I’ve always been a fanatic of teas and will prefer loose tea over bagged tea any day of the week. With commercially mass-produced tea in bags, typically you’re going to be dealt the lowest quality tea available: dustings. Dustings are the tiny particles left over after higher-grade teas have been blended.
But what is this “grading”? A tea leaf is a tea leaf, right?
In the tea industry, tea leaf grading is the process of evaluating products based on the quality and condition of the tea leaves themselves. The highest grades are referred to as “orange pekoe”, and the lowest as “fannings” or “dust”.
For example, Pekoe tea grades are classified into various qualities, each determined by how many of the adjacent young leaves (two, one, or none) were picked along with the leaf buds. Top-quality pekoe grades consist of only the leaf buds, which are picked using the balls of the fingertips. Fingernails and mechanical tools are not used to avoid bruising.
When crushed to make bagged teas, the tea is referred to as “broken”, as in “broken orange pekoe” (BOP). These lower grades include fannings and dust, which are tiny remnants created during the sorting and crushing processes.
Orange pekoe is referred to as “OP”. The grading scheme also contains categories higher than OP, which are determined primarily by leaf wholeness and size.
Broken, fannings and dust teas have slightly different grades. Crush, Tear and Curl (CTC)teas, which consist of leaves mechanically rendered to uniform fannings, have yet another grading system.
And you though tea was simply tea. Think again! We’ll dive more into the intricacies of these grading systems a bit more in the future.