Tea grading begins with the plucking of tea leaves. After the manufacturing process the tea leaves are sorted and then given a grade or classification. 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. Orange Pekoe (OP) in the tea industry, is a term to describe medium-grade black tea with many whole leaves of a specific size.
The lowest grades are called "fannings" or "dust". Fannings are small pieces of tea leaves left over after the higher grade tea leaves are gathered. They are treated as rejects of the manufacturing process. Fannings with very small particles are called dusts. The fannings and dust are typically used in most tea bags. However, the fannings or dust of high-end whole leaf tea leaves can be more expensive and more flavorful than the fannings of a whole leaf cheaper tea. Although, the fannings, and dust are treated as lower quality, they have experienced a huge demand in the last century because drinking tea has become more popular around the world.
Tea is also graded by region. Each tea-growing region produces tea with a specific flavor profile and characteristic unique to that particular region.
India produces a high quality tea with a distinct characteristic, and it has a global reputation for producing the best first, second, and autumnal flush darjeeling tea around the world known as the "champagne of teas".
Tea from China is sold under names that describe their appearance and style. Silver Needle, the highest grade of white tea gets its name because of it's long, flat, needle-like leaf shape covered in a silver-white down.
Japan follows a similar grading system, they categorize tea based on style, leaf shape, and production method, such as Sencha, a steamed fresh green tea with a rich grassy flavor.
Here are some common terms used to grade Tea.
Enjoy your time with tea!