Tea lovers unite! We’re here to spill the delectable tea on the mesmerizing world of different tea grades. Whether you’re a connoisseur seeking out the finest leaves or simply looking to expand your knowledge, we have something brewing for you.
Join us as we embark on a flavourful journey, exploring the captivating nuances and distinctive characteristics that set each tea grade apart.
From delicate white to robust black teas, we’ll unveil the secrets behind these remarkable brews that bring comfort, joy, and undeniable charm to our teacups. Prepare to be steeped in the fascinating realm of tea grades!
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Tea Grades Explained
Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and it comes in various grades. These grades play a significant role in determining the quality and characteristics of the tea. In this article, we will explore the different tea grading systems used in various tea-producing countries, the factors that affect tea grades, and the specific grades of different types of tea.
What are tea grades?
Tea grades are a classification system that categorises teas based on their quality, leaf size, appearance, and other factors. The grading system provides a standard way to assess and compare different teas, ensuring transparency and consistency in the industry. It allows consumers to make informed decisions when choosing their preferred tea.
Why are tea grades important?
Tea grades are essential because they help determine the quality and characteristics of the tea. Higher grades usually indicate superior quality, while lower grades may have inconsistencies or lower quality. Consumers can select teas that align with their taste preferences and expectations by understanding the tea grades.
Additionally, tea grades provide valuable information for tea buyers, sellers, and traders. They act as a universal language in the tea industry, facilitating trade and ensuring that the tea meets specific standards.
Who assigns tea grades?
Tea grades are assigned by tea experts, tasters, and professionals trained to evaluate and assess the quality of teas. They use specific criteria, such as leaf appearance, aroma, liquor colour, and taste, to assign grades to different teas. These experts work at tea estates, tea auctions, and tea companies and play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the tea grading system.
Commonly Used Tea Grading Systems
Tea grading systems vary across different tea-producing regions. Here are the commonly used grading systems in some of the significant tea-producing countries:
Tea grading in India
India, known for its aromatic and flavorful teas, uses the BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) grading system. This system categorizes teas based on the size of broken leaves, with BOP being the smallest leaf size and FTGFOP (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) being the most significant and highest quality.
Tea grading in China
China, the birthplace of tea, uses a grading system that classifies teas based on factors like leaf size, shape, colour, and aroma. Some famous Chinese tea grades include Young Hyson, Gunpowder, and Dragon Well. The grades often reflect the tea’s flavour profile, processing method, and region of cultivation.
Tea grading in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, uses a unique tea grading system that categorizes teas based on leaf size and quality. Orange Pekoe (OP) is a widely recognized grade, representing long, wiry leaves, while Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (FBOP) indicates a higher-quality broken-leaf tea.
Tea grading in Japan
Japan’s grading system focuses primarily on the quality and appearance of the tea leaves. Grades like Gyokuro and Sencha indicate different levels of quality and taste. The Japanese grading system also considers factors such as the tea’s shading period and the age of the leaves.
Tea grading in Kenya
Kenya, a significant player in the tea industry, uses the Pekoe grading system. This system classifies teas based on factors like leaf size, presence of tips, and quality. Grades range from the smaller, broken-leaf teas like BP1 (Broken Pekoe 1) to the more enormous, whole-leaf teas like GFOP1 (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1).
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Factors Affecting Tea Grades
Several factors influence the grading of tea. These factors can vary depending on the type of tea and the grading system used. Here are some common factors that affect tea grades:
Leaf size and appearance
The size and appearance of the tea leaves play a crucial role in grading. Generally, more significantly, whole leaves are associated with higher-quality teas, while smaller or broken leaves may indicate lower grades or inferior quality. The leaves’ shape, colour, and texture also contribute to the overall appearance and grade of the tea.
The way tea is processed after harvesting can significantly impact its grade. Different processing methods, such as withering, rolling, drying, and fermentation, can create distinct flavours, aromas, and appearances in the final product. The level of skill and care in the processing can determine the tea’s quality and subsequent grade.
The plucking standard refers to the leaf stage at which the tea leaves are harvested. Younger, tender leaves are often associated with higher-quality teas, while older or coarse leaves may result in lower-quality grades. The plucking standard determines the tea’s flavour, aroma, and overall character.
Region of cultivation
The region where tea is grown can significantly impact its quality and characteristics. Climate, soil composition, altitude, and even cultural practices can influence the tea’s flavour, aroma, and appearance. Different tea-growing regions may have specific grading standards and reputations for producing certain types of tea.
Season of harvest
The season in which tea is harvested can also affect its grade. In many tea-producing regions, teas harvested during the first flush (spring) are highly prized for their delicate flavours and aromas. Teas harvested during other seasons may have different flavour profiles and qualities, which can influence their grades.
Black Tea Grades
Black tea, known for its robust flavour and rich colour, is graded using various systems depending on the origin. Here are some common black tea grades:
Orange Pekoe (OP)
Orange Pekoe is a grade of black tea consisting of long, wiry leaves. Despite the name, Orange Pekoe does not have any orange flavour. It is generally considered a medium-grade tea and is widely consumed in many parts of the world.
Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP)
Broken Orange Pekoe consists of broken tea leaves. It is a lower grade than Orange Pekoe but is still widely used in tea blends and as a base for flavoured teas.
Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (FBOP)
Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe includes tea leaves that are higher in quality than BOP. It typically contains more tips and has a more pronounced flavour and aroma.
Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (GFBOP)
Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe refers to a grade of black tea with abundant golden tips. This grade is highly sought after for its rich flavour and elegant appearance.
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP)
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe is a premium grade of black tea that consists of long, whole leaves with a high proportion of golden tips. It represents the highest quality in many black tea grading systems.
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Green Tea Grades
Green tea, known for its fresh and grassy flavour, also has its grading system. Here are some common green tea grades:
Young Hyson is a high-quality green tea known for its long, twisted leaves. Its smooth taste and delicate aroma often characterize it.
Gunpowder green tea comes from tightly rolled leaves resembling small pellets. This grade of green tea is revered for its intense flavour and long shelf life.
Hyson is a green tea that consists of curly or twisted leaves. It has a slightly sweet taste and generally a milder flavour than Young Hyson.
Dragon Well (Longjing)
Dragon Well, also known as Longjing, is a famous Chinese green tea. It is known for its flat, broad leaves and smooth and subtly sweet taste.
Matcha is a particular grade of green tea finely ground into a powder. It is made by whisking the powder with hot water, creating a frothy and vibrant green beverage.
Oolong Tea Grades
Oolong tea, with its unique combination of characteristics between green and black tea, has its grading system. Here are some common oolong tea grades:
Pouchong is a lightly oxidized oolong tea known for its floral aroma and delicate flavour. It typically consists of semi-rolled leaves.
Formosa Oolong is a highly aromatic oolong tea from Taiwan. It has a wide range of flavours and comes in different grades, with more tightly rolled leaves indicating higher quality.
Tie Guan Yin
Tie Guan Yin, also known as Iron Goddess of Mercy, is a popular oolong tea from China. It is highly prized for its complex flavours, floral aroma, and rich aftertaste.
Da Hong Pao
Da Hong Pao, often called “Big Red Robe,” is a rare and highly sought-after oolong tea from China. It is known for its bold flavour, roasted aroma, and long-lasting finish.
Dong Ding is a medium to heavily oxidized oolong tea from Taiwan. Its rich flavour, roasted notes, and smooth mouthfeel characterise it.
White Tea Grades
White tea, known for its delicate flavours and minimal processing, also has its grading system. Here are some common white tea grades:
Silver Needle (Baihao Yinzhen)
Silver Needle is the highest grade of white tea and consists of only the unopened buds of the tea plant. It has a subtly sweet and floral flavour with a velvety mouthfeel.
White Peony (Bai Mudan)
White Peony is made from the tea plant’s unopened buds and young leaves. It has a more robust flavour than Silver Needle and a slightly bolder character.
Longevity Eyebrow (Shou Mei)
Longevity Eyebrow is made from more extensive and mature leaves than Silver Needle and White Peony. It has a deep flavour with earthy notes.
Tribute Eyebrow (Gong Mei)
Tribute Eyebrow is a grade of white tea with larger leaves and some buds. It has a robust flavour with a slight bitterness and woodsy tones.
Aged White Tea
Aged white tea refers to white tea that has been stored and aged for several years. It develops unique flavours and characteristics over time, making it highly prized by tea enthusiasts.
Yellow Tea Grades
Yellow tea is a rare and unique tea with a distinct flavour. Here are some common yellow tea grades:
Junshan Yinzhen is a grade of yellow tea that consists of tender buds. It has a delicate flavour and a light yellow liquor, reminiscent of the colour of apricot blossoms.
Huoshan Huangya is a renowned yellow tea from Anhui province, China. It is known for its distinctive twisted leaves and a smooth, sweet taste.
Meng Ding Huangya
Meng Ding Huangya is a high-quality yellow tea from Sichuan Province, China. It is made from tiny, thin leaves that produce a bright, refreshing infusion.
Imperial Gold (Bulang)
Imperial Gold, also known as Bulang, is a rare yellow tea from Yunnan province, China. Its golden colour, unique flavour profile, and complex aroma characterise it.
Pollyanna (Liu’an Guapian)
Pollyanna, or Liu’an Guapian, is a yellow tea made from large, flat leaves that are carefully selected for quality. It has a smooth and mellow taste with floral notes.
Pu-erh Tea Grades
Pu-erh tea, a fermented tea with earthy and robust flavours, is graded based on several factors. Here are some common Pu-erh tea grades:
Raw Pu-erh, also known as Sheng Pu-erh, is made from sun-dried tea leaves and undergoes a natural fermentation process over time. It is known for its bold flavour, pungent aroma, and potential to age and develop further complexity.
Ripe Pu-erh, known as Shou Pu-erh, undergoes an accelerated fermentation process using heat and moisture. This process yields a darker and milder tea with earthy and woody flavours.
Pu-erh Grades by Leaf Size
In addition to the raw and ripe classifications, Pu-erh tea can also be graded based on leaf size. Larger and intact leaves are often associated with higher grades, while smaller or broken leaves may indicate lower grades.
Pu-erh Grades by Harvest Year
Pu-erh tea can also be graded based on the year of harvest. Different years can result in distinct flavours and characteristics due to variations in weather, environmental conditions, and ageing potential.
Mao Cha refers to the loose-leaf tea produced before it is pressed or shaped into cakes or bricks. Mao Cha is often used as a base for Pu-erh tea production and can vary widely in quality and characteristics.
Herbal Tea Grades
Herbal teas, or tisanes, are not technically teas as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, they are often assigned grades based on their quality and characteristics. Here are some common herbal tea grades:
Chamomile is a popular herbal tea known for its calming properties and floral aroma. Grades can vary based on the quality and origin of the chamomile flowers used.
Peppermint tea is made from the leaves of the peppermint plant. Grades can reflect the freshness and quality of the leaves and the strength of the mint flavour.
Ginger tea is made from the root of the ginger plant. Grades can be determined by factors such as the ginger’s origin, freshness, and potency.
Hibiscus tea is derived from the vibrant red flowers of the hibiscus plant. Grades can indicate the flavour’s quality and intensity and the resulting infusion’s colour.
Lemongrass tea is made from the leaves of the lemongrass plant. Grades can reflect the lemongrass’s freshness, aroma, and flavour.
In conclusion, tea grades play a vital role in the industry by providing a standardized system to categorize and evaluate teas. Understanding the different tea grading systems, factors affecting tea grades, and the specific grades of various types of tea can empower consumers to make informed choices and confidently explore the world of tea. So, next time you enjoy a cup of tea, remember that behind that comforting brew lies a fascinating world of tea grading.