Tea grades refer to the way tea leaves are preserved, whole, broken, or dust after processing. All teas have a grade, although it is not necessarily mentioned in their name. Thus, the green tea and semi-fermented tea leaf is generally whole and the grade is not specified. As well the name of some black teas, mostly Chinese, is evocative enough to preclude specifying the grade. For other teas, the grade is an important indication of the type of plucking and the size of the leaf.
- Flowery Orange Pekoe (F.O.P.) Fine plucking of the bud and the next two leaves. - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (G.F.O.P.) Similar to Flowery Orange Pekoe but with more buds. - Orange Pekoe (O.P.) The plucking is done later, yielding more leaves and therefore a less refined quality. - Pekoe (P) Although the Pekoe means buds, this grade does not contain any buds and the leaves are older and less refined. - Souchong (S) Picked last, the lower leaves contain virtually no caffeine and are used for smoked tea.
With the broken leaf, the brewing yields a darker and stronger liquor. The ratio of “Golden Tips” (the golden tips of certain leaves) increases (see below) to provide a tea of finer quality: - Broken Orange Pekoe (B.O.P.) - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (F.B.O.P.) - Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (G.B.O.P.) - Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (T.G.B.O.P.)
- Fanning (F) means that the leaves are broken in smaler particles, which yields a dark, full-bodied and stronger tea.
Green teas have their own classification and include: - Gunpowder: The leaves are rolled into balls. When the balls are really tight and small they are called Pinhead. This tea is the first picked of the season. - Chun-Mee refers to leaves that are rolled and curved in the shape of an eyebrow. This is the fine picking equivalent to the F.O.P. - Natural Leaf: the leaf is left whole and flat - Matcha: Green tea crushed to powder and used for the tea ceremony and cooking. In Japan, for the traditional Chado, it only included crushed buds. It yields a very bitter taste and is usally drunk blended or whipped, but not brewed. - China green teas also include a class of twisted whole leaf without a specific name.