Tea Compendium

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The specialist terms used to describe the leaf sizes (or leaf grades) of the finished tea can be confusing for non-experts. Basically, teas are divided into leaf teas and small-leaf types. Today, because the CTC method dominates, small-leaf teas account for about 98% of global production. They have a more intensive aroma than the same leaf teas. You’ll always find the word "broken", or "B" for short, in their names.

The leaf size (leaf grade) says nothing about the quality of a harvest as due to the processing method the different leaf sizes may all come from the same harvest. However, the leaf size determines the later use of the tea. Large leaf teas produce on average two to three times fewer cups than the smallest sizes (fannings and dust) which produce a strong and aromatic brew. Therefore, only the latter are usually being used for tea bag blends.

Leaf grades only describe the size of the leaves, not their quality. From the many leaf grade descriptions used for tea, here are the most important ones:

Orange Pekoe (OP)

A large-leaf tea with leaf ribs and stalks. There are various opinions about what the “Orange” in the name means. Some people link it to a tea perfumed with orange blossom once popular in China, others say it refers to the Dutch "oranje", which means "royal".

Pekoes (P)

Pekoe leaves are shorter and broader than Orange Pekoe leaves, and Pekoes make a stronger brew. The word "Pekoe" comes from the Chinese and means "white fluff". It refers to the young, delicate leaves or buds.

Small-leaf teas are divided into:

Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP)

A fine, broken tea with "tips". Tips are light parts consisting of the leaf tips and buds of young tea leaves. They contain less sap, which is why they don’t darken during oxidisation.

Broken Pekoe (BP)

Broken Pekoe (BP) in classic tea production is the tea that is cut from the coarse leaves with a cutting machine. It contains a lot of leaf ribs and produces a thin brew. However, in modern CTC production, BP is a strong quality type.

Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings (BOPF)

This is the name for a fine grade of non-cut tea in orthodox tea production. Like all fannings, these leaf grades are used for tea bags. BOPF achieves a dark colour very quickly because the water acts on the large surface area of the small particles. Especially from highland teas (such as Darjeeling), BOPF produces an excellent aroma.

Fannings (F)

The small parts of the tea leaf obtained by sieving.

Dust

Dust is the name for the smallest and last grade sieved. Of course it has nothing to do with normal dust or waste, but denotes very finely broken tea leaves that go a very long way.

Fannings and dust are mainly used in tea bags because the fine and finest grades present a large surface area for the water in the confined space of the tea bag and these teas are very strong and aromatic. These tea qualities are by no means inferior!

Fluff

Real tea dust is called "fluff", looks yellow and is extracted during production. It consists mainly of the fine hairs that cover the undersides of the young leaves and buds. Fluff is never found in good branded teas.