• Holly Harper

Orange Pekoe Isn't Orange tea?


You might be surprised to find out that Orange Pekoe tea is not Orange flavoured tea, the only part that you might associate in the name is the colour of the tea, which can range from orange to a reddish brown colour. Orange Pekoe is actually a grading term used in the tea industry; and so is Souchong, Congou, Flowery Orange Pekoe, Pekoe Souchong and more.


But what does it all mean? You ask?

Tea grading can be a bit confusing and complex, especially since there isn't a universal guide and grading systems can even vary between types of tea (like black and green teas for example). But for starters, most tea grading is often done by size of leaf, which also means what section of the Camellia Sinensis plant (or "tea plant") it comes from.

Here is a guide that explains each term and therefore, which part of the plant and/or size of the leaf it applies to.

Note that this guide outlines the grading system that is most widely used and applies to black teas, mostly from India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Argentina, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Europe. Another important fact to note is that some of these grading terms do not necessarily indicate quality; simply, they indicate leaf size and location on the plant from which the leaf is picked.

Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Abbreviated to FTGFOP. Considered to be the finest quality tea. Same as Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, but with finer flavour profile.

Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Abbreviated to TGFOP. These tea leaves come from the very tip of the plant, there are often many leaf buds or "tips" as well as the newest and often the smallest leaves on the Camellia Sinensis plant. Has the highest concentration of leaf tips.

Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe: Abbreviated to GFOP. This grade of tea is similar to Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe grade tea but with a lower concentration of tips.

Flowery Orange Pekoe: Abbreviated to FOP. same as Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe but with fewer tips. there may be a few leaf buds or "tips" but not as many. Mainly just the top leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant.

Orange Pekoe: Abbreviated to "OP". These are the next leaves down from Flowery Orange Pekoe leaves. A little bit larger but still relatively small.

Pekoe Souchong: The next grade of tea below Orange Pekoe. Mid-range sized leaves.

Souchong: Another mid-range leaf size. Found somewhere around the middle to lower half of the plant. Used to make Lapsang Souchong.

Congou: One of the largest grades. Fairly large leaf size, found in the lower half closer to the bottom of the plant.

Bohea: Largest grade. Quite large leaf size, found closer to bottom of the plant.

The first three grades are highly sought after as they are considered to have a finer flavour profile. It is believed by many that the tips and newly formed leaves of the Camelia Sinensis plant produce the best flavour and therefore are associated with higher quality.

Some of these grades also contain further "sub categories" or grades that indicate slightly different size or quality. For example OP1 denotes an Orange Pekoe tea with slightly more delicate, long and wiry leaves than a regular orange pekoe, that produce a light liquor.

Further grading can also be applied to tea by describing the "intact-ness" of the tea leaves. "Whole Leaf Grades" are described as above, however if the leaves are not entirely intact, they may be described as follows:

Broken: quite literally indicates leaves that have been broken. The term "Broken" or the letter B generally preceeds the above leaf size grades. For example, tea that is made up of Orange Pekoe grade leaves that are broken would be called "Broken Orange Pekoe" or "BOP".

Fannings: quite small pieces of tea leaves, generally used in tea bags.

Dust: very fine pieces of tea leaves, hence the term "dust". Also used in tea bags.

Fannings and Dust grade teas generally have the term "Fannings" or "Dust" (in the case of abbreviated terms the letters F or D) following the tea leaf size grade. For example, "Orange Pekoe Fannings" or "OPF" for short.

Other grading systems include:

China's Number Grading system: the finest teas are generally graded as 1 and the grades go as low as 7, 8 or even 9.

Japan and Taiwan's Grading System: Teas are graded from highest to lowest as follows:

Extra Choicest, Choicest, Choice, Finest, Fine, Good Medium, Medium, Good Common, Common, Nubs, Dust and Fannings.

Green teas are graded differently as well and there is no standard or uniform system for grading green teas. But the best tea, like black tea is considered to be the tea with the most leaf tips and buds. Some grading is done by how the tea has been processed or again the "intact-ness" of the leaves.

Whole Leaf Grades: Young Hyson (YH) and Fine Young Hyson (FYH).

Broken Leaf Grades: Gunpowder (GP) and Hyson (H).

Fannings: Fine Hyson (FH) and Soumea. Sometimes used in bagged tea.

Green Tea Dust is simply referred to as "Dust". Often used in bagged tea.

Sencha is a Japanese style tea that is steam and pan-fried and is considered to be a Broken Leaf variety as the processing involved in making the tea often naturally breaks the leaves apart.

Other tea varieties, such as white tea and oolong tea, may also be graded. But the criteria they are graded on varies from other tea varieties as well. They may be graded by where they are grown, the size of leaf and the location on the plant from which it was picked, the way it is processed, etc.

Whether you love black tea, green tea or any other tea in between you can find something you'll love over at our online shop, check it out.


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