Your Guide to Tea Grading


You may have already come across the bizarre initials following some of the teas in our shop or on our website – a series of letters and occasionally numbers that all just kind of look like gibberish.

Well, we can tell you for a fact that we didn’t just have a bit of a computer malfunction when printing our tea labels. They actually refer to a system of grading, to set apart the wheat from the chaff of the black tea world.

If you’ve been puzzling over these for some time now, read on and let us enlighten you! You’ll be a tea aficionado in no time.

When it comes to tea grading, it’s basically all about determining the highest quality tea. To get the best tea blend possible, you’re looking for something with the smallest and youngest leaves – the bigger and more matured they get, the less good quality they are.

The most desirable part of the plant is the tea bud at the tip of the shoot. Then you’ve got the youngest leaf, known as the orange pekoe. Pekoe is the Chinese word for ‘white hair’, so called becauseĀ the young leaves are covered in a fine silvery down upon opening.

Anything lower than the pekoe are the souchong leaves, which are the older leaves that wouldn’t make it into the finer tea blends. Fear not – the humble souchong leaves are used to make lapsang souchong (funny, that), so all is not lost for them! The process of smoking the leaves in the manufacture of lapsang souchong is a nifty way to make the most of the lower-class leaves.

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The most common grading goes a little something like this:

OP – Orange Pekoe (the youngest leaves)
FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe (the youngest leaves alongside a few tips/buds)
GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (the pekoe leaves with buds picked very early in the season so that they have a golden colour)
TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (even more tips than GFOP)
FTGFOP – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (basically the creme de la creme)

Occasionally these initials will be followed by a ‘1’. If you get a FTGFOP1, then make yourself comfortable and savour that brew ’cause you’ve hit the jackpot (teapot?!).

When you start to see ‘B’s appearing, that’s an indicator that the blend you are drinking contains broken leaves. These parts of the tea are of a lower grade, as they will be older. Though they are considered to be not as high in quality, they’ll still be delicious – it just means that you will get a stronger drink that isn’t as light as that brewed from younger leaves.

Commercial teabags are usually filled with tea ‘fannings’ or ‘dust’. This refers to very small particles of tea leaves, usually left over from the production of higher quality tea. Using the fannings, though cheaper, is arguably not as good! For future reference, we use whole tea leaves in our tea bags as well, so you don’t have to feel like you’re missing out if you don’t get the loose-leaf version of your favourite tea šŸ™‚

So there you have it – our guide to deciphering tea jargon!

Next stop, impressing all your friends with your new tea knowledge. Aaand if your friends don’t seem to enjoy your raving upon all things tea, come find us on Facebook and Twitter and get involved with our discussions!


Featured image by Lucy Harris atĀ

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