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Tea Grading

Orange Pekoe:
The basic term for whole leaf grade tea.

Tea Grading

Tea Grading.jpgOnce manufactured, tea is graded based on its physical description (including leaf size and color). Tea grading varies widely from country to country and from one type to another. It is important to know that tea grading does NOT reflect the quality of the brew (with the exception of graded teas from Taiwan). Indian black teas are subject to the most structured and extensive grading system. Because the consumer is most likely to encounter the method used for grading Indian and Ceylon black tea, we offer a more detailed description of it below.

The basic term used in grading Indian and Ceylon black tea is Orange Pekoe (pronounced PECK-oh), or OP. The word "pekoe" is derived from the Chinese word "bai hao," for white tip, a reference to the white downy hairs found on the bud leaves. The word "orange" has nothing to do with orange flavor or scent, but may be a reference to the Dutch House of Orange, the Dutch royal family in the early days of the European tea trade. In addition to the OP designation, additional letters are often assigned to describe the leaves' various characteristics. Black tea is broken down into four different categories: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and dust, each of which is described below:

Whole Leaf Grades
OP Orange Pekoe: The basic term for whole leaf grade tea. OP contains long, pointed leaves that are larger than FOP and have been harvested when the end buds open into leaf. OP usually does not contain tips.
FOP Flowery Orange Pekoe: FOP tea is made from the end bud and first leaf of each shoot. FOP contains fine, tender young leaves with buds, also referred to as tips (a mark of quality tea).
GFOP Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: FOP with golden tips.
TGFOP Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: FOP with a larger proportion of golden tips than GFOP.
FTGFOP Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Very high quality FOP.
SFTGFOP Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Very high quality FOP with lots of golden tips. The numeral "1" is often added to the end of the description to indicate a top quality tea (e.g. SFTGFOP1).


Broken Leaf Grades
The term Broken Orange Pekoe, or BOP, is used to describe large leaf fragments. The same grading terminology that is used for whole leaf (OP) teas is also applied to BOP teas (e.g. TGBOP = Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe). BOP teas retain much of the quality attributed to whole leaf, or OP tea, and are often used to make tea blends.


Fannings are leaf fragments smaller than the BOP grade, often used in tea bags.


Dust is generally the remnants of the grading process (after OP, BOP and Fannings have been removed). It is often used in ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages such as bottled iced tea.