Few beverages worldwide can boast such a long-standing and intricate history as tea. Its origins are shrouded in mystery, but the rest of its story is one of cultural significance, changing trends, and most importantly, amazing flavour. Every cup of tea has its unique journey, and part of that is attributed to the leaves themselves.
Tea leaf grading is essential to how teas are sorted and labelled, but you may not know much about it. In this blog post, we unravel the wonders of tea leaf grading, uncovering the different grades of whole and broken leaves from India, China, and Japan. Tea leaves are one of the most difficult commodities for tea purveyors to grade because of the subtle differences between each grade.
An experienced taster must inspect and judge every leaf to determine its assigned grade. Grades can range from the frequent ‘finest’ and ‘extra special’ down to ‘dust’ or ‘fannings’, which are usually used in the production of tea bags. During this process, the tea must also be evaluated for defects and quality to separate it into even more specific grades. So let’s take a closer look at the different types of tea grading.
Tea leaf grading is an essential process to understand the quality of tea. It helps to determine the final product’s taste, flavour, and aroma. Tea leaves are graded according to their size, shape, and colour. Graders use specific parameters to rate the tea leaves, and they are then divided into various categories based on their grades.
The highest grade of tea leaves is the Orange Pekoe, further divided into Flowery Orange Pekoe and Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe based on their unique characteristics. For example, Flowery Orange Pekoe tea leaves contain more tips than Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe tea leaves.
Graders analyze the tea leaves to determine their purity and quality. The tea leaves with more tips are given higher grades due to their higher quality.
Overall, tea leaf grading is a process that requires precision and knowledge. It helps to differentiate between the various grades of tea leaves and ensures that the highest quality leaves are used for making the best tea.
II. Grading Tea Leaves: Overview
Tea leaf grading is the process of evaluating the quality and value of tea leaves. This process is done by carefully examining the leaves colour, aroma, size, shape, and taste. To grade tea properly, a tea taster must understand the different tea types, their characteristics and the associated grading standards.
The tea leaves are graded by professional tea tasters and experts who have undergone rigorous training and certification and are experienced in evaluating tea quality. Grading tea requires a detailed assessment of the leaves’ characteristics, including appearance, flavour, aroma, and texture. The higher quality of the tea leaves, the higher grade they get. To ensure the highest quality, most tea producers employ tea tasters to evaluate the tea leaves before they are processed and packaged.
III. Whole Leaf Grades from India
The third and final grade of Indian teas is the whole leaf grade. Whole leaf grades of Indian teas are divided into five grades: OP, BOP, BOPF, FBOP and GBOP. OP stands for “Orange Pekoe” and is the most common grade of Indian black tea. It is made from leaves plucked from the tip of the tea plant and contains very few broken leaves. BOP stands for “Broken Orange Pekoe”, made from tea leaves plucked further down the tea plant.
BOPF stands for “Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings, ” made from finer tea leaves. FBOP stands for “Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe” made from finer still leaves. Finally, GBOP stands for “Golden Broken Orange Pekoe” and is the finest Indian tea grade. It is made from tea leaves plucked from the tips of tea plants that contain golden tips. These five grades of tea are ideal for creating a robust and flavorful cup of tea.
IV. Broken Leaf Grades from China
The Chinese tea leaf grading system is unique among the other tea-producing countries and is based on the size and shape of the leaf. Leaves that have been broken during processing are graded differently than those that are still whole. Broken leaves are usually classified as fannings or dust, the smallest particles. Fannings and dust are generally used for tea bags because they infuse quickly but can be lower quality. Broken leaves can also be graded for size, typically labelled as BOP (broken orange pekoe) or BP (broken pekoe). BOP and BP-grade teas have a more balanced flavour than fannings and dust and can make a flavorful cup of tea.
The Chinese grading system also includes additional grades such as OP (orange pekoe), TGFOP (tippy golden flowery orange pekoe), and FTGFOP (finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe). These leaves are whole and graded based on colour, flavour, size, and shape. The higher grades are usually associated with more expensive teas, as they are more flavorful and aromatic. However, it is important to remember that a higher grade does not always guarantee better quality. Evaluating the leaves visually and smelling them can help determine the tea’s quality.
IV. Japanese Tea Grading System
Japanese tea grading system is based on a detailed evaluation of the leaves and how they were processed. The system is divided into different grades according to the leaves’ size, shape, colour, and tea dust amount. The grading system is a way to ensure that the tea delivers a consistent flavour and quality.
The highest grade is known as ‘Gyokuro’, made from the finest tea leaves, followed by ‘Sencha’, made with larger leaves. Lower grades include ‘Bancha’, made with bigger leaves and ‘Kukicha’, made with stems and twigs. These graded teas are popular among tea connoisseurs due to their variety of flavours and aromas. Grading is an essential part of the tea-making process, and tea masters use their expertise to evaluate the tea leaves to guarantee the finest quality.
Assessing the quality of tea leaves is essential for producing superior tea. Tea leaf grading helps produce tea that is consistent in flavour and quality. There are various tea grades based on the size and shape of the leaves. The highest grade consists of larger, unbroken leaves free from stems and twigs. By understanding the various tea leaf grades, tea drinkers can be confident they are getting the best quality tea.