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Orange Pekoe is a black Chinese tea that is made from the new flushes — that is flower buds plucked with the two youngest leaves. This is a very delicate operation, and great care is taken in picking the right leaves and buds.
The flavor goes down if the tea pickers cull old tea leaves. In fact, the top quality pekoe consists of only the leaf buds, picked with the balls of the finger tips. The tea pickers, who are assigned this job, are required to cut their finger nails before plucking the buds. Use of mechanical tools is a sacrilege because it may lead to a bruising of buds.
There is a lot of mystery attached to the name. No one can say for sure why this black tea is called Orange Pekoe. Also there are some very popular but non-definitive explanations about the word orange in the name of this tea.
Some claim that Orange Pekoe is named after the Dutch noble House of Orange-Nassau, which is believed to have brought tea to Europe. Others claim that it is because of a traditional Chinese practice of flavoring their tea using orange blossoms, which is not true as the practice is to use jasmine blossoms. There are still others who claim that this tea is called Orange Pekoe because the dried tea flower buds are orange-yellow in color.
Sometimes, the tea is crushed to make bagged teas and is called “broken”. This tea is then referred to as Broken Orange Pekoe or Broken Pekoe. It is sometimes also sold as loose leaf for reduced price. The bagged teas often include fannings and dust, which are the end products of the sorting and/or crushing process. That is why bagged teas are cheaper.
There are several varieties of Pekoe tea which are prized and considered to be of higher quality. The grading schemes rate the pekoes in the following ascending order: OP (Orange Pekoe), FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe), GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), TGFOP (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), and FTGFOP (Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) which is jokingly called as Far Too Good For Ordinary People. There is also SFTGFOP (Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) which is even better.
For tea connoisseurs, each grade of Orange Pekoe has its own special quality. It is for you to decide which one you like most.