Posted in Kafevend Blog
Today's blog returns to the rainbow of teas out there. We have, at various times, covered black, green, yellow, white and more recently red tea, which is the alternative name for rooibos. Red tea is also the name the Chinese give to black tea, a reference to the colour of the tea once it's been infused. We've even inadvertently covered blue tea, which it turns out is sometimes used to refer to oolong by virtue of its position between black and green tea in terms of taste and processing. One colour we haven't ventured to explore yet is orange, but let it not be said that we've left that stone unturned any longer. Let us take a look then, at orange pekoe.
Firstly, it might be worth mentioning, for anyone who's not delved too far into the world of tea, that orange pekoe says nothing about the tea's flavour. If it's a citrussy tang you're after then Earl Grey is the one to go for. Neither is orange pekoe a particular variety of tea; instead it refers to a grade of black tea, usually from India or Sri Lanka, that only contains the new flush, i.e. the bud and first two leaves. There are a number of sub divisions within the category and we'll go through them, if only to share their rather wonderful names!
Tea labelled flowery orange pekoe is made of leaf buds, carefully hand picked using the pads of the fingers; no nails for fear of bruising. There are also: golden flowery orange pekoe, tippy golden flowery orange pekoe and finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe. These beautifully descriptive labels refer to the quality and amount of the golden coloured tips at the end of the top buds that are present in the blend of tea. Orange pekoe itself is picked later in the year than the flowery ones and its leaves are also more tightly rolled during processing.
A little lower in quality are broken leaf versions of orange pekoe, though while their flavours might be less nuanced, they will infuse at a faster pace and result in a darker cup of tea. Beyond the broken leaf category come fannings and then dust. Commonly used in teabags, these infuse fastest of all, so they're ideal for day to day use when you need a cup of tea with all due haste!
So how on earth did this grade of tea get its name, you may be wondering? It's thought that the word pekoe was derived from the name of a special type of Chinese tea and alludes to the downy white hairs found on the youngest leaves. As for the orange, this is most likely to do with the prevalence of the Dutch East India Company in early tea trading. The very finest quality teas, such as pekoe, would have been presented to the Dutch royal family, whose dynasty is part of the House of Orange. Therefore, it's possible that calling it orange pekoe was basically a marketing strategy, emphasising its royal connections!