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Basic tea classification

Generally it is possible to divide teas by manufacture of the harvested leafs to green, white, yellow, semi-fermented (oolongs), black (in China called red as the colour of the infusion) and dark (in China called black as the colour of the infusion) including the minor group pressed teas. The most important aspect for dividing tea into one of the mentioned groups is the level and phase of procession when the so called fermentation (correctly the process in tea leafs is merely oxidation, yet due to the habit it is still called fermentation – it is natural fermentative process during which the leaf cell sap oxidise and change it’s chemical character ) is done.

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Green teas, are non-fermented teas. To avoid the fermentation, it is necessary to heat up the freshly plucked leafs as soon as possible in the metal frying pans (traditional chinese method) or with hot steam (traditional japanese method). Further manufacture of the leafs depends on quality grade, pruduction area, generally, following steps are kneading, shape forming, drying, sorting and last phase usually final drying.

White teas can be very slightly fermented. Plucked leafs are not steeply heated, but without any rolling dried quite fast. The teas typically consists of high portion heavily downy top sprouts – the tips. Based on it’s size and proportion tthe teas are divided in three basic grades: Yin Zhen – Silver Tips (as the name suggest, the tea consists only the sorted tip sof certain size without any other leafs). Bai Mu Dan – White Peony (usually teas with high ration of modele sized white downy tips) and Show Mee (usually darker leafs with a portion of smaller tips). In the recent years the Fujian tea producers began to produce also white teas of new type, rather ocassionally it is possible to find on the european market middle grade white tea called Kung Mee.

Yellow teas are very slightly and additionally fermented. They are quite rare and expensive chinese speciality. Exact production is kept in secret still, leafs are heated up in frying pans right after picking, rolled and kneaded in various wals. The fermentation is probably initiated before the final steps -  drying and sorting and stopped briefly after it’s start, which gives the leafs particular characteristics. Other possible way of poducing yellow teas, which can be found in literature, is slow long term drying in bigger piles covered by fabric tops and while switching higher and lower temperatures. Some green teas are often offered as yellow teas referring to the fact the teas were historically used as royal gifts for the emperor (yellow is the traditional emperor’s colour).

Oolong  teas are semi-fermented. Harvested leafs are disrupted on the edges which helps to activate the fermenting process which is stopped at certain moment (the timing depends on tea grade and production area) with rapid heat. Special preparation creates initially chinese, today more known as taiwanese oolong Pao Zhong, only very lightly fermented tea (approx. 10%), which is somtimes considered as a middleclass between the green non-ferrmented teas and semi-fermented teas, which are more often called as oolong (from the chinese wu long – black dragon), less commonly the teas are called yellowgreen teas, rarely (referring to leaf reflection) as blue or bluegreen teas.

Black teas are fully fermented. Harvested leafs are at constant temperature (around 22°C ) and moisture left to wither. Then the beginning fermentation is supported by disrupting the leaf cell structure with rolling in special máchneš (rollers). At the last stage, the leaf is dried and sorted. This manufacture method of processing black tea is referred as ortodox. In the market can be seen teas processed with other technologies CTC or LTP.


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CTC technology (crushing-tearing-curling) is signified by processing leaf in special adjusted rollers, massively disrupts the leaf’s structure and accelerrate more intense fermetnation. This type of leaf proces is not very suitable for quality tea leafs. LTP technology /lawrie tea processer) is often used in production of industrial tea grades (tea-dust, fannings). Withered leafs are cutted into very small bits and are dried after the fermentation process. Teas processed by this method are mainly packed in teabags. In black teas falls the Darjeeling and Nepal teas though they are processed in thein own special way and contains parts and fractions of green (and halfgreen) leafs. In descriptions of some of black teas in the following text are used terms such as „teas processed ceylon method“ or „ceylon tea type“. In real, it does not refer to any kind of special black tea manufacture and ceylon tea type (or tea processed ni ceylon method) means tea produced from the cambodian tea variety, with it’s longer, loosely rolled leaf, usually without any tips, having the characteristic redbrown colour and not a bit less characteristic taste.

Dark teas are fully and additionally fermented. The leafs are heated immedieatly after plucking, in the final processing steps the fermentation process is artificially evoked (microbial) and naturally finished, which gives the produced teas unique effects on health in particular. The most product of this tea manifacture is Pu Erh.

The compressed dark teas are usually made from the lower grades of loose puerh (exceptions are compressed teas historically used as gifts/tribute for the emperor, for example famous Golden Melon), extra category are the compressed green teas, where the production process is very complex and unlike any other above mentioned kinds of tea.


Basic production tea grades


Black teas (in China known as red like the infusion colour)

For black teas is commonly used quality grading since the colonial era, when vast majority of the tea market ruled tne Netherlands and Great Britain. It is an acronym of several attributes describing the leafs (and tips) size and appearance, every quality grade can be divided by leafs size in three subcategories marked with Roman numerals from I-III. Tha grading systém looks like this:

Leafs grades:

SFTGFOP (I-III) - Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
FTGFOP (I-III) - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
TGFOP (I-III) - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
GFOP (I-III) - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
FOP (I-III) - Flowery Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
OP (I-III) - Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
P - Pekoe
PS - Pekoe Souchong
S - Souchong

Broken tea grades:

SFTGFBOP (I-III) - Specia Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
FTGFBOP (I-III) - Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
TGFBOP (I-III) - Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
GFBOP (I-III) - Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
FBOP (I-III) - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
BOP (I-III) - Broken Orange Pekoe (grade I-III)
BP - Broken Pekoe
BPS - Broken Pekoe Souchong

Fanning tea grade

Tea grades fanning type (usually the teas are very low quality, but due to great demand for very strong and full distinctive taste some tea fannings producers makes fanning teas of high qulity):

TGOF - Tippy Golden Orange Fannings
GOF - Golden Orange Fannings
OF - Orange Fannings

Dust grade teas (tea dust, commonly used for teabags ans instant teas) is not graded by quality and is usually labeled as „DUST“.

Generally speaking the more letters the higher quality leafs. It is necessary to keep in mind, these grade marks refers to the leafs size and appearance, it does not tell anything about it’s production method neither quality and taste of the finished tea. It is rather sort of benchmark. Classification of the produced tea is far from being standardized. Black teas (in China called red teas by it’s liquor colour) usually has some grade specification along the area name, chinese teas has very often standard number in addition. However none of these specifications can be applied generally. While the highest grading for loose black tea in China is the FOP, India with the introduciton of the special roller machine able to process tea leafs in many various sizes, added several new letters – grades, the highest SFTGFOP (Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). In Indonesia it is OP + “sup.“ Note, In Kenya GFOP etc.. Ceylon higher quality teas are besides the usual FOP graded as FBOPF (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings) often with the attributes Sp(ecial) or Ex(clusive). It is historically highest grading of the ceylon black teas. In some cases (particularly chinese high grade teas and elsewhere) only the production area is mentioned with the specific kind name, eventually with the addition „finest“

Green and white teas

There are several basic methods of labelling green teas. In India the same methods are used for black teas or the following specific symbols are used:

Leave grades:

FYH - Fine Young Hyson
YH - Young Hyson


Teas of “broken” type:

FH – Fine Hyson

H - Hyson

GP – Gun Powder


Teas of “fannings” type:


Teas of “dust” type are labeled in the same way as black teas with the word “DUST”.

As soon as the Ceylon teas are considered, they are usually labeled only by the name of the grade (Gunpowder, Sencha, Silver tips etc.), the same is true about Vietnamese teas. Chinese teas are also labeled by the name of the grade, however, a numeral standard should be added (if it is not a special grade, which can have only its name) because it represents a good orientation point, if we really want to find the tea quality. Japanese green teas are classified by several ways. It is possible to come across a so called testers evaluations, when the tea quality is specified by the quality of the liquor and the tea is evaluated by a certain number of points, while the lower limit means zero points and the first grade tea is the one reaching one hundred and more points. The best teas reach the grade of three hundred points. Standard teas (Bancha, Hojicha, Kukicha) are often sorted into three quality levels, labeled by the letters A,B and C. Higher quality teas can be labeled by a literal or numeral standard (Sencha KKH – 2 etc.)

Half-green teas

Indian half-green teas are labeled with the name of plantation and the Oolong epithet. Vietnamese Oolongs are labeled with a word description or with the name of the grade (Vietnam tie Guanyin). Chinese half-green teas are usually labeled with the name of the tea, followed by the numeral standard. Some of the highest grades of these teas can have a word description of the quality (Tie Guanyin Superior etc.) In Taiwan the quality of more fermented half-green teas is specified by the word description in English (choice, Choicest, Fancy) or in Chinese (Bai Hao), usually followed by the numeral standard, the less fermented teas are labeled with the name of the grade and the numeral standard..

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