Tea Acronyms: What Do Those Words & Letters Mean?
BOP. Tippy. FTGFOP. Flowery.
What do these initials and words mean? And, why don’t all tea-growing countries use them?
Of the more than 35 countries which produce tea, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and India are the primary users of these designations in all their tea-growing areas to describe broken or full tea leaves, leaf position, and words for their appearance and fragrance. This vocabulary was developed by 19th century British farmers who cultivated tea first in Darjeeling and later in Sri Lanka. Today, to a much lesser degree, Argentina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and some African tea-growing countries sometimes use these designations. A mini-glossary follows:
Broken Leaf: Leaves crushed or broken. Favored by those who believe the enzymes, which occur naturally in tea, are more easily released once the leaves are cut.
Choppy: Not a designation of style or quality but a word to indicate sloppy manufacturing (a mélange of various sizes.)
Fannings and Dust: The “leftovers” from processing. These dust-sized bits of tea leaf are used in tea bags because they’re cheap and plentiful. Ironically, dust and fannings of the finest Darjeeling will taste wonderful, as compared to the full, unbroken leaves of a mediocre tea.
Flowery: Large leaves often plucked in the second or third flush, with an abundance of tips.
Flush: Indicates season, usually Spring or Autumn, although some plantations have three seasons and others grow year ‘round. Flush can refer to the young shoots of a tea bush but more commonly means the new growth, ready for plucking.
Full Leaf: The prime choice of many tea connoisseurs. It generally, but certainly not always, indicates attentively-grown and plucked, exquisitely processed tea that includes the prime trifecta: (1) unopened leaf bud; (2) youngest or first full leaf (orange pekoe,) and (3) second leaf (pekoe.)
Golden Flowery: Young tips or buds, often golden in color, picked early in the season.
Orange/Orange Pekoe: Some tea historians believe the Dutch East India Company, trying to align itself with William and his House of Orange-Nassau, used “orange” to promote its tea trade. Others believe the word refers to the orange-gold color of the cup or even to the coppery color of high-quality leaves before their oxidation. What we know for sure is that it is not related to the fruit.
Pekoe (peck-o or pee-ko): The Chinese word, pe̍h-ōe-jī or pe̍h-hoe, refers to the bud content of pekoe tea but many tea vendors posit that the word is an Anglicized version of the Amoy dialect of the Chinese word, xiamen. Known as "white down/hair" which appears on exceptional white tea buds. Another hypothesis is that the term derives from the Chinese word for white flower, báihuā.
Plucking: Harvesting. In high-quality tea, only the leaf bud and the top two leaves are picked. White teas use only the buds; some oolong production uses the larger, more mature leaves.
Souchong: The larger leaves found fourth-down from the top after the leaf bud, orange pekoe, then pekoe. It is not considered a premier leaf category although some oolong processors prefer it.
Tippy: Leaves which include an abundance of golden or silvery tips at the leaf point. Generally, but not absolutely, a tippy leaf tends to produce a sweeter liquor.
For use in black teas made in the orthodox tradition. These are the most coveted black leaves, requiring much more hand labor in the plucking, and care in the processing and sorting.
OP (Orange Pekoe): Generally long, wiry leaves without tips.
OP1 (Orange Pekoe 1): More delicate than OP; long, wiry leaf with the light liquor in the cup.
OPA (Orange Pekoe A): Bolder than OP; long leaf tea tightly wound to almost open.
OPS (Orange Pekoe Superior): From Indonesia, similar to OP.
FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe): High-quality long leaves with a few tips. In Assam, Dooars, and Bangladesh, considered a second grade tea but a first grade in Chinese black teas.
FOP1 (Flowery Orange Pekoe 1): Limited to only the highest quality leaves in the FOP classification.
GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe): Contains more tips than FOP. Considered a top grade in the Milima and Marinyn regions of India.
TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe): Has the highest proportion of silvery or golden tips, primarily in Darjeeling and Assam’s finest.
TGFOP 1 (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One): Considered only the highest quality leaves in the TGFOP classification.
FTGFOP (Finesst Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe): Highest quality grade in this category.
FTGFOP 1 (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One): Designation limited to only the highest quality leaves in the FTGFOP classification.
SFTGFOP (Super Fine or Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe): Outstanding leaves in the FTGFOP classification.
SFTGFOP 1 (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One): Outstanding leaves in the FTGFOP classification.
Broken leaves may lack the beauty and appeal of full leaves, but many tea lovers believe the enzymes are released more readily from broken leaves and provide a tasty cup. Generally, they are black teas made in the orthodox tradition.
BT (Broken Tea): Black, open, fleshy leaf classification used in Sumatra, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and parts of Southern India.
BP (Broken Pekoe): Most common broken pekoe grade grown in Ceylon (Sri Lanka,) Assam and Southern India, and Indonesia.
BPS (Broken Pekoe Souchong): Broken larger leaves most commonly found in India in Assam and Darjeeling.
FP (Flowery Pekoe): Coarse, but high-quality pekoe with a fleshier broken leaf than most chopped or broken leaves. Common in Kenya, Southern India, and Sri Lanka.
BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe): Broken or crushed leaves common to Assam, Southern India, Sri Lanka, and less often, in Java and China.
FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe): Although coarse and broken, these leaves often sport some tips. The lower grades are from South America and the better ones are from Bangladesh, Assam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and China.
FBOPF (Finest Broken Orange Pekoe Flowery): A high-quality BOP, with substantial amounts of tips, found in the low districts of Sri Lanka.
GBOP (Golden Broken Orange Pekoe): The unevenly sized leaves and scarcity of tips make this a second grade tea.
GFBOP1 (Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1): Same as GBOP, but with higher quality leaves.
TGFBOP1 (Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe 1): Darjeeling is frequently categorized with this designation for its high-quality leaves, high proportion of tips, and good color even though they’re broken ones. Some Assam teas carry this designation.
Both fannings and dust are graded, particularly those that result from pekoe or orange pekoe leaves. These are rarely sold in bulk to the end-use consumer, but instead, sold to wholesalers of teabag teas. Most common in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Africa, South America.
Heather Edwards is a tea-loving collage artist who has experimented (sometimes successfully) with incorporating spent leaves, tea bags, and other tea paraphernalia in her greeting cards and collages. When not making art, she’s writing about, thinking about, and drinking tea, preferably Golden Monkey or Sencha. She is a dedicated writer of haiku — - tea related, of course!