How Black Tea Is Graded

Each major type of tea has a unique grading system which may vary by the country or region in which it originates. The most common grading system is for black tea, which is graded by letters which generally serve as an indication of the size of the leaf and which part of the leaf it is.

Black Tea Grading Terms

The language behind tea grading results in some fairly esoteric acronyms which indicate the quality of the tea. Most consumers are not aware that black tea is graded in this way. To help you understand how tea is graded, we’ve broken down the language into common descriptors of production, bud, leaf size.

Production Grades

Letter Term Description
F Finest This indicates top grade production
SF Special Finest This is the highest grade of production

Tea Bud Description

Letter Term Description
G Golden This indicates there are pieces of the bud mixed into the rest of the leaves, typically yellow and visible.
T Tippy The whole leaf bud is present in a substantial quantity. This is also characterized by tea which has many budding leaf tips.
F Flowery This indicates tea which has a certain proportion of tips and many fine young leaves.
GF Golden Flowery Sometimes stringed together, GF indicates early season tea containing young tips and buds.

Leaf Sizes

Letter Term Description
OP Orange Pekoe These indicate that it’s the second and larger of the “two leaves and a bud” and indicates a tea leaf between 8 and 15 cm long. These are whole leaves and may be excellent teas.
BOP Broken Orange Pekoe These pieces are considerably larger than fannings and are often very fine tea based on where they come from.
PF Pekoe Fanning This consists mainly of pieces of tea leaves. It is a low grade.
D Dust This is the lowest grade in the classification of Black tea. Actually it consists of small pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.

Quality Suffixes

Letter Term Description
1 Top Quality This suffix is occasionally added to indicate top quality tea.
Sup Superior This suffix is occasionally added to indicate top quality tea.

Putting It Together – Interpreting Leaf Grades

Now that all the information is in front of you, what does FTGFOP1 mean? It means Finest Tippy Golden FLowery Orange Pekoe First Grade. This is finest top-grade production with an abundance of tips, typically used for Darjeeling and Assam black teas.

Here are some other examples of tea grades:

  • TGFOP1
  • PD

Can you figure out what they mean?

Trying High Grade Teas

After searching around, it doesn’t seem like the grades of teas are commonly discussed before consumers. The most commonly cited information is that tea bags often consist of fannings because that’s really the only use for tea which has broken down into such small particles. This is a great reason to switch from tea bag tea to loose leaf tea.

After searching around online, it does seem that some retailers do offer you a taste of the good stuff. It’s sometimes joked that some of the highest grade teas, abbreviated TGFOP, really translates to Too Good For Ordinary People! So how do we enjoy ourselves some of this high-end, exclusive tea? Well, searching on Amazon seems to yield a handful of high-end teas such as Rohini Estate Darjeeling FTGFOP-1 Tea and Darjeeling Sungma Second Flush FTGFOP-1. It also looks like Upton Tea Imports and sell their black tea with gradings included on the listing.