Tea Grading 101: A Comprehensive List of Tea Grades
I thought I’d follow up my previous post about black tea with a simple explanation of those mysterious acronyms sometimes found on packages of tea.
Remember that tea grades are not standardized, so they may vary widely according to country or region of origin. Also, tea grades do not necessarily indicate quality. The acronyms found below describe the dry leaf’s appearance, not its taste. Taste, after all, is in the tongue of the beholder.
Here’s my current list of tea grade terminology – if you know of any other grades, or if you feel one of my definitions needs clarification, I’d love to hear from you.
The word “pekoe” comes from the Chinese word bai hwa or “white flower”. In Taiwan, occasionally the Latin alphabet is used with a language system called POJ (an interesting bit of trivia to impress your friends with: this system was actually developed by the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church). Under the POJ system, the word is “peh-hoe”, which has evolved over time into “pekoe”. Today the term is used to classify a superior grade of black tea.
A pekoe tip is the down-like white or yellow hair on the tip of the youngest tea leaves. So the next time you hear someone refer to a tea as being “tippy”, you’ll know that they mean it has an abundance of tips!
OP: Orange Pekoe
No, it’s not orange flavored tea. It does not refer to a particular flavor, color, or even quality. It simply designates a particular leaf size. During the manufacture of tea, the resulting product is leaves of varying sizes. OP denotes a particular size (typically larger leaves) that will not pass through a sieve of particular width.
Tea is called choppy when a lot of tea contains leaves of widely varying sizes.
OP Sup.: Orange Pekoe Superior.
This grade is only produced in Indonesia.
BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe
Tea classified as BOP means that it is somewhat finer that Orange Pekoe (OP).
Also known as tea dust, fannings are small particles of tea leaves, used almost exclusively in tea bag production.
PF: Pekoe Fannings
Tea designated as PF are even finer than BOP grade.
GFOP: Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
The “golden flowery” in this acronym means that the tea contains very young tips or buds that have been plucked early in the season. The buds are typically golden, hence the name.
When tea is tippy, it indicates an abundance of tips, the down-like white or yellow hair on the tip of the youngest tea leaves.
CTC BOP: Crush Tear Curl Broken Orange Pekoe.
CTC production, as the name indicates, means that the leaves are crushed, torn and then curled. BOP grades mean that the tips of the leaves are still present, greatly enhancing the aroma and flavor of the tea. There’s a common misunderstanding that CTC leaves are of inferior quality because they tend to be used in teabags. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some of the best tasting Assam teas are CTC BOPs.
GFBOP: Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
GFBOP production is mainly in Assam and to a smaller extent, in Kenya.
GBOP: Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
GBOP tea has fewer tips than GFBOP.
TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
TGBOP is a broken grade of tea that has an abundance of tips with smooth leaves. This grade is produced in Darjeeling and Assam.
TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP tea is the primary grade of Assam and Darjeeling tea. Also with an abundance of tips.
FOP: Flowery Orange Pekoe
FOP tea is made from the first leaf and bud of the shoot.
FTGFOP1: Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, Grade 1
A common joke among tea industry practitioners is that this grade is “Far Too Good For Ordinary People!“
SFTGFOP:Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
This grade is one of the most sought after. It’s full of tips and young tea leaves.
SFTGFOP1:Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, Grade 1
Say that 10 times fast! The number “1” denotes that it is better than just SFTGFOP.
BPS: Broken Pekoe Souchong
The “Souchong” in the name indicates a bold and round leaf.
FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
BP: Broken Pekoe
Clonal teas are teas that are plucked from clones, or seedlings that are copied from another tea plant.
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