There are over three thousand varieties of tea, and it would be nice if there were a way to gauge the quality of your tea, even perhaps to grade it. There is, but since tea grades do not follow a worldwide standard, communication is difficult. Green and oolong tealeaves are usually whole and not graded, but black tea is generally graded according to the size of its tea leaf. The grade of the tea offers two pieces of information, the quality of the crop, and the size of the leaf.
The word “orange” is used when grading black tea. It does not refer to color or flavor rather it means “royal” honoring a Dutch dynasty. The word “pekoe” also frequently used in grading comes from the Chinese word for “fine hair”, and it refers to the tea plant’s end bud which is covered in fine white hairs.
The different grades for black tea can be summarized by the size of the tea leaf.
- Whole tealeaves start with the grade Flowery Orange Pekoe, F.O.P., and the grade diminishes with each subsequent grade starting with is Orange Pekoe, O.P., then Pekoe, P., Souchong, S., which is generally used to make smoked teas.
- Broken tealeaves are no longer whole and are much smaller than the O.P. grade yielding a much stronger and darker tea. The highest grade here is Broken Orange Pekoe, B.O.P., followed by Flowery B.O.P., F.B.O.P., followed by Golden B.O.P., G.B.O.P., followed by Tippy Golden B.O.P., T.G.B.O.P.
- Ground tealeaves are divided into two grades which are Fannings, F., which are flat pieces of tealeaves that are smaller than broken leaves yielding a very strong and dark tea, and Dust, which are leaves that are not yet ground and are generally used for tea bags.
While knowing all of the grades for all of the teas in the world would be mind boggling, it is interesting just to know that there is a highly complex grading system used to measure the quality of the tea in your cup.