Last Updated on 08/06/2019 by Desmond
Many black tea lovers may ever be confused about the symbols on the product packages. OP, FOP, FTGFOP, etc. What are they mean? Actually, these letters refer to the black tea grades, basic on a global grading standard.
However, it is still a problem to understand these marks.
First, let’s figure out this image. You can see that there are annotations on every leaf on a branch. The more away from the top, the leaf will be larger, older, and harder.
According to this, there are two concepts about black tea grades: Classes and Grades.
Black Tea Classes
The classes we talk about here is not referring to the leaves’ quality but their shapes and sizes. You can understand it as the classes of World of Warcraft, and the grade refers to the level you reached.
Black teas that are processed in the orthodox way will be classified into four classes by leaves size:
- Whole Leaf
- Broken Leaf
One thing should be clear. Many people thought that the dust(tea powder) was made from low-quality leaves; that is so one-sided. There are also dust black teas made from high-quality leaves, and whole-leaf teas made from low-quality ones. The GRADES represent the leaves’ quality.
Black Tea Grades
Black tea grades represent the quality the leaves have. This rating standard is primarily based on the leaves tips’ quality, the percentage they are in the product, and their color. Typically, the more letters in the mark, the higher quality the black tea has.
Just as the name implies, whole-leaf tea means its leaves have never been crushed or cut. The leaf contains the bud, with an excellent and strong flavor. After brewing, the dried leaves expand and show a complete look in 7-30mm size. Whole-leaf tea is typically classified into 4 grades by quality:
- OP means Orange Pekoe. Which the tea leaves are long and complete.
- FOP means Flowery Orange Pekoe. The orange pekoe tea with flower aroma.
- TGFOP TGFOP means Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. A Flowery Orange Pekoe made from the ordinary tips with golden color.
- FTGFOP means Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. It is blended with the high-quality Flowery Orange Pekoe, which is all made from the finest tips.
Besides, some tea gardens will plus an “S”(special) in front of the marks or a “1” at the end, which means it’s the highest grade product.
Broken-leaf tea is also called CTC(cut, tear, curl) tea. It is made from cut whole-leaf tea, and one leaf is 2-3mm long. The “Tippy” may be added in the front of the mark if there are many tips in the leaves. Similarly, the more letters it gets, the higher quality it has. Typically, Broken-leaf tea is classified into 3 grades: BOP, TGBOP, and FTGBOP.
- BOP means Broken Orange Pekoe. The crushed orange pekoe, strong flavor, generally suitable for steeping milk tea.
- TGBOP means Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe. The crushed orange pekoe contains many golden tippy buds.
FTGBOP means Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe. The crushed orange pekoe contains the best golden buds.
Fanning Tea and Dust Tea
These two black tea grades, Fanning tea, and Dust tea are mainly used to make teabags. They are also used for daily milk tea in South Asian countries, which is relatively rare in other countries.
Due to the leaves being crushed into very tiny, fanning tea and dust tea can release the flavor quickly and strongly. But the price is that they can’t make cups as many as the whole leaf. They also taste much bitter because of the more caffeine content, but after adding milk and sugar, it can give you an exciting taste.
Select The Most Suitable Ones
The relationship between the tea grade and quality is not absolute. Interestingly, with more letters on the package symbol, the higher price will also be. Actually, you don’t always need to choose the best one, just select the most suitable according to your taste and brewing custom.
For example, with the Uva black tea from Sri Lanka, the intense floral is what it stresses. So if you want a strong milk tea, you’d better select the BOP, which with tiny leaves. Whole-leaf Uva black tea is hard to see, and its evaluation and price are also far away from BOP.
Besides, although this black tea grade standard is universal, not all the leaves from every garden follow it; and most gardens’ products can’t cover it. To Ceylon tea, BOF and BOPF are common, but OP and FOP are hard to see. One saying that this black tea grade standard is from China; I don’t think so. Chinese black teas are primary for the domestic market, and they are barely graded according to this standard.
India has the largest black tea production in the world, and its grading job is the most professional. But if you are directly buying from the Darjeeling tea garden, the best you can get is just FTGFOP1. The product with the letter “S” is added by local merchants in the tea market of Calcutta. Besides, the local-origin green teas are also following a similar grading standard.