About Loose Leaf Tea Leaves
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 fanning s and dust.
There are several sub categories of grading even within the Orange Pekoe and Fannings grades.
Orange pekoe or OP is a term used in the Western tea trade to describe a particular genre of black teas (orange pekoe grading). Despite a purported Chinese origin, these grading terms are typically used for teas from Sri Lanka, India, and countries other than China; they are not generally known within Chinese-speaking countries. The grading system is based upon the size of processed and dried black loose leaf tea leaves.
The tea industry uses the term orange pekoe to describe a basic, medium-grade black tea consisting of many whole tea leaves of a specific size. Within this system, the teas that receive the highest grades are obtained from new flushes (pickings). This includes the terminal leaf bud along with a few of the youngest leaves. Grading is based on the 'size' of the individual leaves and flushes. This also determines the 'wholeness', or level of breakage, of each leaf, which is also part of the grading system. A few examples of OP:
OP1—slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor Flowery OP—high-quality tea with a long leaf and few tips, considered the second grade in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh teas, but the first grade in China Golden Flowery OP1—higher proportion of tip than FOP top grade in Milima and Marinyn regions, uncommon in Assam and Darjeeling
Tippy Golden F OP—the highest proportion of tip, main grade in Darjeeling and Assam Fannings are small pieces of tea that are left over after higher grades of teas are gathered to be sold. Traditionally these were treated as the rejects of the manufacturing process in making high-quality leaf tea like the orange pekoe. Fannings with extremely small particles are sometimes called dusts. Fannings and dusts are considered the lowest grades of tea, separated from broken-leaf teas which have larger pieces of the leaves. However, the fannings of expensive teas can still be more expensive and more flavourful than whole leaves of cheaper teas. A few examples of fannings:
OF—Orange Fannings: From Northern India and some parts of Africa and South America.
FOF—Flowery Orange Fannings: Common in Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh. Some leaf sizes come close to the smaller broken grades.
GFOF—Golden Flowery Orange Fannings: Finest grade in Darjeeling for tea bag production