proportion of tip, main grade in Darjeeling and Assam
TGF OP1—as above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the TGFOP classification
Finest TGF OP—highest quality grade (Note: "Special" is occasionally substituted for "Finest", with a number 1 at the end to indicate the very finest), often hand processed and produced at only the best plantations, roughly one quarter tips
SFTGFOP(1)—sometimes used to indicate the very finest
A joke among tea aficionados is that "FTGFOP" stands for "Far Too Good For Ordinary People".
Broken leaf grades
BT—Broken Tea: Usually a black, open, fleshy leaf that is very bulky. Classification used in Sumatra, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and some parts of Southern India.
BP—Broken Pekoe: Most common broken pekoe grade. From Indonesia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Assam and Southern India.
BPS—Broken Pekoe Souchong: Term for broken pekoe in Assam and Darjeeling.
FP—Flowery Pekoe: High-quality pekoe. Usually coarser with a fleshier, broken leaf. Produced in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Southern India, as well as in some parts of Kenya.
BOP—Broken Orange Pekoe: Main broken grade. Prevalent in Assam, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Southern India, Java, and China.
F BOP—Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe: Coarser and broken with some tips. From Assam, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh. In South America coarser, black broken.
F BOP F—Finest Broken Orange Pekoe Flowery: The finest broken orange pekoe. Higher proportion of tips. Mainly from Ceylon's "low districts".
G BOP—Golden Broken Orange Pekoe: Second grade tea with uneven leaves and few tips.
GF BOP1—Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1: As above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the GFBOP classification.
TGF BOP1—Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1: High-quality leaves with a high proportion of tips. Finest broken First Grade Leaves in Darjeeling and some parts of Assam.
OF—Orange Fannings: From Northern India and some parts of Africa and South America.
FOF—Flowery Orange Fannings: Common in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh. Some leaf sizes come close to the smaller broken grades.
GFOF—Golden Flowery Orange Fannings: Finest grade in Darjeeling for tea bag production.
TGFOF—Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Fannings.
BOPF—Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings: Main grade in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Southern India, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and China. Black-leaf tea with few added ingredients, uniform particle size, and no tips.
D1—Dust 1: From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Africa, South America, and Southern India.
PD1—Pekoe Dust 1: Mainly produced in India.