Determining Tea Quality

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To ensure the quality of any given tea variety, the general six steps below should help.

The Brew
Put in 3 grams of tea leaves to a GaiWan, pour in 150cc of boiling water, steep for 5 minutes and pour out the tea to a tasting bowl. This is a universal formula to determine the quality of the tea.

Check the Aroma
Sniff the aroma of the brewed tea leaves to determine the pureness of the tea.

Check the Color
Look for the translucent shine in the brewed tea. Good tea should be bright and rich in color.

Taste the Tea
Sip a little bit to taste the strength, smoothness and sweetness of the tea infusion. The preferred taste is smooth sweet and rich.

Check the Tea Leaves
Check the tea leaves after brewing for signs of freshness and tenderness.

Check the Dry Tea Leaves for Quality
Examine the dry tea leaves. Good tea leaves are of even sizes.

Tea Grades

Basically, tea leaves are classified into two grades;

Whole leaf

Whole leaf grades are;

OP, Orange Pekoe – whole leaf
Pekoe – smaller whole leaves
Souchong – broad whole leaves

Broken leaf tea grades include;

BOP, Broken Orange Pekoe
BP, Broken Pekoe
Broken Pekoe Souchong
Dust – smallest tea leaf particles, used in teabags

Tippy and flowery grades, which indicate the presence of intact leaf/bud lips in the tea, are generally used only to describe Indian or Ceylon teas. Some of these grades include;

FOP, Flowery Orange Pekoe
GFOP, Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP, Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

The word orange in orange pekoe was originally used by Dutch traders to suggest a link between their tea and the royal family, the House of Orange. The word pekoe derived from Pak Ho, the Chinese word that describes a baby’s fine white hair, refers to the white downy tea leaf buds. The name orange pekoe is used to categorize whole leaf tea from India and Ceylon.

However, some tea companies incorrectly label black tea, particularly bagged tea, as orange pekoe to indicate taste quality when the term actually refers to tea leaf size (i.e. whole leaf tea, leaf tea). Teabags are actually made from the smallest tea particles, called dust.


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