Tea Grading Standards

In the tea industry, tea leaf grading is the process of evaluating products based on the quality and condition of the tea leaves themselves. The highest grades are referred to as “orange pekoe”, and the lowest as “fannings” or “dust”.

Pekoe tea grades are classified into various qualities, each determined by how many of the adjacent young leaves (two, one, or none) were picked along with the leaf buds. Top-quality pekoe grades consist of only the leaf buds, which are picked using the balls of the fingertips. Fingernails and mechanical tools are not used to avoid bruising.

When crushed to make bagged teas, the tea is referred to as “broken”, as in “broken orange pekoe” (BOP). These lower grades include fannings and dust, which are tiny remnants created in the sorting and crushing processes.

Orange pekoe is referred to as “OP”. The grading scheme also contains categories higher than OP, which are determined primarily by leaf wholeness and size.

Broken, fannings and dust orthodox teas have slightly different grades. CTC teas, which consist of leaves mechanically rendered to uniform fannings, have yet another grading system.

Grade terminology

  • Whole leaf grades Choppy contains many leaves of various sizes.
  • Fannings: are small particles of tea leaves used almost exclusively in tea bags.
  • Flowery: consists of large leaves, typically plucked in the second or third flush with an abundance of tips.
  • Golden Flowery: includes very young tips or buds (usually golden in colour) that were picked early in the season.
  • Tippy: includes an abundance of tips.

The grades for whole leaf orthodox black tea are: Ceylon orange pekoe (OP) grades’

  • OP1—slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor
  • OPA—bold, long leaf tea which ranges from tightly wound to almost open
  • OP—main grade, in the middle between OP1 and OPA, can consist of long wiry leaf without tips
  • OP Superior—primarily from Indonesia, similar to OP
  • Flowery OP—high-quality tea with a long leaf and few tips, considered the second grade in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh teas, but the first grade in China
  • F OP1—as above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the FOP classification
  • Golden Flowery OP1—higher proportion of tip than FOP top grade in Milima and Marinyn regions, uncommon in Assam and Darjeeling
  • Tippy Golden F OP—the highest proportion of tip, main grade in Darjeeling and Assam
  • TGF OP1—as above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the TGFOP classification
  • Finest TGF OP—highest quality grade (Note: “Special” is occasionally substituted for “Finest”, with a number 1 at the end to indicate the very finest), often hand processed and produced at only the best plantations, roughly one quarter tips
  • SFTGFOP(1)—sometimes used to indicate the very finest

A joke among tea aficionados is that “FTGFOP” stands for “Far Too Good For Ordinary People”.

Broken leaf grades

  • BT—Broken Tea: Usually a black, open, fleshy leaf that is very bulky. Classification used in Sumatra, Ceylon(Sri Lanka), and some parts of Southern India.
  • BP—Broken Pekoe: Most common broken pekoe grade. From Indonesia, Ceylon(Sri Lanka), Assam and Southern India.
  • BPS—Broken Pekoe Souchong: Term for broken pekoe in Assam and Darjeeling.
  • FP—Flowery Pekoe: High-quality pekoe. Usually coarser with a fleshier, broken leaf. Produced in Ceylon(Sri Lanka) and Southern India, as well as in some parts of Kenya.
  • BOP—Broken Orange Pekoe: Main broken grade. Prevalent in Assam, Ceylon(Sri Lanka), Southern India, Java, and China.
  • F BOP—Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe: Coarser and broken with some tips. From Assam, Ceylon(Sri Lanka), Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh. In South America coarser, black broken.
  • F BOP F—Finest Broken Orange Pekoe Flowery: The finest broken orange pekoe. Higher proportion of tips. Mainly from Ceylon’s “low districts”.
  • G BOP—Golden Broken Orange Pekoe: Second grade tea with uneven leaves and few tips.
  • GF BOP1—Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1: As above, but with only the highest quality leaves in the GFBOP classification.
  • TGF BOP1—Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1: High-quality leaves with a high proportion of tips. Finest broken First Grade Leaves in Darjeeling and some parts of Assam.

Fannings grades

  • PF—Pekoe Fannings
  • OF—Orange Fannings: From Northern India and some parts of Africa and South America.
  • FOF—Flowery Orange Fannings: Common in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh. Some leaf sizes come close to the smaller broken grades.
  • GFOF—Golden Flowery Orange Fannings: Finest grade in Darjeeling for tea bag production.
  • TGFOF—Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Fannings.
  • BOPF—Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings: Main grade in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Southern India, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and China. Black-leaf tea with few added ingredients, uniform particle size, and no tips.

Dust grades

  • D1—Dust 1: From Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Africa, South America, and Southern India.
  • PD—Pekoe Dust
  • PD1—Pekoe Dust 1: Mainly produced in India.

Other terms

  • Musc.—Muscatel
  • Cl.—Clonal
  • Ch.—China varietal
  • Qu.—Queen jat
  • FBOPF Ex. Spl.—Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings (Extra Special)
  • FP—(Flowery Pekoe)
  • PS—Pekoe Souchong
  • S—Souchong
  • BOF—Broken Orange Fannings
  • BPF—Broken Pekoe Fannings
  • RD—Pekoe Dust/Red Dust
  • FD—Fine Dust
  • GD—Golden Dust
  • SRD—Super Red Dust
  • SFD—Super Fine Dust
  • BMF—Broken Mixed Fannings