Do you know what these black tea grades mean? OPD, FOP, TGFOP-1. It’s okay - most people don’t know, and most people are missing out on an opportunity to understand the teas they are purchasing and enjoying.
The black tea grading system is designed to communicate the qualities and characteristics of tea leaves. It was standardized by British merchants and colonists who needed an easy way to communicate leaf size, the amount of buds, the golden tips of those buds, and other appearance characteristics.
The system, however, is not based on brewed tea quality. A high grade of black tea won’t necessarily taste like one, since the best looking leaves aren’t always the tastiest.
Still, the British black tea grading system helps buyers and sellers communicate the characteristics of tea leaves though a fairly reliable process and is worth learning about if you are serious about finding the best black teas for your unique preferences and lifestyle.
While this grading system can be complicated, it is rewarding to understand. If you can learn to read the grades, you can learn what a tea looks like before ever laying eyes on it.
Black Tea Grading Terminology
The system is based around characteristics that correlate with a letter. Put a few of these letters together, and you have a tea grade that describes a tea’s appearance. Generally, the more whole a leaf is and the more buds it contains, the higher the grade.
Here are some of the most common tea grades, along with their loose definitions.
Wiry, and large leaf usually without golden tips.
High quality whole leaf tea made from the first two leaves and bud of the shoot.
Some of the buds have golden tips.
All of the buds have golden tips.
The highest grade of unbroken tea leaf..
But wait! Some graders go as far to add “special” to the grade to communicate additional leaf quality, though it’s all subjective at this point. Sometimes this “special” grade is communicated in the form of a number instead of an ‘S’ (FTGFOP-1).
Refers to torn or broken tea particles that are still recognizable as tea leaves. Always indicated between Flowery or Golden and Orange (FBOP, GBOP).
Finely broken tea leaves that are primarily used in tea bags. Typically indicated at the end of grades (FOPF, GOF).
Micro tea particles that appear like dust and are only used in tea bags. Also typically indicated at the end of grades (OPD, BOPD).
Do Tea Grades Really
Matter For Me?
Without knowing black tea grades, you are left to the mercy of the tea seller’s description and images. However, if you can learn to read the grades, your power of choice grows.
Here’s a way knowing grades really comes in handy: by knowing the size of a tea leaf, you can determine with strong accuracy how it will steep and taste. For example, TGFOP teas are large leaves that take a longer time to steep than BOP leaves, which are smaller and therefore steep much more quickly.
Many breakfast blends use broken leaves to encourage a rich and robust flavor profile that pairs well with milk and sugar. Smaller leaf particles also release caffeine a little more quickly than larger leaves. Larger, high grade teas, on the other hand, often carry a lighter, but more complex flavor profile and release caffeine into your mug more slowly.
The black tea grading system is far from easy or perfect, but it does give us a sense of what a tea can steep and taste like.
Congratulations! Now that you can read and interpret the grades, you have the power to choose black teas that suit your needs in a way most don’t understand.
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