Whether you’re a tea connoisseur, an unwavering lover of coffee, or someone who lies right in between, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of orange pekoe.
Some of us think of it as an orange-flavoured black tea, while others only know it as grocery-store Red Rose. Truth be told, orange pekoe is neither and is actually not a tea type at all! Orange pekoe is a grading of tea, meaning it is a term used to describe the quality and condition of a particular set of black tea leaves.
Let’s break it down a bit further. In the tea world, Tea Leaf Grading is the process of valuing a tea leaf based on its condition, quality, and the number of leaves that are plucked below the bud.
High quality teas will only pluck the orange pekoe. Second to this, you will take a leaf below it. Most commonly in blends, you will find the third leaf – this is still enjoyable, but less refined than the previous two.
The fourth and fifth leaves are also plucked but are far inferior in quality. These plucks are referred to as souchongs. Because they are lower in quality, it is very common that these leaves are smoked to add another dimension of flavour. Most commonly you will find Lapsang Souchong.
The broken pieces, dust, or remains of a high quality OP are repurposed as well. These are of very low grade and are referred to as “fannings” or broken orange pekoe (BOP). Fannings are quite literally, the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality and most commonly found in store-bought teabags.
So, why does tea grading matter?
In short, a high quality leaf will produce a better tasting cup that has far more health benefits than its lower quality counterpart. Compare our Ceylon OP (orange pekoe) leaf with the fannings that are in teabags. Notice the difference?