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Tea Classification Terms

Here are some of the meanings and origins of tea classification terms. These terms can be confusing to the uninitiated as they often have no intuitive relationship to what they mean. In this edition we will address one of the biggest offenders that is also the root for many classification terms -- Orange Pekoe.

 

China

Orange Pekoe (pronounced PECK-o not PEE-ko) has nothing to do with oranges or orange flavoring. Pekoe is the anglicization of the Chinese word Pa-Ko which describes the hairs on young tea leaves. The finest teas are produced from pickings of the first two leaves and a new leaf bud. The larger of the two leaves is called the pekoe leaf. And with time it became orange pekoe. There is no such tea as Orange Pekoe tea. It is just a blend of generally undistinguished black teas, marketed by several of the major tea companies. Orange comes from the Dutch Royal House of Orange; in those days everything was "by appointment" to various European royal houses and the Dutch were an early tea-importing country.

Souchong means sub-variety and probably referred originally to an oolong. Now there is the famous Lapsang Souchong smoked tea.

Congou is probably derived from Kung Fu, which means "skill and patience" and is a method of brewing oolong. Now it denotes black tea (known as red tea in China).

Bohea comes from the anglicization of Wu Yi, the famous tea-growing mountains in Fujian Province, China.

Hyson comes from the anglicization of Yu-Tsien, the Chinese words meaning "before the rains." Often the best green teas come from the first picking of the young shoots after the plants have awakened from winter dormancy.

Pouchong means "paper wrapped" in Mandarin. This has come to describe a lightly oxidized oolong tea grown in northern Taiwan. "Paper wrapped" has no relationship to its processing; it simply means that it has been considered a extremely valuable tea that was often wrapped to present to high-ranking officials. India In terms of Indian black teas, the nomenclature can be just as bewildering, but once you decipher the code it is not so bad. Remember these classifications refer to the size and appearance of the leaf. There is not a direct relationship to the quality of the leaves.

Whole Leaf

FTGFOP means "Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe." Now this is slightly confusing. Fine does refer to good quality leaf. Tippy refers to the golden color of the new leaf buds (as opposed to the black of fully oxidized mature leaves). The more the color is golden or orange generally indicates that younger and more carefully picked leaves have been used to make that tea -- which is one important indicator of potential quality. Occasionally the number 1 can be added for a particularly fine grade of tea.

Broken Leaves

TGBOP means "Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe." Often these are used in lower quality blends of loose leaf teas. Many major companies' English Breakfast teas or Darjeeling teas will contain TGBOP, or perhaps the less visually attractive BOP leaves, and these leaves were probably machine picked.

Fannings

GOF means "Golden Orange Fannings." Fannings and dust are the terms used for the tiny tea particles that are used to fill teabags. Although we shy away from teabags, some can contain fairly good quality teas. These are either the byproducts of finely made teas (as in some of the specialty teabags) or have been completely grown, harvested, and processed by machines for the bulk teabag market (you can guess who we are referring to here).

One-Minute Tea Tip, 2001

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