Tea grading plays a pivotal role in the production of quality tea. Without it, there would be nothing to distinguish teabag dust from the finest loose teas the world has to offer. 

Tea grading is just one part of the tea production cycle, which starts with the harvesting of the tealeaves. After the leaves have been plucked from the tea bush, they are withered to extract their moisture, and rolled to break down their cells. What happens next depends on the type of tea: some teas are left to ferment, while others are dried straight away to halt the fermentation process. Then, it is time to sort and grade the tea.  

In a nutshell, tea grading is the process that determines the size of the tealeaf that will end up in your cup. Leaves are sifted through special meshes to ascertain their size, and then graded (in broad terms) as follows:

  • 1. Whole leaf
  • 2. Broken leaf
  • 3. Fannings
  • 4. Dust

The first two categories - as their names suggest - comprise the tealeaves that remain whole, or have been broken, respectively. Then come ‘fannings' and dust': ‘fannings' being the small pieces of tea that are left over once the higher grades have been removed, and ‘dust' being what is left after that.

Whole and broken leaf teas are typically sold as loose teas, while fannings and dust are generally used to fill teabags. The orthodox method of production, which involves the hand-plucking of leaves and buds, lends itself perfectly to the production of whole or broken-leaf tea. CTC manufacture, on the other hand, can only yield lower grades of tea, by virtue of the leaf damage that mechanisation causes.

It is worth noting that, although the grade of a tea is a good indicator of its quality, this is just one factor among many. Growing region, elevation, picking season, soil type and climate all play a part in determining the quality and value of a tea.

When it comes to making a cup of tea, the grade of the tea is very important. Firstly, it will determine the amount of tea that goes into your cup: the larger the leaf grade, the more tea you will need to use, and vice versa.

Secondly, tea grade will have a significant impact on brewing time. The larger the leaf, the smaller the surface area exposed to the water, and the longer it will take to brew. That is why, if you use a dust-filled teabag, your tea will seem to brew within seconds - whereas a high quality, whole-leaf tea will typically take two to three minutes. It is also why tea producers take care to use pieces of the same size, when mixing a tea blend.

Here at Cup of Tea, we stock a variety of whole- and broken-leaf loose teas. Why not browse our range of green teas, black teas, oolong teas and white teas, to see what takes your fancy? Or, if you prefer to use a teabag, take a look at our Ronnefeldt Teavelope selection. These teabags contain fannings selected from the same sources as our loose teas - offering flavour and convenience, all in one.

18th April 2011

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