This list describes the various terms involved in the grading of black tea, but other tea types are often graded according to a similar pattern.
It is important to remember that the tea producing countries have no common standardized system for tea grading, and the terminology as well as the actual grading process can therefore vary significantly.
This article will therefore only briefly discus the grading process, and explain some commonly used terms.
The different terms used when grading tea will usually refer to the size and condition of a tea leaf, and will sometimes also tell you where the leaf has grown on the tea bush.
Dust is the name used for the minute tea leaf particles that are left after the tea has been sifted. Dust is often included in common tea bags, since the dust will infuse rapidly when immersed in water.
Fannings are a bit larger than dust, but they are still very small particles that originates from broken tea leaves.
Souchong is usually the name applied to the fourth leaf of the shoot. This means that a Souchong leaf must come from coarse plucking, since only the bud, the second leaf and the third leaf is picked during fine plucking. The fourth leaf is large and located at the bottom, near the branch, and Souchong tea leafs are often twisted lengthwise and included in Chinese smoked tea variants. S is the symbol used for Souchong quality tea leaves.
Tea leaves that are just slightly less coarse than Suochong are called Pekoe, which is abbreviated P or PEK.
Orange Pekoe (OP) tea leaves have grown close to the end of the branch. Orange Pekoe leaves are among the smallest leaves on a tea bush, and only the buds and flowers are younger.
BOP stands for Broken Orange Pekoe and in this category you will find damaged Orange Pekoe leaves. Sometimes a machine is used to turn OP leaves into BOP leaves, since this increases the surface area. The more surface area, the more rapid the infusion.
Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) is Orange Pekoe leaves that contain tips and/or buds. If the tea leaves or flowers have a golden color, they are called Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP). If the amount of golden tips is very large, the tea is called Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP).
When Broken Orange Pekoe contains tips, it is called FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
The tea estates very finest quality is often the so called FTGFOP - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. This type of tea is often made up by golden tea flowers, leaf buds, and very young tea leaves.