How is tea graded? Why is one tea considered "more premium" than another?

Tea can be "graded" using a combination of factors. For the regular tea drinker, these are some of the things you can look at: 
  1. Form the tea is sold in:
    1. Teabags (which is basically tea packed in bags)
      1. Generic “flat” teabags: These usually contain the lowest-quality of teas (tea dust, CTC, etc.) and are sold by mass-market tea brands
      2. Pyramid i.e. “larger, triangle-shaped” teabags: These contain teas of better quality than “flat” teabags and can sometimes even contain whole leaf tea, but can never contain the truly outstanding whole leaf teas (because the whole leaves don't fit into these bags). These are sold by some higher end mass-market tea brands
    2. Loose Leaf Tea (which is teas that are not packed in tea bags): These are usually of higher quality and comprise of either fannings/brokens, semi-leaf or whole-leaf teas and are usually sold by specialty tea retailers.
      1. Fannings/Brokens: The lowest quality tea, this is usually what is left over when a tea leaf "breaks" into really small particles during processing.
      2. Semi-Leaf: Better than fannings, are of medium “leaf” quality
      3. Whole-Leaf: These yield the best brew of all types of tea and are of the highest quality.
  2. Grades of Tea: as indicated above already, the grades of tea (from highest to lowest) are as follows:
    1. Whole-leaf
    2. Semi-leaf
    3. Fannings
    4. Brokens

When it comes to judging loose tea, looking at the grade of the tea is an important factor. Other than that, some of the factors to consider would be:

a. Region of the tea (i.e. Darjeeling tea commands a premium to Assam, Ceylon, Chinese teas)

b. Processing and Quality of Estate (this is more difficult for the amateur tea drinker to ascertain but purchasing tea from quality focused stores can be a start)

c. Taste (depth of flavour, aroma, complexity, etc.): While this may be based on personal preference, tea experts can usually select teas that will “age” well and retain their depth of flavours over time (and with multiple brews).

d. Brewing capability (in our opinion): The number of brews the loose tea can be used to produce while retaining the strength of flavour, aroma, etc.

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