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Tea Grades


Tea Grades 

Tea Grades are only descriptions of the dry, cured leaf. They have no necessary relation to the aroma, color or flavor of the end product. Tea Grades: Orange Pekoe, Pekoe, Souchong, Fannings, Dust, Loose tea, Bagged Tea, Fannings, Broken Orange Pekoe, Vintage, 1st flush, 2nd flush and Autumnal.


It is possible to get a delicious cup from ugly, broken leaves; it is also possible to get an awful cup from well-handled, beautiful whole leaves. The basic grades of black tea include: Orange Pekoe (OP); Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP), Pekoe, Souchong, Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings, Broken Pekoe Fannings and Dust.

Orange Pekoe: Since much of bagged tea sold is marked Orange Pekoe, many people think that Orange Pekoe is a special kind of tea. But it is not. It is a grading measurement that applies only to the size and physical condition of the leaves, not their kind or quality. The tea is characterized by long, thin, wiry leaves which sometimes contain the white or yellow tip of the leaf bud. Most tea that is labeled Orange Pekoe is blended black tea, typically from India and/or Sri Lanka.

Pekoe: is derived from a Chinese word meaning 'white'; this referred to the white hair on the leaf bud. Early merchants used the word to mean that the leaves so graded were exclusively plucked from the tip of the branch: the leaf bud and the two leaves below the bud. Its use in India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) broadened to mean whole leaves of a uniform size, and this is what it generally means now. This may include leaves picked from lower on the branch.

Flowery Orange Pekoe: is often abbreviated 'FOP'. The term 'flowery' apparently refers to the leaf bud, since actual tea flowers are not used in the preparation of the drink.

Orange: is variously described as a reference to the Dutch House of Orange or as a reference to an old Chinese practice of including orange blossoms as a flavoring agent. Whichever story is true, Orange Pekoe leaves are higher quality than Pekoe leaves.

Souchong: means large leaves, generally not from the tip of the branch.

Fannings and Dust: Processed tea is sieved to ensure that leaves of uniform size are packaged together. Fannings and dust are bits and pieces of tea leaves left over from the sieving that separate whole leaves from large pieces of leaf. Fannings are slightly larger than Dust.

Loose Tea: is a generally whole leaf but they are easily broken during handling and packaging.

Bagged Tea: is usually Broken Orange Pekoe and Broken Pekoe, fannings, and dust. The broken grades are created by mechanized crushing of the leaves. Broken leaves infuse more quickly, which is desirable in a tea bag. But because of their larger surface area, broken leaves also become stale more quickly.

Darjeeling Grades: High-quality Darjeelings are often graded according to a complex system including terms such as TGFOP and FTGFOP. Here's what they stand for:

TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. 'Tippy', 'Golden', and 'Flowery' are all references to the leaf bud at the tip of the branch. (Buds have a lighter color than fully formed leaves, hence 'golden'.)

FTGFOP: Fancy [or Finest] Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. 'Fancy' is a term also used in the grading of oolongs.

SFTGFOP: Super-Fine [Fancy/Finest] Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. When dealing with Darjeelings, you may also see the following terms:

Estate: names the plantation where the leaves were grown.

Vintage: means that the leaves are the product of one harvest, and are not blended with any others.

The are 3 main times of year for producing good quality Darjeelings:

1st flush - Spring time harvested teas from late Feb. to mid April. The young leaves yield a light tea with generally intense muscatel with point. A gentle afternoon tea.

2nd flush - Harvested in June, these teas are more fully developed. The liquor is bright and the taste full and round excellent muscatel. A superb afternoon tea that is especially good with scones and raspberry conserve.

Autumnal - Not always available depending upon the weather, they are typified by a round taste and coppery liquor. Excellent as a breakfast tea with milk.




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