You may have heard this question hundred times, but let’s ask it again. Have you already tried Orange Pekoe? If you are very serious about your tea, your answer might be – “which one?”
So, what is orange pekoe?
What kind of tea is orange pekoe?
Orange Pekoe is actually not a tea type at all. It’s a grade of tea and it describes the type of leaf used for making tea. It’s always related to black tea, always with Indian teas, mostly with teas from Sri Lanka, and sometimes with Chinese black teas in western countries. Orange Pekoe is not made with oranges, orange flavors or oils. It a black tea made from camellia sinensis plant, just like all other black teas.
What does Orange Pekoe means?
Interestingly, the Chinese symbols used for writing the word pekoe are the same as symbols for Bai Hao, the world related to white tea. And they have the same meaning too, but the pronunciation comes from the Chinese Amoy dialect. Pekoe, thus, refers to the younger leaves that are still covered with white hairs. Any pekoe tea may include the bud and first two leaves and it refers to the highest grades of tea. A grade higher, Orange Pekoe, will contain only the first leaf, and the Flowery Orange Pekoe will have buds too.
However, the word Orange in Orange Pekoe belongs to the Dutch, in the same way as the Earl Grey belongs to the British. When Dutch East India Company brought tea to Europe, it may have given it the name Orange, to connect it to the Royal Family, the House of Orange.
Understanding grades better
Orange Pekoe (OP) is the main grade of loose leaf black tea. Leaves may be full, or broken (BOP). If tea contains the second leaf too, it will likely be used for broken types. We can divide full leaf orange pekoe teas even more, depending if and how many buds they contain. Thus, Orange Pekoe with buds will be called Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP).
You can easily see if your tea contains buds by looking at dry leaves. Buds will always be lightly brown or golden. Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (GFOP) will contain even more buds than the regular FOP, and Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (TGFOP) even more. The highest grade is the Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP). Simplified, the easiest way to understand the classification is to see how much letter it has – the more letters, the better quality.
Therefore, all unbroken full leaf black teas from India (and mostly Sri Lanka) are likely to always belong to an orange pekoe grade.
On the other hand, broken teas can be made with other leaves too – such as third or fourth. They make a lower grade leaf, but can be used for making broken tea types. Interestingly, dust and fannings for tea bags can be a byproduct of producing high quality tea too.
What does orange pekoe taste like?
Orange Pekoe is unpredictable. It can be strong, light, malty, sweet, fresh, and everything in between.
If you are buying a generic version of a pekoe tea, you can expect a lightly malty, semi-bodied tea. Of course, every tea is different and the flavor will depend on many factors. If your Orange Pekoe tea is from India, it may be malty, a bit spicy, smoky and rich. If it’s from Sri Lanka, it may be more fruitier, light and sweet, and if it comes from China, maybe it’s a Yunnan tea with chocolate notes. Furthermore, if it contains more buds, expect fresher and sweeter flavor, and more robustness from a blend without buds. Buds may be more astringent and are likely to contain more caffeine too.
With loose leaf tea, unless it’s a BOP or Broken Orange Pekoe tea, a blend will be lighter and more delicate than its broken counterpart. That’s because long wiry leaves need more time and to release their full flavor. The more letters the abbreviation in the name of your tea has, the lighter the flavor will be. Therefore, Orange Pekoe will be stronger than Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe tea.
A very good example is Vithanakanda, an Orange Pekoe tea. What you know from the name is that it comes from a specific tea estate in Sri Lanka, and contains the first leaf with no buds. Therefore, you know you can expect a classic full bodied flavor, Sri Lankan character, and more elegance in a cup, than from broken tea types.
Health benefits of this tea
The benefits of Orange Pekoe tea are the same as the benefits of black tea. They will ultimately depend on the type, cultivar and terroir. However, it’s possible to conclude that Orange Pekoe will have a higher level of caffeine, because it contains younger leaves and potentially buds. The main benefits of black tea are related to prevention of heart diseases. It may help people with Type 2 diabetes in regulating sugar levels, may reduce the risk of coronary heart dieseases and help lower blood pressure.
Black tea has antioxidant properties and may help fight free radicals and possibly prevent the growth of cancerous cells. It has an anti inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, although the antibacterial activity may be more restricted than the one of green tea. Black tea may be beneficial for weight loss too. One study suggested that theaflavins in black tea may be equally, if not more, effective in aiding weight loss as polyphenols in green tea.
How much tea is too much? Research showed that up to 8 cups of black tea daily will keep the caffeine intake within the limits of daily recommended dose.
How to brew and Orange Pekoe tea
Because Orange Pekoe mostly comes from India and Sri Lanka, the best way to brew it is by using the western style method. Preheat your teapot and mug by pouring hot water in an out. Always use fresh spring water for making tea. Place 2-3 grams of tea leaves and steep in about 8 oz of water for 3-5 minutes. You should be able to re-steep higher quality teas and use your Orange Pekoe tea leaves at least 2-3 times. In that case, make the first infusion shorter, for around 2 minutes.
Where to buy orange pekoe
You can buy Orange Pekoe everywhere. However, it’s better to avoid teas from the unknown origin. Today, Orange Pekoe can virtually come from any tea producing country, as long as it contains the right type of leaf. Be careful to always read the ingredients. Orange Pekoe should never contain actual oranges or orange flavors.
Dislaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.