On a general level, tea leaves can be classified as Green, Oolong or Black. The tea color is a result of the chemical changes that occur to the leaves when they are given time to oxidize, before drying, during the manufacturing process. Tea leaves that have been given full time to ferment become black tea. Oolong leaves are those that have been given a shorter time to oxidize or semi-ferment. Tea leaves which have been dried without being given time for oxidation or fermentation remain green in color.

Black tea leaves from India are graded according to various criteria. The most important factor is the size of the leaf which is not in itself an indicator of flavor or quality, though it often influences the taste of the tea liquor (brewed tea liquid). Teas are divided into broken grades and leaf grades. The broken grades consist of smaller leaves and broken leaf particles. These teas usually produce stronger and darker tea liquors. The smallest tea particles are labeled as dust and are typically used in tea bags. Only about 20 percent of teas produced are of leaf grades which are the larger tea leaves. These rarer teas tend to produce liquors that are smoother and lighter though less strong than the broken grades. Shangri-La Gourmet Tea specializes in the leaf grade teas as they produce a superior cup of tea.

The tea grading initials, which are commonly stenciled along the side of tea chests, are briefly described below.

OP – Orange Pekoe (pronounced pek-oh): The term often used to describe the largest leaf grade for teas from Sri Lanka and occasionally from the South of India. The term Orange was derived from the Dutch house of Orange. Pekoe was derived from a Chinese word meaning white down and refers to the tips of young tea buds’ leaves.
FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe: The term used throughout the rest of India to describe the largest tea leaves.
GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: FOP with golden tips which are the delicate yellow tips of the buds’ leaves.
TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: FOP with a larger proportion of golden tips than GFOP.
FTGFOP – Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Very high quality FOP
SFTGFOP – Supreme Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Very high quality FOP with lots of golden tips. For Darjeeling teas, the “S” indicates Supreme light colored liquor.
BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe: Broken size tea leaves
BOPF – Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings: Tea fibers that are smaller than BOP leaves and are commonly found in tea bags.