The strength of a tea is determined by various factors – the size of the leaf, where it’s grown or how it’s processed. The British introduced a grading system for black tea based on the appearance of the tea leaves, with the unbroken and pristine whole leaf being far superior to that of the broken leaf. This system is still being used today by Sri Lanka, India and Kenya – the main producers of black teas. During processing, especially after the drying process when the leaves become more brittle, they often break into smaller pieces of various sizes. They are then sifted and graded based solely on their appearance in leaf size. Some of the descriptions used such as ‘flowery’ indicates a presence of small leaf buds whereas ‘golden’ or ‘orange’ can indicate the presence of golden tips on the tea leaf buds or the colour of the tea liquor. The descriptions don’t refer to taste, which is a common misconception e.g. Orange Pekoe doesn’t taste like orange. Following is a breakdown of the British Grading System.
SFTGFOP – Special Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (smallest whole leaf) FTGFOP – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe FP – Flowery Pekoe OP – Orange Pekoe
GFBOP – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe GBOP – Golden Broken Orange Pekoe FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe BOP1 – Broken Orange Pekoe 1 BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe BPS – Broken Pekoe Souchong
Generally, the more cut, torn or crushed a tea leaf is the stronger the flavour of the black tea. Whereas the presence of tea buds or golden tips somewhat softens the liquor and produces a higher grade tea. However, a tea’s origin can also play a big part in the strength of a tea as this is determined by the soil, rain, temperatures and altitudes. Assam traditionally produce strong teas, whereas Darjeelings produce fairly mild teas. Both tea growing regions are in India but it’s their temperatures, soil, altitude and rain conditions that produce different characteristics and totally set them apart from each other. This can also be said for other tea growing regions, giving them all a somewhat different strength or varying flavour characteristics.
For green teas the strength and variance in flavours is also determined in part by the temperatures, soil, altitude and rain conditions but how they’re processed is what sets their flavours apart the most. Traditionally, Chinese green teas tend to be lighter in flavour than those from Japan, which are generally stronger and darker in appearance. Green teas can be more economical to drink as you can re-brew the same leaves up to 3 times (in the same day).
Oolong teas are semi-fermented and due to the different oxidation levels, each oolong produces a different flavour and aroma. The less oxidized oolongs are similar to a green tea but the more oxidization they receive the stronger the brew and the closer it is in flavour and appearance to a black tea and therefore stronger. Oolongs can be infused multiple times (2-3) and often present new flavours on each infusion.
High in antioxidants and polyphenols white tea is a great go-to tea for a healthy beverage. Prices often reflect the quality of the tea with the higher grades consisting of the first white buds, whereas the lower grades also include large leaves. White teas are the mildest in flavour of all teas as they are also the least processed – basically just picked and dried.