Exploring the World of High-Quality Grade Black Tea!

Jan 9, 2024
From the mist-laden hills of Darjeeling to the ancient tea gardens of Assam, black tea has been cherished for centuries as a testament to exquisite craftsmanship and unparalleled taste.

As tea lovers, we are here to embark on a journey through the world of high-quality black tea, where each sip brings you the rich essence of nature. In this blog, we invite you to immerse yourself in the captivating world of the finest grades of black tea and the basics of black tea grading.

Tea, or 'Camellia Sinensis', has been a famous aromatic beverage throughout history. Woman Pouring Black Tea

This plant can create many different teas, like black tea leaves, green tea, white tea, or oolong tea.

Even among these core types, there are many subcategories and grades of tea, which makes the whole tea world complex and complicated. This is why tea grading is essential, and in this article, we plan to focus on black tea, where we can observe tea grading the most.

What is Tea Grading?

Tea Grading System can vary depending on the type of tea and the country of origin. A tea grade does not indicate tea leaves' flavour or quality. But it will determine the different factors like country of origin, tea variety, garden or estate, elevation, and information on plucking.

When it comes to the world of black tea, grading plays a significant role in determining the quality and character of the brew in your cup. From the delicate golden tips to the rich colour of the liquor, the grading system is a language of its own, guiding us through the diverse spectrum of flavours and aromas that black tea holds within.

Black tea grading involves evaluating and categorising dried tea leaves based on the quality and size of the tea leaves. If we take an overview, there are four primary grades of tea: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.

Generally, whole-leaf tea grades are referred to as tea grades with high quality and more expensive tea types.
However, some broken-leaf teas also have high-quality and high prices.

The tea grade may reflect a tea's caffeine content as the different parts of the tea bush have different amounts of caffeine. Generally, leaf bud contains more caffeine than the mature leaves. Therefore tippy teas like TGFBOP are rich in caffeine compared to the OP, FOP-like grades.

As a tea learner, you might have already observed that different abbreviations are used to name the tea grades in tea grading. Most of the whole leaves impart more aromatic flavours to the brew, while buds, tips, and broken leaves impart more strength to the tea brew.

The general classification of tea is done as per the part of the tea leaf; learn some key terms are as follows;

1. Orange Pekoe (OP) – basic medium grade whole leaf black tea
2. Etymology – down like white hairs on the leaf (youngest leaf buds)
3. Fannings – the leftover leaf after the buds are picked for higher grades
4. Broken – broken leaf
5. Flowery – consists of large leaves, plucked with second or third flush with some buds.
6. Golden Flowery – very young tips or buds
7. Tippy – high amount of buds

Popular Black Tea Grades

All the black tea leaves (except Chinese and Taiwanese types) are mainly classified as whole leaves, broken leaves, fannings, and dust. The below image explains which part of the tea bush becomes different tea grades.

All the abbreviations reflect different meanings;

• Flowery – when the dried tea leaves contain buds
• Pekoe – the whole leaves
• Tippy – has more tips density
• Golden – tea leaves that contain tips

Whole Leaf Tea Types

Whole-leaf tea means that tea leaves are not broken during the production process.

The size and shape of different tea grades depend largely on the type of tea leaves used and how it is processed. The whole-leaf tea grades are as follows;

• FTGFOP – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Highest quality tea grade
• TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – contains the highest proportion of tips and primary grade of Assam and Darjeeling
• OPA – bold type long leaf tea, ranges from tightly wound to more open
• OP – Orange Pekoe: Long wiry type tea without tips
• OP1 – Orange Pekoe 1: Has a delicate taste than OP grade. Long wiry type leaf
• GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: contain a higher proportion of tips than FOP
• FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe – high-quality grade of black tea with a long leaf and some tips; the most superior grade is named FOP1

Broken Leaf Tea Types

As explained in the name, broken teas are torn or broken through production and still make some large leaf grades.

• BOP1 – Broken Orange Pekoe One
• BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe: a most common grade in Assam, Ceylon, Southern India, Java, and China
• GFBOP – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
• TGFBOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe: Kind of high-quality leaves with a high amount of tips
• BS – Broken Souchong
• BPS – Broken Pekoe Souchong
• GBOP – Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
• FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe – A popular type of tea in Southern Asia

Fannings

The finely broken tea leaves are called fannings. Generally, fannings type teas are used to produce tea bags as they give strong cups of tea with a small number of tea leaves. Fannings can be introduced as the rejects from the manufacturing process of making higher quality tea. Smaller-size fannings grades can be steeped with an infuser.

• GOF – Golden Orange Fanning
• FOF – Flowery Orange Fanning
• BOPF – Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning
• FBOPF – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning
• PF1 – Pekoe Fannings1

Dust

The finest grade is called dust. It is a very fine tea powder, much smaller but harder than a fanning.

• OPD – Orange Pekoe Dust
• BOPD – Broken Orange Pekoe Dust
• BOPFD – Broken Orange Pekoe Fine Dust
• OD – Orthodox Dust
• Spl. D – Special Dust

Conclusion Black Tea Leaves In A Bowl Next To A Cup Of Black Tea

Tea leaf grading is the art of evaluating tea products based on the quality and condition of dried teas. The grading system is mainly used for black teas and, even then, not for all black teas.

Countries like China and Taiwan, which produce green, oolong, and white, may not use a grading system. Instead of grades, they use different names, like Silver needle tea, Matcha tea or organic green tea, to distinguish different teas.

These grading systems are popular in large tea-exporting countries like Sri Lanka, Java, Sumatra, and Africa, as they need a grading mechanism to standardise their produce.

The four main grading categories are whole-leaf tea, broken-leaf tea, fannings, and dust.

All the black tea grades will be categorised into these categories considering their appearance and particle size. However, this grading system benefits every stakeholder in the tea industry, from producers to end consumers.

So next time you buy a tea pack, check for its grade and appearance and uncover the art of tea grading!

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