To help the industry and the public gain better knowledge of quality, gradations were introduced. This is one of the leading factors to determine quality of tea leaves. Gradation is determined by looking at the age and appearance of the tea leaves. For age can be said that the leaves on the lower side of the branch are bigger (and therefor older); if you look at the end of the branch, the leaves will be smaller (finer) and thus younger. It’s important to mention that leaf gradations only describe black teas.
The basis of the better leaf gradations starts with the letters O.P. This stands for ‘Orange Pekoe.’ The word ‘Pekoe’ is derived from the Chinese ‘pek-ho’ and refers to the delicate hairs at the tips of the tea leaves. For ‘Orange’ it is assumed that it refers to the cooperation with the Dutch. Back in the Golden Age teas of high quality were reserved for the Dutch Royal family.
The letter ‘F’ refers to ‘Flowery,’ (floral) giving the total abbreviation ‘Flowery Orange Pekoe.’ It describes the larger tea leaves which grow on the new shoots; they consist of two leaves and a bud.
Adding the letter ‘G’ will make for ‘Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.’ This describes the golden tips at the end of the leaves.
The letter ‘T’ translates to ‘Tippy’ and refers to the quantity of the golden tips (leaf tips) in this particular tea. This gradations consists of a larger part of golden tips.
If we add the letter ‘F’ we refer to ‘Finest.’ This translates to ‘best.’ Only teas of extraordinary quality will receive this gradation; often it will be the more expensive varieties because only little is being produced. Still, this isn’t the most finest gradation available:
The letter ‘S’ translates to ‘Special.’ The full text of the abbreviation thus is: ‘SPECIAL FINEST TIPPY GOLDEN FLOWERY ORANGE PEKOE.’ Tea in this gradation is considered rare and unique. Even within this gradation is possible to make a sophistication, by adding the number ‘1.’
Besides the gradations mentioned above there are many others. Usually they describe the more lower categories. For instance ‘Fannings’ (F) or ‘Dust’ (D) to describe the quality of teas from the well-known supermarket brands. Even within these six gradations of fineness/coarseness can be distinguished. Furthermore, there is a gradation like ‘Broken Orange Pekoe’ (B.O.P.) describing the broken leaf from the Orange Pekoe-gradation.