Grades of Black Tea

Grades of Black Tea

Tea is a very relaxing and satisfying beverage, and yet, people are not entirely sure of the quality of the Tea they are consuming.  Tea grading is a process in the Tea industry to appraise the products based on the quality and condition of the Tea leaves. The sizes of the Tea leaves after plucking determines the quality as the smaller Tea leaves are more valuable than larger Tea leaves. Tea is also graded by region. Each Tea-growing region produces Tea with a specific flavour profile and characteristic unique to that particular region.

The major classification of Tea into grades are as Whole leaf, Broken leaf, Fannings and Dust and then there are further classifications within these grading. There are various Tea grades with the highest Tea grade called ‘Orange Pekoe’ and the lowest being ‘Fannings’ or ‘Dust’. The Tea grades are used to distinguish the type and style of the dry leaf. There are various parameters that ultimately determine the Tea grade like the size of the leaf, type of Tea leaves in the mix, the bloom of the leaves, aroma, taste, region of origin and the colour of the final brew. However, there is no common criterion which is worldly standard for the grading, thus the standard varies depending on country to country.

Every type of Tea leaf has its own significance. For instance, the whole leaves are known to impart more aromatic flavours. The aroma is stronger when the leaves also consist of buds and tips. on the other hand, the broken leaves and fannings, impart strength to the brew.

Newer the leaves, the more tender they are and the better the quality. So small tips are the most valuable part compared to say a large Tea leaf which would be less valuable. The grade of the Tea is also said to reflect the caffeine content to a large extent as the leaf buds contain more caffeine content than mature Tea leaves. Whole leaves require the longest infusion times while fannings and dust infuse the fastest. Therefore Tea grade also affects brewing.

A common myth about Tea grade is that higher-grade Tea is always better Tea, and another widespread misconception is that Tea of higher grades is always higher-priced. Many factors influence Tea’s quality and characteristics, and furthermore, enjoyment of a particular batch of Tea is subjective, as different people have different tastes. Tea of any grade can be lower in quality if it’s not fresh, especially if it has been stored improperly. And higher grades are often mild-flavored, lighter-bodied, and higher in caffeine, something not all people desire.

Sometimes you can find particular high-grade batches of Tea for bargain prices. Other Teas of lower grade may sell for a premium because they originate from a well-known garden or estate, or because something else about the batch has made them particularly desirable.

British Tea Grading System

As mentioned, Tea grading varies by country. The most commonly known system, the Orange Pekoe system, was devised by the British. The origin of the name is speculative and credit for popularising it goes to Sir Thomas Lipton, the Tea magnate. The term ‘Orange Pekoe’ is sometimes misunderstood as referring to the flavour of orange. While ‘Pekoe’ can be credited as a corruption of the dialect word for the Chinese ‘Peh-Ho’ Tea, the reference to Orange is speculated to be a ‘Public Relations’ exercise to associate the Dutch Royalty of ‘Orange-Nassau’ with Tea (as they brought Tea to Europe). Another theory claims the term emerged from the bright copper hue of an oxidised and finished Pekoe Tea.

The top Tea grade is referred to as Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. With this Tea, the top leaves and bud are hand-plucked. The Tea’s name is derived from the buds’ golden edge. If the letter “F” occurs before the name of the Tea, that means that it is a finer grade; if the letters “SF” appear before the name, it means the Tea is of a super-fine grade.

High-quality Teas have a distinct and strong aroma. Similarly, Teas that are of good quality should provide the Tea drinker with a distinct, multi-layered taste. Premium quality Teas offer nuanced flavours that are both flavourful and refreshing.

When people first get into Tea, they are surprised to learn that green Tea, black Tea, oolong, and white Tea all come from the same plant. Essentially, what makes all these Teas different is how long you let them sit out and oxidize after you pluck the leaves and how you dry them. When you enjoy your next cup of Tea, pay more attention to its flavours and aroma. ‘Everything is better with a cup of Tea’ !

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