Understanding Tea Grading

All tea is derived from the tea plant “camellia sinensis”, but the similarity broadly ends here. Tea undergoes a complex and varied processing procedure which leads to a vast difference in the appearance, taste, and aroma of the final product. The characteristics of the tea are also influenced by the climatic and geographic conditions of the region where it is grown. A key factor in deciding a tea’s final quality is the kind and variety of tea leaf plucked to manufacture that particular tea. Depending on all these conditions, each tea has its own unique flavor profile. This flavor profile of a tea holds immense importance in marketing that tea in the international tea market.

The technique used to graph or describes a tea’s flavor profile by denoting its appearance, aroma and flavor is called tea grading. Tea aficionados seek precise and as accurate as possible information about what to expect in a particular tea. Tea grading is very useful in providing the customer with this information.

According to the processing technique, tea is categorised as orthodox or modern tea. The orthodox variety of tea is produced from whole leaves. Whole leaf tea is graded as Pekoe, Orange Pekoe (OP), Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP), Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP), Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP), Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP), Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe / Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP).

Modern tea is also called CTC (crush, tear, curl). Different types of CTC tea are made up of different sizes of leaf. The size of the leaf forms the most crucial parameter of grading tea. According to the size of the broken leaf, tea is graded as dust, fanning, Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (GBOP), Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (FBOP), Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (TGBOP),Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (GFBOP), Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (TGFBOP).

The above described grading system essentially applies to black tea. Green tea, oolong tea and white tea do not have an internationally accepted, standard grading system as yet. The grading pattern for these teas varies from region to region. Broadly speaking, green tea is classified as Whole leaf variety like Young Hyson and Fine young Hyson; Broken leaf varieties like Gunpowder, Hyson, Fine Hyson, Fanning variety called Soumee, and Dust.

Tea grading is more of an art than science. It takes a sensitive palate to grade a tea and an equally sensitive “feel” of each flavor to interpret that grading. But once you do learn to find your way through that maze of obtuse sounding terminology, you would actually enjoy flipping through numerous teas and selecting your favorite flavors