Understanding Tea Grades

Hello everyone. I have a question that other may have thought but never asked. When your on the internet and your looking for a Long Jing or maybe a Tie Guan Yin or a Da Hong Pao and you want a good one how do you determine them from the grades you see and what do they mean?

You will see things like top grade, or premium, supreme, A,AA+,AAAAA+, fine, Superfine and the list goes on. I am sure you have been around on the internet and seen that yourself. You may have seen all this and was confused on what that even means.

What I want to know is does anyone know what these grading systems mean and what quality order do they go in?
My next question does anyone know what to ask a company to get a solid answer to what type of quality are you buying and knowing that it not only going to taste complex say as it is suppose to but also be of the highest quality from the farmer it came from.

I am asking this because I had a few friends ask me and I felt I couldn’t answer them with 100% confidence I was right. So, I figured if they asked well many other may have thought that too.

Thank you to all that is able to help with this so I can tell my friends with complete confidence that I am giving them good answers.

5 Replies

Generally, the grade levels are not comparable across producers/sellers. There are some producers/dealers that I trust as a seller. I generally trust their grading criteria are stable from year to year. But not all producers/dealers hold consistent standards.

For Chinese tea, in the “state-owned era” (when most companies were state owned), the tea grading is very consistent across board. But not anymore, and grade 3 of one producer could be better than superior grade of another producer.

For some special teas such as Long Jing and Bi Luo Chun, farmers and local dealers generally grade the tea by harvest date, the earlier date the higher grade, and the dates vary from year to year due to weather conditions. For these teas, the harvest date information is much more important than subjective grades.

So generally, I don’t think grades mean much, if anything.

For Indian and Ceylon teas, the Fine, Superfine are among the classical terms of grading and I guess they would be more meaningful in Indian and Ceylon teas. I haven’t had much of them, but among those I had, I feel one FOP could be quite different from another FOP too.

Wow, that was good information. Thank you so much for your thoughts on this for me and many other viewers. A big thank you to you.

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teawade said

Great information. Thanks for the thread question and post. I love clarifying things on tea everyday. I feel like tea is so simple yet complicated at the same time.

I agree with you. I figured if a few people asked me their had to be others who had thought the same thing. Plus, it appears their is not exact system that is followed which makes things very confusing in my opinion. Thank you for your reply.

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mbanu said

Tea grades under the British/Indian system relate to the size of the broken leaf rather than quality for the most part. I believe this is because tea grades were mostly used by tea blenders originally; Quality was determined through tea tasting.

If you want to estimate the quality of a tea without seeing or tasting it, finding the answer to these questions is a good start:

What plucking standard was used? A finer plucking standard (such as 2 leaves and a bud rather than 3 leaves and a bud) generally produces a finer tea.

What altitude was the tea grown at? High-altitude teas tend to be more interesting than low-altitude teas.

When was it picked or what “flush” was it part of? Depending on the climate of the region the tea was grown, certain pickings will be superior to others, depending on what you look for in tea.

How much time has passed since it was picked and processed? With the exception of Pu-erh and a few other specialty teas, the fresher the tea is, the better it will taste.

However, indicators of quality differ based on who is drinking the tea, and how they plan to prepare it. A tea that is highly regarded in Chinese circles for its beautiful aroma, delicate flavor, and long lingering aftertaste, may leave a British tea drinker unimpressed, as they were looking for great strength, rich color, and a ruggedness that allows the tea to be prepared with boiling water, milk, and sugar, yet still turn out OK. As another example, British tea drinkers tend to see teas that “cream down” (create a cloudy tannin precipitate when cool) to be a desirable, but an American iced tea drinker would not like the way the cloudiness ruined the appearance in the iced tea glass.

The best way is still to taste a sample, if possible. :)

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