The world of tea is bigger than you might think and goes far beyond simple black and green. One term you might have seen on packages of higher quality tea is ‘Orange Pekoe.’ But what is Orange Pekoe tea, and what does it mean for the average tea drinker?
Orange Pekoe is a term that refers to the quality of the tea rather than the color or flavor. Tea has been grown and enjoyed for thousands of years, so it’s no surprise that the Orange Pekoe grading system is a bit complex. See below for more details about this variety so you know what to look for when buying your next blend.
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What Does the Term Orange Pekoe Mean?
The term ‘Orange Pekoe’ might sound like it refers to a sweet citrus flavor, but actually, the term has to do with a grading system for black tea. It’s a term that originated in Europe and is used in the western world to describe tea from India and other Asian countries.
So, where does the name come from? The truth is, we don’t know. Some say it originates from the Chinese word for tea plant buds. Others say it comes from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau, who played a large role in the popularization of tea in Europe.
Knowing what to look for in tea ensures you get the highest quality variety. When buying tea, look for OP, FOP, BP, or any other acronyms in the next section.
Understanding Tea Grades
There are many different grades of tea, and Orange Pekoe is the lowest grade of loose leaf black tea. That might not sound impressive, but being rated as any kind of Orange Pekoe is a good sign.
Specifically, the rating means that the tea is composed only of whole leaves and does not include dust and other impurities left during the production process.
Orange Pekoe can also refer to the grading system as a whole, referring to any of the grades of tea. These different grades include:
- OP - Orange Pekoe
- FOP - Flower Orange Pekoe
- GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
- TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
- FTGFOP: Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.
In addition to whole tea leaf ratings, there is a separate system for broken tea leaves. These are somewhat less desirable but are still a good indication of 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
Basically, if you see Orange Pekoe or OP on your tea, it means that it is composed of whole loose leaves and is at least medium quality. Broken Pekoe or BP also indicates quality where the leaves have been broken, creating a stronger brew. Here’s a breakdown of what the letters mean:
- F - Flowery, meaning the tea includes the buds of the plant
- G - Golden, meaning the tea has more buds than standard
- T - Tippy, meaning the tea includes the tips of the tea plant, which are of higher quality
Does Orange Pekoe Tea Have a Particular Flavor?
Since Orange Pekoe doesn’t refer to a particular strain of tea, its flavor can vary between manufacturers. However, since the term refers specifically to tea from India and Southeast Asia, it has some characteristics worth noting.
Many Orange Pekoe teas are described as spicy, rich, smoky, and malty. Others may have a stronger fruit flavor or subtle chocolate notes.
The grade of the tea also has a big impact on its flavor. You can expect a fresh and sweet flavor if it contains a higher percentage of buts. Broken Pekoe will also have a stronger, heavier flavor than Orange Pekoe since their leaves can release flavor more easily.
Brewing Orange Pekoe Tea
Since this tea is of higher quality, it’s worth the effort to make sure you brew it properly. The process is simple, but attention to detail is crucial.
1. Heat Your Water
Use a kettle to brew water between 200 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is important, as water that’s too hot will burn the tea, and water that’s too cold will not release its full flavor. Use a thermometer to make sure you get it right.
2. Gather Your Tea
Next, gather two to three grams of tea leaves and place them in your cup. The work is done for you if they’re already packaged in a tea bag. Otherwise, you can use a tea ball, a strainer, or your own tea bag.
Pour one cup of hot water into a mug and submerge your tea for 3 to 5 minutes. A longer steeping time will produce a stronger flavor, but don’t over brew, or the tea will burn. Higher quality teas can be re-steeped two to three times but should only be steeped for two minutes.
Orange pekoe goes well with a splash of milk, a drizzle of honey, or a spoonful of sugar. Drink it while hot to fully enjoy its flavor.
Tea can be delicious and refreshing, but did you know it’s also full of health benefits? It’s true. Black tea has a high dose of antioxidants, which promote cell health, boost your immune system, and keep cancer at bay.
Orange Pekoe teas also include l-theanine, which is shown to relieve stress. It can also help your digestive system do its work.
Frequently Asked Questions
Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe are two totally different types of black tea. While they may share some qualities, Early Grey has more of a citrus flavor, while Orange Pekoe is richer and more savory. The unique citrusy flavor of Earl Grey comes from the addition of bergamot.
Orange pekoe has a medium amount of caffeine compared to other varieties. You can expect about 25 mg of caffeine per cup.