Tea leaf grading

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"Orange Pekoe" redirects here. For the Japanese jazz band, see Orange Pekoe (band).
Tea leaves of different sizes just after plucking. Small leaves are more valuable than big ones.
Black tea grading

In the tea industry, tea leaf grading is the process of evaluating products based on the quality and condition of the tea leaves themselves. The highest grades are referred to as "orange pekoe", and the lowest as "fannings" or "dust".

Pekoe tea grades are classified into various qualities, each determined by how many of the adjacent young leaves (two, one, or none) were picked along with the leaf buds. Top-quality pekoe grades consist of only the leaf buds, which are picked using the balls of the fingertips. Fingernails and mechanical tools are not used to avoid bruising.

When crushed to make bagged teas, the tea is referred to as "broken", as in "broken orange pekoe" (BOP). These lower grades include fannings and dust, which are tiny remnants created in the sorting and crushing processes.

Orange pekoe is referred to as "OP". The grading scheme also contains categories higher than OP, which are determined primarily by leaf wholeness and size.[1][2]

Broken, fannings and dust orthodox teas have slightly different grades. CTC teas, which consist of leaves mechanically rendered to uniform fannings, have yet another grading system.

Manufacture and grades[edit]

Tray bins of dried tea leaves: O.P. (Orange Pekoe), B.O.P.(Broken Orange Pekoe), and dust graded black teas at a Sri Lankan tea factory

Orange pekoe[edit]

Wilson Ceylon Earl Grey F.B.O.P. (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe)

Orange pekoe (/pɛk./ or /p.k/), also spelled pecco, or OP is a term used in the Western tea trade to describe a particular genre of black teas (orange pekoe grading).[3][4] Despite a purported Chinese origin, these grading terms are typically used for teas from Sri Lanka, India and countries other than China; they are not generally known within Chinese-speaking countries. The grading system is based upon the size of processed and dried black tea leaves.

The tea industry uses the term orange pekoe to describe a basic, medium-grade black tea consisting of many whole tea leaves of a specific size;[3] however, it is popular in some regions (such as North America) to use the term as a description of any generic black tea (though it is often described to the consumer as a specific variety of black tea).[5][6] Within this system, the teas that receive the highest grades are obtained from new flushes (pickings).[7] This includes the terminal leaf bud along with a few of the youngest leaves. Grading is based on the 'size' of the individual leaves and flushes, which is determined by their ability to fall through the screens of special meshes[1] ranging from 8–30 mesh.[8] This also determines the 'wholeness', or level of breakage, of each leaf, which is also part of the grading system. Although these are not the only factors used to determine quality, the size and wholeness of the leaves will have the greatest influence on the taste, clarity, and brewing time of the tea.[9]

When used outside the context of black-tea grading, the term "pekoe" (or, occasionally, orange pekoe) describes the unopened terminal leaf bud (tips) in tea flushes. As such, the phrases "a bud and a leaf" or "a bud and two leaves" are used to describe the "leafiness" of a flush; they are also used interchangeably with pekoe and a leaf or pekoe and two leaves.[10]

Pekoe tea is a fine grade of tea which includes young tea leaves and buds. The tea once handled and brewed has "a rich forest-like scent with a hint of bitterness and a sweet finish."[11]

Etymology[edit]

A black tea with white "hairs" plainly visible on its surface

The origin of the word "pekoe" is uncertain. One explanation is it is derived from the transliterated mispronunciation of the Amoy (Xiamen) dialect word for a Chinese tea known as "white down/hair" (白毫; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: pe̍h-ho).[12] This is how "pekoe" is listed by Rev. Robert Morrison (1782–1834) in his Chinese dictionary (1819) as one of the seven sorts of black tea "commonly known by Europeans".[13] This refers to the down-like white "hairs" on the leaf and also to the youngest leaf buds. Another hypothesis is that the term derives from the Chinese báihuā "white flower" (Chinese: 白花; pinyin: báihuā; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: pe̍h-hoe), and refers to the bud content of pekoe tea.

Sir Thomas Lipton, the 19th-century British tea magnate, is widely credited with popularizing, if not inventing, the term "orange pekoe", which seems to have no Chinese precedents, for Western markets. The "orange" in orange pekoe is sometimes mistaken to mean the tea has been flavored with orange, orange oils, or is otherwise associated with oranges. However, the word "orange" is unrelated to the tea's flavor.[3] There are two explanations for its meaning, though neither is definitive:

  1. The Dutch House of Orange-Nassau, now the royal family, was already the most respected aristocratic family in the days of the Dutch Republic, and came to control the de facto head of state position of Stadtholder of Holland and Zealand. The Dutch East India Company performed a central role in bringing tea to Europe and may have marketed the tea as "orange" to suggest association with the House of Orange.[12]
  2. Color: The copper color of a high-quality, oxidized leaf before drying, or the final bright orange color of the dried pekoes in the finished tea may be related to the name.[14] These usually consist of one leaf bud and two leaves covered in fine, downy hair. The orange color is produced when the tea is fully oxidized.

Fannings[edit]

Fannings are small pieces of tea that are left over after higher grades of tea are gathered to be sold. Traditionally these were treated as the rejects of the manufacturing process in making high quality leaf tea like the orange pekoe. Fannings with extremely small particles are sometimes called dusts.[15] Fannings and dusts are considered the lowest grades of tea, separated from broken-leaf teas which have larger pieces of the leaves. However, the fannings of expensive teas can still be more expensive and more flavorful than whole leaves of cheaper teas.

This traditionally low quality tea has however experienced a huge demand in the developing world in the last century as the practice of tea drinking became popular. Tea stalls in India and the South Asian sub-continent, and Africa prefer dust tea because it is cheap and also produces a very strong brew - consequently more cups are obtained per measure of tea dust.

Because of the small size of the particles, a tea infuser is typically used to brew fannings.[16] Fannings are also typically used in most tea bags, although some companies sell tea bags containing whole-leaf tea.[17]

Some exporters focus primarily on broken leaf teas, fannings, and dusts.[15]

Grade terminology[edit]

  • Choppy contains many leaves of various sizes.
  • Fannings: are small particles of tea leaves used almost exclusively in tea bags.
  • Flowery: consists of large leaves, typically plucked in the second or third flush with an abundance of tips.
  • Golden Flowery: includes very young tips or buds (usually golden in colour) that were picked early in the season.
  • Tippy: includes an abundance of tips.

Whole leaf grades[edit]

The grades for whole leaf orthodox black tea are: Ceylon orange pekoe (OP) 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[edit]

  • BT—Broken Tea: Usually a black, open, fleshy leaf that is very bulky. Classification used in Sumatra, Sri Lanka, and some parts of Southern India.
  • BP—Broken Pekoe: Most common broken pekoe grade. From Indonesia, Ceylon, 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 and Southern India, as well as in some parts of Kenya.
  • BOP—Broken Orange Pekoe: Main broken grade. Prevalent in Assam, Ceylon, Southern India, Java, and China.
  • F BOP—Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe: Coarser and broken with some tips. From Assam, Ceylon, 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.

Fannings grades[edit]

  • PF—Pekoe Fannings
  • 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 Ceylon, Indonesia, Southern India, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and China. Black-leaf tea with few added ingredients, uniform particle size, and no tips.

Dust grades[edit]

  • D1—Dust 1: From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Africa, South America, and Southern India.
  • PD—Pekoe Dust
  • PD1—Pekoe Dust 1: Mainly produced in India.

Other terms[edit]

  • Musc.—Muscatel
  • Cl.—Clonal
  • Ch.—China varietal
  • Qu.—Queen jat
  • FBOPF Ex. Spl.—Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings (Extra Special)
  • FP—(Flowery Pekoe)
  • PS—Pekoe Souchong
  • S—Souchong
  • BOF—Broken Orange Fannings
  • BPF—Broken Pekoe Fannings
  • RD—Pekoe Dust/Red Dust
  • FD—Fine Dust
  • GD—Golden Dust
  • SRD—Super Red Dust
  • SFD—Super Fine Dust
  • BMF—Broken Mixed Fannings

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Marian Segal (March 1996). "Tea: A Story of Serendipity". FDA Consumer magazine. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  2. ^ TeaFountain (2004). "Tea Leaf Grades & Production Methods". TeaStation & TeaFountain. Archived from the original on 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  3. ^ a b c "Stash Orange Pekoe Tea". Stash Tea. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  4. ^ Swann's Classic Teas. "The Leaf is All: Leaf Grading". Swann's Classic Teas. Archived from the original on 2006-08-19. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  5. ^ Peet's Coffee (2006). "Learn: Tea Grades". Peet's Coffee & Teas. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  6. ^ Barnes & Watson Fine Teas (2006). "Leaf Grades". Barnes & Watson Fine Teas. Archived from the original on 2007-01-24. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  7. ^ "Tea grades". Tea grades. House of Tea. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Campbell Ronald Harlers (1973), ""Tea Production"", The New Encyclopædia Britannica 1973 (15 ed.) (Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.) 18 
  9. ^ Olde Wyndham Tea Company (2002). "Grades of Gourmet Tea". Olde Wyndham Tea Company. Archived from the original on 2006-12-09. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  10. ^ AFD (Appui à la Formation et au Développement). "Les techniques d'exploitation – Cueillette – Normes de cueillette". Théier (Camellia sinensis). Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  11. ^ "What is Pekoe Tea?". What is Pekoe Tea?. Wise Geek. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  12. ^ a b James Norwood Pratt (May 2002). "The Dutch Invent "Orange Pekoe"". TeaMuse Monthly Newsletter. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  13. ^ Rev. Robert Morrison, A dictionary of the Chinese language, vol. 1, pt. 2, pp. 3-4. Quote: "The sorts commonly known to Europeans are these, ... ; 4th, Pekoe, 白毫, Pih-haou; ...". The same text is reproduced in the 1865 reprint.
  14. ^ Gillards of Bath (2006). "Dargeeling teas". Gillards of Bath. Archived from the original on 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  15. ^ a b "Good liquoring CTCs see demand at Kolkata tea sale", Sify, Jul. 21, 2008.
  16. ^ Felix Cooper, "Tea Balls for Conservation", New York Times, Feb. 19, 1943.
  17. ^ Florence Fabricant, "Whole Leaves, No Strings For a New Tea Bag", New York Times, Feb. 9, 2000.
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