First Published: 6th June 2005
©2006 Tea Concepts Ltd.
Orange Pekoe Tea: Does It Taste of Orange?

A common misconception is that Orange Pekoe is a type of tea with an orange flavour, or that is otherwise somehow associated with the orange fruit. In fact, Orange Pekoe has nothing at all to do with the tea's flavour.

Orange Pekoe is a classification of black tea based upon the origin of the leaf. To be classified as pekoe, the tea must be composed purely of the new flushes - a flush being the leaf bud plucked with two youngest leaves. (Any other leaves produce teas of lower quality.)

It is most likely that the word "pekoe" comes from an Amoy word for a special kind of Chinese tea (
白毫茶). The original Amoy name was pronounced "Pek-ho" and means white downy hair and refers to the down-like white "hairs" on the tea leaves that are the youngest and smallest on the tea plant. Top quality pekoe (Flowery Orange Pekoe in the diagram above) consists of only the leaf buds which are picked using the pads of the finger tips to avoid bruising.

The Dutch East India Company
There are generally three popular explanations given for the meaning of "Orange" in Orange Pekoe, none of them definitive. The one I like comes from the Dutch House of Orange. The Dutch East India Company was by far the most prosperous of all the various East India Companies throughout the 1600s. At the height of its power around 1675, the Company commanded a fleet of 150 trading ships (like the one on the left) and forty warships with twenty thousand sailors and ten thousand soldiers, employed around fifty thousand civilians, and held sway over eight foreign governments – makes Microsoft look pretty small fry by comparison!

The House of Orange
The Dutch East India Company  was the organization that first brought tea to Europe in 1610 - green tea from Japan, to be exact. Before long the Company also imported China tea and promoted it very successfully. The finest teas were reserved for the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange, and so this finest Pekoe tea was promoted to the Dutch public as Orange Pekoe to suggest a royal warrant. Hence an Orange Pekoe is a top quality Pekoe tea.

There may also be a connection to the British and tea from all this. The head of the Dutch Royal Family at the time was William the Second (on the right). He married Mary Stuart, the daughter of King Charles I of Great Britain. She was 10 years old and he was 15! Anyway they had only one son, William III who became King of Great Britain as well as Prince of Orange. So you might think this was how tea was introduced to the English but in fact tea had already crossed the English Channel by the time he became king. However I am sure he encouraged its use in the English Court.

The Orange Pekoe Grading System
So much for the origin of the name, what does it actually mean to us now? For a tea to be an OP grade, it must consist of the top two leaves and the bud. As the leaves below this are of an inferior quality for tea, this is a statement of quality (to some extent anyway). The various subgrades of the basic OP grade are ways of categorising the size of the finished leaf and the amount of leaf bud in the tea blend.

So finished teas smaller than OP are graded as BOP or Broken Orange Pekoe. Some teas are better tasting when cut up smaller - Ceylon teas in particular. Below BOP in size terms are Fannings and Dust, the latter being the standard size for teabags.

Some tea companies have tried to make things more complicated. You might find a tea labelled as SFTGFOP-1 which means Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, grade 1 but, as there is no real agreement on what all these other categories mean, it is all so much marketing speak. In this it is best to rely on your tea supplier to be sure of the quality.

Orange Pekoe Teas at H-TEA-O

Generally the OP grading system is only applied to Indian and Ceylon teas. If you want to try a selection of different OP graded teas, these are some of the Orange Pekoe teas you can find in H-TEA-O.

Assam Orange Pekoe: A good quality orthodox Assam Indian black tea blended from several quality estates.

Organic Sewpur Assam FTGFOP-1: a bio-certified organic tea from the Sewpur Tea Estate. This is a premium Assam tea.

Organic Banaspaty Assam FTGFOP: A wonderful organic Assam, quite fruity in taste. Drinks well without milk.

Organic Ceylon BOP: Classic rich and aromatic Ceylon tea