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Originally published February 22, 2012

No, Orange Pekoe does not taste or smell like orange. Fine is usually expensive, and Super Fine is usually more so. There’s Flowery and Golden Flowery, as well as Tippy and Golden Tippy, so there’s Tippy Golden Flowery but also Golden Tippy Flowery, which is different. Annoying, isn’t it? These terms are, by far, the most confusing obstacle to the new tea drinker; today’s essay will let you in on what they mean.

These many designations are called leaf grades. They serve a simple purpose – when tea is packaged and sold, it is sold in large lots by auction, in closed cases. Those cases are not all opened and inspected, because exposing the tea to air damages it and this is to be avoided. Therefore, the tea industry uses these grades to describe the tea leaves contained in the chests being put up for auction; the grower is expected to have properly sorted and separated their leaves to the correct grades, and the buyer knows, more or less, what to expect they are buying without having to look inside.

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