Tea leaf grading

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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.

General classifications[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 (/ˈpɛk, ˈpk/), 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]

Etymology[edit]

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

The origin of the word "pekoe" is uncertain. One explanation is that 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).[11] 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".[12] 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 precedent, for Western markets. The "orange" in orange pekoe is sometimes mistaken to mean the tea has been flavoured 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 (Stadtholder) of Holland and Zealand. The Dutch East India Company played a central role in bringing tea to Europe and may have marketed the tea as "orange" to suggest association with the House of Orange.[11]
  2. Colour: the copper colour of a high-quality, oxidized leaf before drying, or the final bright orange colour of the dried pekoes in the finished tea may be related to the name.[13] These usually consist of one leaf bud and two leaves covered in fine, downy hair. The orange colour appears when the tea is fully oxidized.

Fannings[edit]

Fannings are small pieces of tea that are left over after higher grades of teas 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.[14] 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 flavourful 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.[15] Fannings are also typically used in most tea bags, although some companies sell tea bags containing whole-leaf tea.[16]

Some exporters focus primarily on broken-leaf teas, fannings, and dusts.[14]

Grades[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.[17]

Whole leaf grades[edit]

Grade Description
OP
Orange Pekoe
Main grade, consisting of long wiry leaf without tips.
OP1
More delicate than OP; long, wiry leaf with a light liquor.
OPA
Bolder than OP; long leaf tea which ranges from tightly wound to almost open.
OPS
Orange Pekoe Superior
Primarily from Indonesia; similar to OP.
FOP
Flowery Orange Pekoe
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.
FOP1
Limited to only the highest quality leaves in the FOP classification.
GFOP
Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
Higher proportion of tip than FOP. Top grade in the Milima and Marinyn regions, but uncommon in Assam and Darjeeling.
TGFOP
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
The highest proportion of tip, and the main grade in Darjeeling and Assam.
TGFOP1
Limited to only the highest quality leaves in the TGFOP classification.
FTGFOP[a]
Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
Highest quality grade.
FTGFOP1
STGFOP
SFTGFOP
Limited to only the highest quality leaves in the FTGFOP classification.

Broken leaf grades[edit]

Grade Description
BT
Broken Tea
Usually a black, open, fleshy leaf that is very bulky. This classification is used in Sumatra, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and some parts of Southern India.
BP
Broken Pekoe
The most common broken pekoe grade; from Indonesia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Assam and Southern India.
BPS
Broken Pekoe Souchong
Term for broken pekoe in the Assam and Darjeeling regions.
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.[clarification needed]
F BOP F
Finest Broken Orange Pekoe Flowery
The finest broken orange pekoe, with a 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]

Grade Description
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 Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Southern India, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and China. Black-leaf tea with few added ingredients, uniform particle size, and no tips.

Dust grades[edit]

Grade Description
D1
Dust 1
From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Africa, South America, Southern India, and Bangladesh.
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. – Finest Broken Orange Pekoe Flowery (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

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Also used facetiously among tea aficionados to mean "Far Too Good for Ordinary People".

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. Archived from the original on 2006-11-12. 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. Archived from the original on 2013-01-31. 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, 18 (15 ed.), Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 
  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). Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  11. ^ a b James Norwood Pratt (May 2002). "The Dutch Invent "Orange Pekoe"". TeaMuse Monthly Newsletter. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Gillards of Bath (2006). "Dargeeling teas". Gillards of Bath. Archived from the original on 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  14. ^ a b "Good liquoring CTCs see demand at Kolkata tea sale", Sify, Jul. 21, 2008.
  15. ^ Felix Cooper, "Tea Balls for Conservation", New York Times, Feb. 19, 1943.
  16. ^ Florence Fabricant, "Whole Leaves, No Strings For a New Tea Bag", New York Times, Feb. 9, 2000.
  17. ^ The Tea House Times, GRADING TERMINOLOGY FOR TEA LEAVES

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