There are different ways to check the quality of tea. One of which is through tea leaf grading. In this process, tea grades are determined based on the condition and harvested parts of the tea leaves. 

You’ve probably heard of dust, fannings, and orange pekoe in your search for tea. In the tea world, these words mean different things.

Main Classifications

Orange pekoe and fannings are the two general classifications of tea in terms of leaf size.

Orange Pekoe 

orange pekoe

Orange pekoe is the highest grade of tea. It could be further classified into several kinds depending on the number of adjacent young leaves picked with the leaf bud. 

High-quality orange pekoe tea types only come with the leaf buds and are handpicked carefully with the balls of the fingertips. When crushed, they turn into broken orange pekoe tea varieties, which are usually seen as lower-grade kinds of tea.

While this might be so, broken orange pekoe tea isn’t at the bottom of the grading system. They are still considered higher in quality than fannings and dust (which we will discuss later).

Orange pekoe also often refers to medium-grade black tea made up of mostly whole tea leaves of a particular size. In some places, however, orange pekoe is just any generic black tea.


If whole leaves are to orange pekoe then small leave particles are to fannings. They are usually what are left after the higher-grade ones have been picked up and are labeled as the lowest grade.

In the past decades, fannings have become popular in certain regions, particularly in Africa and South Asia. Many people use tea infusers to brew fannings. Tea companies, on the other hand, typically sell fannings in tea bags.

Tea Grades

tea grades, whole leaf, broken leaf, fanning, dust

We’ve discussed the main classifications of tea. If you think it’s that simple, however, think again. Tea grades are further broken down into four groups and each group consists of a few more types.

Here are some differences among the main tea grades.  

  1. Whole leaf – also known as full leaf, whole leaf tea is often made up of end buds with two leaves attached together. Others have full buds with leaves (or leaf) attached to the stems. In terms of flavor, whole leaf is popular for their complexities and subtleties.
  2. Broken leaf – This type describes tea with large, broken or torn pieces of leaves.
  3. Fannings – This tea grade refers to finely broken tea leaves. While the pieces are significantly smaller than broken leaf, you could still notice their coarse texture
  4. Dust – a dust-grade tea is composed of the leftover fine powder and smallest particles of the harvested tea leaves. Most tea bags sold on the market contain dust and fannings.

Now that you have a general idea of tea grades, it’ll be easy for you to choose quality tea varieties.

Want to learn more about tea grades? Check back regularly for our upcoming discussions of each tea grade.




Aileen is a content manager and tea enthusiast. If she's not crafting interesting content, she's busy searching for the perfect cup of tea and swooning over Earl and Troy, her cats.