We answer all your tea grading questions, including why you should care about the quality of your tea!
It’s a common joke among tea drinkers that FTGFOP stands for ‘Far Too Good For Ordinary People’. This gibberish-looking succession of letters actually means ‘Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe’ and is about the finest-quality grade of tea a serious sipper can find.
Jokes aside, the world of tea grading is a fascinating one, and we can’t wait to let you know all about it! The Tea Centre has the answers to all your common questions about tea grading below.
Why should we care about tea grading?
Two reasons: taste and quality. Moreover, understanding tea grading is a lot easier than you would think! While you can find a grading terminology list later on in this Tea Journal entry, the general rule of thumb is this—the more letters in the grading, the more superior the tea!
While the grade of tea does connote quality, gradings are more importantly an indication of the taste. The acronyms next to tea names ultimately allude to the flavour and body that the tea leaves will produce.
For example, while Assam is generally known having deep malty flavours, high-grade Assam like Hajua, Joonktollee, and our new Mangalam Assam have a sparkling quality in their top notes that’s akin to Darjeeling.
This is not dissimilar from classic black tea blends like English Breakfast or Scottish Breakfast, which are essentially a very good recipe. These classic teas are blended to create flavours and depths for particular palates. However, we rarely create such blends using premium teas.
What are ‘high-grade’ teas?
High-grade teas are—quite literally—our top pick! They are made using leaves from the very top of the Camellia sinensis tea plant. They are also usually plucked by hand in the orthodox production tradition. We commonly refer to the leaves at the very top of the tea plant as ‘tips’ while those leaves that haven’t fully blossomed are ‘downy tips’ or ‘buds’.
For tangibly tasty examples, look no further than our Yunnan Finest and Yin Zhen Silver Needles teas. These two brews are predominately made from the very tips of the tea plant, producing truly exquisite flavour upon infusion.
Tea producers will rarely blend high-grade teas. In turn, this is why we subsequently label them as ‘single origin’ or ‘single estate’ teas. If you want to learn more about the differences between high-grade and single-origin teas, click here.
Is ‘Orange Pekoe’ a type of flavour?
Nope! While people common assume them to be orange-flavoured tea, ‘Orange Pekoe’ is, in fact, a grading that denotes a ‘whole leaf tea’. More interesting than the definition, however, is the term’s origin.
‘Pekoe’ is thought to originate from a mistranslation of a Chinese word referencing the ‘white hairs’ on budding tea tips. Moreover, ’Orange’ derives from the Dutch royal House of Orange-Nassau; a result of Dutch influence within the tea trade during the seventeenth century.
Common tea grading terminology
‘Tippy’, ‘Golden’, and ‘Flowery’ are descriptors that refer to the tips or buds. The delicate, laborious efforts involved in producing these teas, along with the scarcity of the buds mean that these teas are well sought after.
Tippy – Alludes to the abundance of buds or tips within the tea
Golden – Refers to the golden appearance of tea containing many tips
Flowery – Signifies the delicate buds within the plucked leaves
The different types of tea grading
SFTGFOP – Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: The very finest quality grade.
FTGFOP – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Highest quality grade.
FTGFOP1 – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1: The highest quality Darjeeling grade.
TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Main grade in Darjeeling and Assam with the highest proportion of tips.
GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: A higher proportion of tips than FOP.
FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe: Whole leaves; higher up on the tea plant
than Orange Pekoe.
OP – Orange Pekoe: Whole leaf grade, consisting of long, wiry leaves without tips.
BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe: Broken leaves.
Where should I begin when choosing graded teas?
For those looking to fine-tune their palates before investing in high-grade teas, start tasting from the bottom up! Begin with the larger leaf varieties like OP, BOP, and FOP before you go for the SFTGFOP teas of the world.
We think you will love Orange Pekoe varieties like our Battagalla and Dimbula Ceylon when making your next tea selection. When you’re ready for more robust and full-flavoured brews, check out BOP-grade teas like Assam Dimakusi and our TC Broken Orange Pekoe.
If you prefer your blends without milk and boasting an aromatic aftertaste, Flowery Orange Pekoe teas are the brews for you. Treat the taste buds to the likes of Yunnan FOP.
Ready for a tea that’s truly golden?
The Tea Centre’s limited-edition newcomer, Mangalam Assam is a dark horse FTGFOP-grade tea that’s set to stun the taste buds with just one sip. Coming from the heritage Mangalam estate in the Sibsagar district of Assam, this Assamica large loose leaf sports an abundance of brilliant golden tips.
A dark amber upon infusion with the requisite sparkling elements and malty fruit notes, this spring harvest Assam is a must-have sip this November.
Purchase Mangalam Assam—our limited-edition spring flush—here before The Tea Centre is all sold out!