Black teas are graded according to size. Leaves sifted through sieves with graduated mesh are divided into the various grades for whole and broken leaf particles. What's left over on the floors of the grading rooms is dust, the smallest grade, primarily used for teabags. These grades have absolutely nothing to do with a tea's variety, flavor, or quality despite what the labels of many boxes sold in the supermarket would have you believe. In fact, those labels are deceptive because the grades of Orange Pekoe and Pekoe designate whole leaves, not the dust that's actually in the teabags.
Orange Pekoe (abbreviated OP) - Leaves are the smallest and youngest. The term Orange Pekoe comes from the old Chinese practice of sometimes scenting these leaves with orange blossoms.
Pekoe - (pronounced "peck-o", literally "white hair") Leaves are broader and not as wiry as Orange Pekoe.
Souchong - Leaves are the largest and rounder.
Broken Pekoe Souchong - A broken leaf particle.
Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) - An even smaller broken leaf particle.
Pekoe Fannings (PF) - Smaller than BOP.
Dust or Fines - The smallest leaf particles of all.
Other descriptors are used to help fully describe the leaf's appearance:
Fine Tippy (FT)
And so on. All these letters can intimidate the uninitiated, but as long as you remember that BOP can give excellent flavor and that whole leaves release their flavor slower than broken leaves, you won't be misled by someone who claims that a tea with the letters of TGFOP is "Too Good For Ordinary People" or that FTGFOP is "Far Too Good For Ordinary People" as some snobs pretend and others joke.
In the case of Darjeeling, a number at the end of the string of letters might denote the flush, but it may also denote a grade just like a number would for other teas. The bottom line is that you needn't be concerned about such designations until you've developed a palate so sensitive that subtle differences in flavor produced by the various leaf types are noticed. If you ever do attain such a sensitivity, you may want to consider entering the industry as a taster or blender.
REMEMBER: "Tea is just flavored water."
Other teas use different grading systems. For example, Chinese green teas may be Gunpowder, Young Hyson, or Imperial while the highest grade for Japanese greens is Extra Choice and the best of Indian greens is Fine Young Hyson. Oolongs from Taiwan, known as Formosa Oolongs, are graded from Standard to Choicest, on an eighteen-point scale used to maintain quality.
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