The black teas are divided into three major categories: whole leaf teas, broken leaf teas, and powdered leaf teas. These categories are subdivided into several grades, depending on the type of harvesting and treatment they undergo. Nevertheless, the quality of a tea does not depend on the size of its leaves, but rather on its provenance, and the type of plucking. It should be noted that a powdered leaf will give a stronger tea than a broken leaf, and that the latter will be more robust than a whole leaf tea. The classification is basically similar for the green teas.
The Black Teas
Whole Leaf Teas
Flowery Orange Pekoe (F.O.P.): the product of a fine plucking, this tea contains buds, or golden tips, and small leaves, rolled lengthwise.
Orange Pekoe (O.P.): it is also the product of a fine plucking, but a slightly later one, when the buds have become leaves.
Souchong (S): made of very large, mature leaves; often spruce smoked.
Flowery Pekoe (F.P.): obtained by a special kind of rolling from which the leaves emerge as balls, this tea is very robust and colored.
Pekoe (P): rolled as above, but using a second leaf, the infusion it offers is even more highly colored, and the aroma less delicate.
Pekoe Souchong (P.S.): the product of the third leaf, this tea is of poor quality.
Broken Orange Pekoe (B.O.P.): very high quality tea, the product of a fine plucking, it is made up of leaves that have been purposely broken (chopped) or from debris culled from the sorting process.
Broken Pekoe (B.P.): an inferior tea, made from second and third leaves.
Broken Pekoe Souchong (B.P.S.) and Broken Tea (B.T.): very mediocre quality.
Powdered Leaf Teas
Fannings: made of small, flat pieces, with or without some buds, this category breaks down into: Orange Fannings (O.F.), Pekoe Fannings (P.F.) and Fannings (F), depending on the size of the leaves.
Dust: made up of even finer pieces, these teas are used to make tea bags, and produce very robust, dark infusions.
The Green Teas
Gunpowder: the product of a fine plucking, the leaves are rolled into balls ranging in size from a pinhead to a small marble. It is considered by some to be the best of the green teas.
Chun-Mee: the equivalent of Flowery Orange Pekoe, this is another of the great teas.
Natural Leaf or Imperial: its whole leaves, not rolled into balls, give a very mild tea.
Matcha: this powdered tea is used for Japanese ceremonies. It has a pronounced, bitter taste.
Young Hyson: made up of very young leaves, it is sought after by tea connoisseurs.
Hyson: made from larger leaves.
©1996: Centre d'histoire de Montréal
Picture source: Chine, scènes de la vie quotidienne au XVIIIe siècle, W. Alexander & G. H. Mason