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SFTGFOP? What the Letters On Your Tea Packaging Mean

When I first started drinking tea I was mystified by the grading system used in Darjeeling (and other British colonial tea regions). Understanding a few simple terms helps to clear things up quite a bit. These abbreviations denote the grade of leaves used to make the tea.

What the heck is Orange Pekoe?

Orange Pekoe describes a black tea consisting of whole leaves of a particular size.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not a flavor or type of tea. Pekoe is a corruption of the Chinese term Bai Hao (meaning white tip). I’ve read that the name Orange comes from the Dutch House of Orange. This makes sense since they were trading tea even before the British had started drinking it. It implied that the quality of the tea met with royal approval.

Incidentally, the word tea comes from tê in the Amoy dialect of Southern Fujian because that is where the Dutch got their tea from. We might be calling it cha if they had traded in Canton like the Portuguese instead!

Grades vs Quality

The lowest grades of tea are what is typically used to fill tea bags. While not an ideal cup of tea, they provide a larger surface area which allows the water to pull color and flavor out of the leaf more quickly.

This is where it gets a bit complicated. The grade has little to nothing to do with the actual quality of the tea. In general, more letters equate to a better tea but this isn’t always the case. You can have a badly made SFTGOP and a very well done OP.

FTGFOP1 from Rohini Estate

FTGFOP1 from Rohini Estate

The garden may add numbers if they feel that it was a particularly good lot. Teas that were harvested prior to the official first flush are marked with an EX. The leaves from these lots tend to be a bit more yellowish in color but they are not necessarily of lower quality. 

The name of the cultivated variety that was used might also be provided. These are developed and cloned in order to emphasize specific traits like drought hardiness. The most common of these in Darjeeling is AV2.

For a bit of nerdy tea humor, FTGFOP really stands for Far Too Good for Other People. 😉

Glossary of Tea Grading Terms

SFTGFOP – Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGFOP – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGBOP – Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
TGBOP – Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe
GFOF – Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
GOF – Golden Orange Fannings
D – Dust

Nicole has been writing about her love of the leaf since 2008. Her work has been featured on World Tea News, The Daily Tea, Tea Journey, and other publications. She is the winner of the 2018 World Tea Award for Best Tea Blog.