Tea

The Story of Orange Pekoe

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Despite what the name might suggest Orange Pekoe has nothing to do with tasting like the popular citrus fruit. Instead it refers to a classification method of black tea that is based on the quality and size of the tea leaves. At the top of his grading system are the black teas made from what is known as flushes, the two youngest leaves and the leaf bud. Although there are other determining factors, the size and the wholeness of the picked leaves will also have a significant influence on the taste and clarity of the tea.

So where does the name “Orange Pekoe” come from? Throughout its existence two distinct theories about where the first part, “orange”, originated have been pushed forward. First is the impact that the Dutch East India Company had in bringing the tea business to Europe. It is believed that the name was derived from the Dutch Royal House of Orange-Nassau in an effort to market the tea more effectively. The second explanation suggests that “orange” refers to either the copper color of a high quality oxidized leaf before being dried or the bright orange color of the dried flushes in the finished tea.

There is also some uncertainty about where the word “pekoe” came from. However, the persisting narrative is that it might be derived from a mispronunciation of the Amoy (dialect in Xiamen, China) word for tea; “white down/hair” (peh-ho). In his Chinese dictionary published in 1819  Rev. Robert “Pekoe” describes the downward-tilted white hairs on the leaves and bud. Another explanation suggests that the word might have come from the Chinese báihuā “white flower” (peh-hoe) and describes the bud content of pekoe tea. Regardless of how these words have been granted their meaning British tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton popularized the name in Western markets.

 As with most grading systems there are many categories and sub-categories based on the characteristics of the tea leaves. To give you an impression: Orange Pekoe (OP) is the main grade. Then there is Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP), a high quality long leaf tea with few tips. The Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP) contains a larger amount of tips than the FOP. In the case of Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP) the name is spot on in that the tea contains the largest proportion of tips.

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