Black tea grades explained
What are those mysterious abbreviations such as FOP, TGFOP or BOP?
Tea leaves grading is a process in the tea industry to evaluate the tea based on its quality. The grades are about the size of the leaves after plucking, and which part of the tea leaf your tea contains. Both will affect the flavour, for example the smaller tea leaves are more valuable than larger tea leaves. The different grades are divided into four groups: whole leaves, broken leaves, fannings and dust.
Each type of tea has it own significance. For example the whole leaves are known to impart more aromatic flavours, while the aroma is stronger when the leaves also consist of buds and tips. The broken leaves, on the other hand, impart strength to the brew and will also brew quicker than whole leaf tea.
When evaluating the quality of a tea, other factors need to be considered such as when the tea is plucked and how many buds or tips there are in the tea. The geography, climate and altitude of the tea-growing region will also play an important role, as well as its freshness - if the tea hasn't been stored properly for example. Those are the non-visible dimensions of the quality assessment.
Whole tea leaf is just that, intact and well-shaped. The leaves are not broken or torn during production, and the size will depend on plucking and processing.
OP - Orange Pekoe. This is the main grade, generally the first two leaves from the tip of a branch. Beside the buds and flowers, those are the smallest and the youngest leaves.
OPS - Orange Pekoe Superior. Similar to OP and primarily from Indonesia.
FOP — Flowery Orange Pekoe. It is high-quality tea with a long leaf and few tips (or leaf buds).
GFOP - Golden Flower Orange Pekoe. The tips have a golden colour due to being picked earlier in the tea growing season.
TGFOP — Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. This is the main grade of Assam and Darjeeling tea and contains the highest proportion of tips.
FTGFOP — Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. This is the highest quality of tea grade that exists.
Broken-leaf tea is a tea that has been torn or broken but is still in large enough pieces to be recognisable as pieces of leaf. A common misconception is that whole leaf teas are better than broken leaf teas, but remember the quality depends on when the tea is plucked and how many buds or tips there are in the tea. The geography and climate of the tea-growing region will also affect the quality.
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe. This is the main broken grade.
FBOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe. Coarser and broken with some tips.
GBOP - Golden Broken Orange Pekoe. Second grade tea with uneven leaves and few tips.
TGFBOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
Fannings are finely-broken pieces of tea leaf that still have a coarse texture. This type of tea grade is used in teabags. They are the smallest pieces of tea that are left over as the higher grades of teas are gathered to be sold. They are also the rejects from the manufacturing process of making a higher quality of tea.
Dust is a fine powder, much finer than fannings, made of tea particles leftover from producing higher grades of tea.
P.S. But don't worry, we don't do those two here!