Classifications in the world of tea
Historically, the tea classifications received its origin from the British East India Company. The major historical classifications are still being used to this day in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and other former British colonies.
Let us briefly recall the production of tea in these countries: after collecting tea leaves, they undergo withering, fermentation, and final roasting in the oven. The final stage of tea production is grading and classifying – sorting processed tea into categories. The process which the tea undergoes is a deciding factor for qualifying a tea type. The top classifications of teas are referred to as "orange pekoe", and the lowest are known as "dust" or "fanning". Pekoe tea grades are categorized by their several qualities, each defined by how many of the adjoining young leaves were collected along with the leaf buds. The higher grades of pekoe teas contain only the leaf buds. These are collected using the balls of the fingertips avoiding the fingernails and mechanical tools to prevent bruising.
Categories of tea leaves – a classification of tea by size, type of leaf, used by experts to grade tea. It is designated by the English terms and their correlating abbreviations of the first letters of words. Yes, yes… you heard this correctly, these are the same mysterious letters, SFTGOP, found in the names of our teas. Official standards are not set for these classifications, and at time and in different countries, the designations might differ, but not much. The category of tea depends on several parameters.
Leaf size. Determined by sieving through a calibration colander. For example, for a tea such as Bramley, teas are manually sieved at least 15 times.
Leaf integrity. Determined by the condition of the leaf – whole, broken or crushed.
Ratio of tea buds (tips) to the adjacent leaves in the mixture. The buds are the most valuable component of the tea mixture, followed by the first young leaf, then the second leaf.
The base grade is Orange Pekoe (OP). The word "orange" can be misleading and has nothing to do with oranges as fruits. We are talking about the dynasty of princes of Orange (Dutch. Prins van Oranje), hereditary governors, from 1815 kings of the Netherlands. The Dutch were the first and largest suppliers of tea to Europe. Thus, "orange" is a tea worthy of the Prince of Orange. The best teas were delivered to the royal court. By the way, the modern king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, is also from the same dynasty. The origin of the word Pekoe is not completely clear. As a rule, it is considered an incorrect transcription of the word “baihua” - type of tea with light ends. Popularized, if not invented, this phrase by the well-known tea magnate of the 19th century, Sir Thomas Lipton. This standard of tea is characterized by long leaves twisted along the axis. As a rule, this is the tea of a later harvest. In addition to OP, the following quality categories are distinguished: OPA (Orange Pekoe A) differ from the Orange Pekoe by their large thick leaves.
FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe) consists of tender young leaves with the inclusion of tea buds – "tips". The more tips in the mixture, the higher the quality of the tea is considered.
GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) is the FOP tea with "golden tips" referring to the coloring of buds which are lighter in color comparing to other leaves.
TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) is the FOP tea with the high-quality “golden tips”. In England, they joke that this acronym stands for "Too good for ordinary people".
FTGFOP (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) is another grade of the FOP tea of superior quality and mainly used to classify Indian black teas. This category of teas consists of exceptional quality OP with lots of tips.
SFTGFOP (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) is the best tea with a large portion of golden tips on the new leaf buds – a guarantee of a very, very high-quality tea. Only the best and rarest black tea deserves this category, and is primary reserved for the Darjeeling teas.
Similar classifications are used to categorize broken-leaf teas, that is, consisting of pieces of individual leaves. For example, BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe) or TGFBOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe). There is also such a category as “tea dust” – the smallest particles of tea leaves are used in tea bags, they are also called fanning.