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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Choosing the tea: tea grades

You're having great cups of tea, aren't you? Not yet? Well, start reading about tea just to know what you're missing. Then read about how to prepare your great cup of tea. To prepare a good cup of tea you need the basic ingredient: good tea.

Now, if you go to the nearest tea shop you'd probably stumble upon a variety of tea with exotic names. Many of them are just commercial names given by producers to capture the attention of the inexperienced ones. Would you buy a One thousand and one night or a Darjeeling S.F.T.G.F.O.P.? That's what marketing is for...

Tea grades

Tea grades are not standardized and the only stable tea gradation scale is black tea's. Evaluating the quality of tea is much like evaluating the quality of wine: a great of number of parameters enter the equation. Contry and region of origin, plant, harvest period, to make a few examples. Tea grades, nevertheless, are one of the methods to classify tea and a basic understanding my help you while purchasing your tea.

As far as it concerns green teas, as explained, there's no grading standard and the system may vary from producer to producer. In the case of green tea, moreover, parameters such as the tea plant, the growth stage of the plant and the geographical region are considered when grading tea. Nevertheless, many green tea grading systems are based on the black tea grading system, which is the one I'm going to detail here.

One of the factors to take into account when choosing a tea is the manufacturing process (manual of mechanical) and the size of the leaves.

Orange Pekoe

Before introducing you to black tea grades you should know about the word Pekoe. The origin of the word is disputed, as suggested by this Wikipedia article. This word is prominently used in the tea grading system and refers to entire leafs of the same size. The word Orange does not imply any orange flavors added to the tea. Its use seems to date back to the first Dutch merchants.


The main grades are (from worst to best):
  • D (Dust): As the word implies, this refers to tea leaves' dust, mainly used to produce the (in)famous tea bags you're surely used to.
  • Choppy: pieces of broken leaves.
  • F (Fanning): Fanning refer to pieces of the tea leaf. As Dust, it's a very low quality tea used mainly in tea bags.
  • B.O.P. (Broken Orange Pekoe):
  • O.P. (Orange Pekoe)
  • F.O.P. (Flowery Orange Pekoe)
Complementing the traits above, the grade may be enriched by:
  • G (Golden): It refers to the golden hue which is characteristic of the youngest buds.
  • T (Tippy): It refers to tea tips.
Sometimes, the best tea quality grade may also be enriched by:
  • F (Fine)
  • S.F. (Super Fine)


To understand how to read tea grades, I'll make some examples here.
  • G.F.O.P.: Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. Whole, young tea leaves with golden tips. The tea also bears flowers of the tea plant.
  • T.G.F.O.P.: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. This tea contains whole young tea with golden teas. The leaves are the uppermost ones of the plant. The tea also bears flowers of the tea plant.
  • F.T.G.F.O.P.: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. One of the highest qualities available.


You just had a brief introduction to tea grades. That'll be great the next time you go to your favorite tea shop and choose the right tea for you without wondering about what those strange letters stand for.

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