Black Tea Grades

There are a number of grading systems for tea. Each major type of tea (black tea, green tea, and oolong tea) has a unique grading system that may vary by region or country of origin. Black tea, however, as the most commercially valuable type of tea, has a grading system that is used by most tea producers in India, Sri Lanka, Java, Indonesia, and Africa . Some Chinese black tea also follows this grading system.

Black tea grades are primarily used to classify the size of the tea leaf. The size can range from whole leaf (Pekoe) to dust (used in tea bags).

The number of grades can be overwhelming to a casual tea observer. Pekoe, for example, has many variations such as Orange Pekoe (a tea leaf between 8 and 15 cm long), Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), and Broken Pekoe (BP). The last two consist of broken leaves usually resulting from machine harvesting.

The whole leaf grades are almost exclusively a product of orthodox tea production. The leaves are hand-picked and sorted according to leaf size after they have been processed. Broken leaf grades are the result of the CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) method of tea processing. This tea may be either hand-picked or machine harvested.

Grading Terms

  • Tippy (T) - tea which has many tips (the newly budding leaf)
  • Flowery (F) - tea which has the fine young leaves with a certain proportion of tips
  • Golden Flowery (GF) - tea which contains young tips and/or buds from early in the season
  • Finest (F) - Top grade production
  • Special Finest (SF) - Highest grade production
  • Pekoe (P) - Pekoe (pronounced peh-ko) is an unbroken leaf shorter than Orange Pekoe
  • Orange Pekoe (OP) - Orange Pekoe is an unbroken leaf between 8 and 15 cm in length which is rolled lengthwise
  • Pekoe Souchong (PS) - Shorter than Pekoe and more coarse
  • Souchong (S) - Large leaves which are rolled lengthwise

The number "1" may be added to a grade to indicate top quality tea.

The tea grading acronyms are combined together, so we see tea grades such as FTGFOP1. This means Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade.

Here are some common whole leaf grades:

  • FTGFOP1 (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade). Finest top-grade production with an abundance of tips. This grade is mainly from Darjeeling and Assam.
  • SFTGFOP1 (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade Leaves). An even higher grade than the previous. Mostly applied to Indian teas.
  • TGFOP1 (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade)
  • TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). These two grades are the main grades of fine quality Darjeeling and Assam teas.
  • GFOP1 (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade). This grade is most commonly applied to top grade Kenyan teas, but also can be used for Indian teas.
  • FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe).
  • FOP1 (Flowery Orange Pekoe First Grade). These two grades indicate second grade tea from India and Bangladesh, but are used to denote top grade tea in China.
  • OP sup (Orange Pekoe Superior). This grade only applies to tea from Indonesia.
  • OP (Orange Pekoe). This is the main grade of Ceylon and Java teas.
  • BOP1 (Broken Orange Pekoe First Grade). This grade is most commonly used for Ceylon teas. It is a mixture of whole leaf and broken leaf tea at an approximate ratio of 40% Orange Pekoe and 60% Broken Orange Pekoe.