Whole Leaf Tea - It makes a difference

Whole leaf tea, sometimes referred to as full leaf tea, is tea in its purest form. Unlike the crushed leaves often found in tea bags, whole leaf tea retains its full, natural form . This allows the tea to retain the tannins and essential oils that give them their distinct flavors and subtle, nuanced taste. Learn More!
Tea Grades Available In Market

Whole Leaf Tea - It Makes a Difference

Tea, a simple infusion of the Camellia sinensis plant, has been a beloved beverage for centuries, offering comfort, ceremony, and a host of health benefits. But not all teas are created equal. Today, lets discuss about whole leaf tea, exploring its unique characteristics, the science behind its benefits, and why it truly makes a difference.

The Superiority of Whole Leaf Tea

Whole leaf tea, sometimes referred to as full leaf tea, is tea in its purest form. Unlike the crushed leaves often found in tea bags, whole leaf tea retains its full, natural form. This allows the tea to retain the tannins and essential oils that give them their distinct flavors and subtle, nuanced taste .

Whole leaf tea is significantly different in both flavor and quality compared to bagged teas.In addition to the quality of the tea, whole leaf tea is more environmentally friendly as well, since you can compost loose leaf tea easier, and teabags aren't required .

Grading the Greatness: Understanding Tea Grades

In the tea industry, commercial tea leaf grading is the process of evaluating products based on the quality and condition of the tea leaves themselves. The highest grades for Western and South Asian teas are referred to as "orange pekoe", and the lowest as "fannings" or "dust" . Whole leaf teas fall into the category of orange pekoe, showcasing larger, bolder tea leaves that are never broken, torn, or crushed. This grading system helps in identifying the various attributes that a particular tea possesses .

 Tea Grade Description
Whole Loose Leaf tea  Considered the highest grade among tea enthusiasts. It consists of whole tea leaves that are carefully plucked, preserving their natural form. This grade offers a full-bodied flavor, nuanced aromas, and a more complex taste profile. Whole Leaf teas are made using two leaves and a shoot.
Broken Leaf Tea Falls between the whole leaf and dust tea grades. It comprises partially broken tea leaves that are smaller in size compared to whole leaves. This grade still retains some of the complexity and flavor characteristics of whole leaf tea while offering a stronger brew. Examples: any tea grade lower than SFTGFOP.
Fannings Fannings are slightly larger than dust tea but smaller than broken leaf tea. These grades are commonly used in standard tea bags, as the smaller particles allow for quicker brewing. Examples : Grades Containing FOF
Dust tea Dust tea are the smallest tea grades, consisting of finely broken tea leaves or tea particles. Dust tea, being the smallest grade, can result in a stronger, bitter taste if not brewed carefully. Examples Grades containing FD, GD

Table: Explanation of Tea Grades

The Science of Sipping: Health Benefits of Whole Leaf Tea

The health benefits of whole leaf tea are largely attributed to its rich chemical composition. Tea leaves contain a variety of compounds including polyphenols, amino acids, enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates, methylxanthines, minerals, and many volatile flavor and aroma compounds . These components are responsible for producing teas with desirable appearance, aroma, and taste.

The table below explains the distribution of the important tea chemical compounds in different parts of Tea. As you see, young leaf (coming from young plants and picked as two leaves and a bud- which converts into whole leaf), has the highest amount of Polyphenols, Amino acids and theobromine. To learn more about tea chemistry, please check out this blog- Link here!

The following table clearly shows that ** (Double the qty), polyphenols, Amino Acids and Caffiene/theobromine are higher on young leaf and teas that come from young/artisan gardens.

 Compounds Young Leaf Mature leaf Green Steam Mature Steam
Polyphenols ** * * *
Amino Acids ** * * *
Nucleotides * * * *
Phosphate Esters * * ND ND
Caffiene, theobromine ** * * *
Carbohydrates * * * *
Lipids * * * ND
Organic Acids * * * *
Chrolophyll * * * *
Cartenoids * * * *
Unsaponifiables * * * *
Saponin * * * *
Minerals * * * *
Volatile Compounds * * * *

Table: Distribution of Chomical Compounds in different parts of tea plant

Source: Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea, by Dr. Himadri Panda

Polyphenols and Flavonoids

Polyphenols are compounds that protect the body against free radicals that can damage the body’s cells. A strong cup of tea will have approximately 240mg of polyphenols. Flavonoids, part of the polyphenol family, are also known as tannins. The main types of flavanols are catechins, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin gallage, and epicatechin. These compounds add to the bitter taste that’s found in tea.

Alkaloids and L-theanine

Alkaloids add to the bitter taste that’s found in tea. There are three alkaloids that are found in tea: they’re theophylline, theobromine, and caffeine. L-theanine is an amino acid that’s found in tea. It has health benefits, such as being able to reduce stress.

The Whole Picture: Why Choose Whole Leaf Tea

Choosing whole leaf tea is not just about savoring a superior flavor, it's about embracing a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Whole leaf tea offers a richer, more complex flavor profile, and its production is more environmentally friendly. Moreover, the health benefits of whole leaf tea, from its antioxidant properties to its stress-reducing effects, make it a wise choice for the conscious consumer.

In conclusion, whole leaf tea truly does make a difference. It's a testament to the beauty of nature in its unaltered form, a symbol of sustainability, and a source of nourishment for our bodies. So, the next time you brew a cup, make it whole leaf. Your taste buds — and your health — will thank you.


Source of Information:

  1. Tea leaf grading - Wikipedia
  2. Tea Grade Explained: Complete Guide - Best Tea Leaves
  3. Chemical Compounds in Tea · Tea Epicure
  4. The Science Breakdown of Tea » BeverageClass
  5. Tea – The Nutrition SourceA Beginner's Guide to Understanding Tea Grades and Classifications.
  6. Green Tea: Benefits, Side Effects, and Preparations - Verywell Health
  7. Chemical Composition of Tea
  8. Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea, A book by Dr. Himadri Panda



Authored By:

Bhaskar Dahal

2nd Generation Tea Entrepreneur

Founder and C.E.O, Nepal Hills Tea Inc.