Tea grading has never been united into one international system, but within each country there is usually pretty clear grading system.
When buying tea from China look for:
1) Region - Zhejiang, Yunnan, Anhui, Fujian...
2) Season of harvest – Pre-Quing Ming (before April 5th, Before the Rains or Yu Qian tea (before April 20), Spring tea or Gu Yu tea (before May 6), Late spring tea or Li Xia tea (Before May 21)
3) Name of tea – Long Jing, Anji baicha, Gunpowder, Keemun, Bi Luo Chun,...
4) Pluck style or origin of tea -Ya (bud only/tip), Mao Jian (bud and one leaf), Mao Feng (bud and two leaves)
Example: Zhejiang / Pre-Qing Ming / Long Jing / Shi Feng
Yunnan / - / Yunnan / Mao Feng
It is impossible to determine a precise place of origin in Japan, because of practice of mixing different batches of Aracha in region to create a balanced flavour. However, in the case of very high grade teas, there is sometimes the reference to the terroir.
When buying tea from Japan look for:
1) Type of tea (which is also indicator of harvesting season) – Sencha, Gyokuro, Kukicha, Bancha....
2) Production area – Shizuoka prefecture, Kagoshima pref., Uji....
3) Grade – Extra premium, premium, Great quality
Sencha – The first harvest of the year only leaves
Kukicha – made from spring Sencha but mixed deliberately with stems
Bancha – Leaves mixed with stems but made in summer and autumn
Hojicha – Roasted Bancha at about 200 C. It strips the leaves from many properties including caffeine, but add beautiful honey roasted taste.
Genmaicha – base of Genmaicha is from Sencha or Bancha mixed with roasted grains of brown rice and popped rice. Usually everyday quality tea.
Tamaryokucha – is subjected to steam dehydration and it tries to imitate the appearance and taste of some Chinese curly leaf green teas.
Gyokuro – means “precious dew” this is the highest grade of Japanese tea. Produced only one time per year in late May or early June. Shaded to draw more aromatic components to the leaves for about 21 days.
Matcha – Made from Tencha big leaves which are shaded. The best quality matcha comes from the Uji region. In order to mill tea leaves, the veins of the leaves are being removed.
When buying tea from Taiwan look for:
1) Region – Nantou, Chia Yi, Hsinchu, Tachung
2) Specific mountain – Ali Shan, Wen Shan,....
3) Season of pluck – spring, summer, fall, winter
4) Grade – Superior, Fine, Finest,...
India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia
There are three major systems of grading black teas: whole, broken and crushed. Whole leave will have more aroma and thinner liquor than broken leaf.
Orthodox (whole leaf):
SFTGFOP – Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGFOP – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe
OP - Orange Pekoe
Tippy – abundance of flowering buds
Golden – tips which turn golden after oxidation
Flowery – slightly floral aroma released by the buds
Orange – purely historic reference to the Dutch Royal family of Holland Nassau, who were among the first to import tea into Europe
Pekoe – comes from pak-ho, meaning “white downy” (describing the hair of newborn babies), here refers to the top leaf on a branch which is covered with white down.
The numeral 1 sometimes appears in description. It is added when the tea batch is exceptional.