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Tea leaf grading
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Once tea has been picked and has arrived at the warehouse to store, it is graded by the tea blender. This grading does not indicate the quality of the tea, merely the size of the leaf, which is then used by the tea blenders to compile the finished tea. The grades, variables of Pekoe and Souchong, are known as leaf grades, broken grades, fannings and dust grades. When tea is graded as broken, it means the leaf is in smaller pieces, while fannings are the bits of tea left over after processing and are used in tea bags. The dust grade is the lowest grade and are the smallest particles of the leaf produced during the sorting process.

It takes several years before a tea blender gains enough experience and expertise to blend Fortnum & Mason teas; he or she needs to have a detailed knowledge of each of the individual teas to put together the perfect blend. Each blend is made according to a recipe and uses only the best ingredients – the finest individual tea leaves. The characteristics of a tea can vary depending on when it is picked – even on which day – and the blender must be able to identify this.

The aim of blending is to maintain a consistent quality throughout the year, taking into account any seasonal variations that may affect the profile of the many teas that Fortnum & Mason buys. Just as a recipe might need adjusting in terms of taste, the same is true of blending. Occasionally Fortnum’s tea blenders will need to amend the formula to ensure the character remains the same. Small hand blends (miniature trials of what will happen in the factory) are made first and then, once the flavor profile is right, the tea blend is born. Before the tea is made available, though, the mini blend and factory blend are brewed again to check their quality matches.

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