Orange Pekoe black tea might sound like a specific kind of tea, but it’s actually a system of grading Indian black teas according to the size and quality of their leaves. Whether they’ve enjoyed a cup at a restaurant or have simply heard the name before, many people new to the tea world mistake Orange Pekoe for a flavored black tea. In reality, a grade of Orange Pekoe or OP can refer to almost any loose leaf black tea.
WHAT DOES “ORANGE PEKOE” MEAN?
Orange Pekoe doesn’t refer to an orange-flavored tea, or even a tea that brews up an orange-y copper color. Instead, Orange Pekoe refers to a particular grade of black tea. Orange Pekoe and similar phrases are generally used by westerners in order to describe black teas from India, Sri Lanka, and other parts of Asia. Chinese black teas, however, are not typically graded according to this system.
The origin of the phrase “Orange Pekoe” is unclear. The term may be a transliteration of a Chinese phrase referring to the downy tips of the buds of tea plants. The name may also have had its origins in the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau in association with the Dutch East India Company, who helped popularize tea throughout Europe.
OTHER TEA GRADES
Orange Pekoe represents the lowest grade of loose leaf black tea. That said, being graded as Orange Pekoe is still an indicator of quality, and indicates that the tea is composed of whole loose leaves, rather than the dust and fragments that are left over after higher grade teas have been processed. Represented by the letters OP, Orange Pekoe can also be understood as an umbrella term that includes other higher grades of tea. These tea grades for whole leaf teas can include:
• OP: Orange Pekoe
• FOP: Flowery Orange Pekoe
• GFOP: Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
• TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
• FTGFOP: Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
There is also a related grading system for broken leaf teas that are still of high quality:
• BP: Broken Pekoe
• FP: Flowery Pekoe
• FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
• GBOP: Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
• GFBOP: Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
• TGFBOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
In addition to these grades of whole and broken leaf tea, tea dust and fanning also have different grades depending on their size and country of origin. Fannings and dust are primarily used in commercially produced teabags, and are of lower quality with a much less nuanced flavor than loose leaf tea.
So what do all of these letters mean? In general, Orange Pekoe or OP denotes that the tea is loose leaf and of medium to high quality. When a B is added, it indicates that the leaves are broken, resulting in a stronger cup of tea. An F stands for flowery, which signifies that the tea is of higher quality and includes the buds of the tea plant. When it occurs at the beginning of a tea grade, F can sometimes also stand for finest, indicating that the tea is of extremely high quality. G stands for golden, and indicates that the tea has a high ratio of buds, which are often golden in appearance. T stands for tippy, and is another indicator that the tea is composed of the finest tips and buds of the tea plant.
OUR “ORANGE PEKOE” TEAS
Because Orange Pekoe refers to a grade of tea and not a specific type of tea, we don’t carry any teas with that specific name. However, many of our Indian black teas are classified as Orange Pekoe grade or higher, including Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Nilgiri, and Star of India.
Our Assam is a hearty and full-bodied Indian black tea, perfect for enjoying on its own, or with milk and honey. These leaves are graded as FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe). Assam is often used in breakfast blends like Irish Breakfast, and has a robust flavor profile and a moderate amount of caffeine.
Our Daily Darjeeling is a second flush black tea from the Darjeeling region of India. The leaves are graded as FTGFOP1 (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One). Grown in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, teas from Darjeeling are sometimes nicknamed “the champagne of teas” for their bright taste and superior quality. Darjeeling teas tend to be somewhat lighter than other Indian black teas, and have a moderate amount of caffeine.
Our Monteviot First Flush Darjeeling is harvested from the very first buds and tips that shoot up from the tea plant in the Spring. This tea comes from the Monteviot Estate and is grown at an elevation of 5,100 feet. The tea leaves are graded as FTGFOP1 (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). Because this tea is a first flush, there is only a limited quantity available in the late spring and early summer months before we sell out until the next year!
Our Ceylon tea comes from Sri Lanka, which used to be called Ceylon when under British rule. Teas from Sri Lanka are often graded using the same system as Indian black teas. This tea is rich and aromatic, and a good example of an Orange Pekoe tea with a moderate amount of caffeine and a hint of spice.
Our Nilgiri is a rich, full-bodied tea from the region of Nilgiri in southwest India. While tea-growing regions like Assam and Darjeeling may be better known for their famous Indian black teas, Niligiri teas are growing in popularity. This robust tea has a moderate amount of caffeine, and can be enjoyed on its own or with milk and honey.
If you’re a fan of Indian black teas but looking for something unique, our Star of India might be just the tea for you! Star of India is a blend of Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri teas, and is a lovely balanced Indian black tea.
Because this system is primarily used to classify Indian and Sri Lankan black teas, Orange Pekoe teas typically have a robust flavor, a full body, and a moderate amount of caffeine. Whether you’ve had an Orange Pekoe tea before, or are simply interested in exploring different grades of tea, we have a wealth of options to choose from!
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