Tea grading – how and why it is done?

When you go to the grocery store and want to buy some tea, the salesperson might ask you – which grade of tea you would like to have. You may probably take just a fraction of a second before letting the salesperson know your buying decision. This was possible because you have some prior knowledge of tea grading. That is why you were able to give a prompt answer to the question. But think if you do not know much on it. In that case you may have to depend solely on the salesperson. In any case, the terms used for tea grading are generally not too much familiar to people not related to tea industry. This article may be helpful for those who are not much aware of this gradation process of tea. tea grading - a sorting machine at work

Why tea grading necessary?

The system of tea grading was devised for expressing the condition and quality of tea leaves in discrete terms. The Western tea trading industry introduced this standardized grading process to support tea trading. Now most tea producing countries like India, Sri Lanka, Kenya etc.  use this protocol to grade different genres of black tea. However mostly green teas producing countries like China, Japan etc. do not follow this grading system much.

Basis of tea gradation

This gradation is based on the amount of ‘pekoe’ or ‘orange pekoe’ present in the leaves. It is the presence of unopened terminal leaf buds without golden tips in tea flushes. This categorization takes into consideration the amount of terminal buds and one or two adjacent leaves in the teas at first. The leaves plucked during a flush after the slow growth periods, the young buds comes with a golden tip. When there are abundance of flowery tips during a certain season, the harvest can produce flowery grade teas containing a lot of these golden tips. The tea sample containing enough of the golden tips earns a prefix ‘Tippy’ and ‘Golden’ before their grading. Teas with maximum buds with golden tips and with whole leaves, is theoretically considered as the topmost grade of the tea of a particular garden.tea grading - different tea types

Significance of grading

These factors can produce the best possible impact on the taste, clarity, and brewing time of the tea. Thus this grading system may contain grades higher or lower than the standard OP (Orange Pekoe) grade. This again depends on

  • the consistency and size of the leaf grains
  • the percentage of buds with one or two adjacent tender leaves.

Then the grading process considers the degree of wholeness of the leaves. In the orthodox mode of production, tea leaves are supposed to retain their wholeness. Accordingly, tea is categorized into four categorize.

This includes whole leaf, broken, fannings and dust depending on the size of the tea grains in case of orthodox teas. However in CTC processing, the tea leaves are cut and torn into smaller grains and they lose their wholeness. Hence unless blended, CTC tea doesn’t contain any whole leaf. Hence it is classified into three categories. The whole leaf category is excluded altogether in case of CTC tea.

(1) Orthodox Tea

Whole leaf Grades:

FTGFOP – Fine, Tippy golden flowery orange pekoe
TGFOP – Tippy golden flowery orange pekoe
TGFOP 1 – Tippy golden flowery orange pekoe one
GFOP – Golden flowery orange pekoe
FOP – Flowery orange pekoe
OP – Orange pekoe

Brokens:

GFBOP – Golden flowery broken orange pekoe
FBOP – Flowery broken orange pekoe
GBOP – Golden broken orange pekoe
BOP 1 – Broken orange pekoe one
BPS – Broken pekoe souchang

Fannings:

GOF – Golden orange fannings
FOF – Flowery orange fannings
BOPF – Broken orange pekoe fannings
OF – Orange fannings
Dust – OPD Orthodox pekoe dust
OD Orthodox dust
OCD – Orthodox churamoni dust
FD – Fine dust

(2) CTC Tea

Brokens:

BOP – Broken orange pekoe
BP – Broken pekoe
BPS – Broken pekoe souchang

Fannings:

OF – Orange fannings
PF – Pekoe fannings
PF 1 – Pekoe fannings one

Dust:

PD – Pekoe dust
D – Dust
CD – Churamoni dust
PD 1 – Pekoe dust one
D1 – Dust one
RD – Red dust
FD – Fine dust

(3) Green Tea

Whole Leaf:

YH – Young hyson
FYH – Fine young hyson

Brokens:

GP – Gun powder
H – Hyson

Fannings:

FH – Fine hyson
Soumea – Soumea

Dust:

Dust – Dust

To know about the tea terms visit ‘Terms used in Grading and tea tasting’