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What is Orange Pekoe Tea? - A Full Guide

Orange Pekoe tea is a popular choice for most tea enthusiasts. The crisp, rich taste of an Orange Pekoe makes it a bestseller, yet most people don’t know much about the origins of this tea.

Have you ever wondered what Orange Pekoe tea actually is? Despite the name, it’s not a specific flavor of tea — it’s a term used by the tea industry to describe a range of black tea with leaves of a specific size. It’s all part of the tea grading system, and Orange Pekoe is the highest grade there is. Surprisingly, there’s no actual orange in Orange Pekoe tea!

If you’ve got some Orange Pekoe tea in your kitchen and want to know more about its origins, have a look at some common questions about this particular tea leaf grade.

What does Orange Pekoe tea mean?

The name is quite misleading. It’s got nothing to do with flavors. A lot of tea drinkers believe Orange Pekoe is a variety of tea, however it’s not quite that simple. 

When we talk about Orange Pekoe, we’re actually referring to a system of black tea grading. To be precise, it’s all about the largest leaf grade for black teas from Sri Lanka and southern India.

Beside the leaves that sit right next to the buds, is a larger leaf called Pekoe. A Pekoe grade tea has many subdivisions – the quality depends on how many smaller leaves were picked with the leaf buds.

Orange Pekoe can be broken down into specific subgrades:

  • flowery orange pekoe
  • golden flowery orange pekoe
  • tippy golden flowery orange pekoe
  • finest tippy golden flowery

How is Orange Pekoe tea made? 

Orange Pekoe tea is processed the same as all black teas. The leaves are withered, heated and fermented before heading to market. The fermentation process is known as oxidation, which helps separate black tea from white and green teas. The only other type of tea to undergo this process is Oolong, but that process is a lot shorter than black tea. 

Then why do we call it orange?

The orange part of the name is tricky. It’s mostly for Western markets. As mentioned, it has nothing to do with flavorings or additions to the tea. More likely reasons for the name are:

  • The color: Once oxidized, the leaves look quite orange. A lot of Orange Pekoe teas have a distinct orange-y copper color, which makes sense to be named after.
  • The Dutch House of Orange-Nassau: The Dutch royal family had something to play in the naming. The Dutch East India Company brought a lot of tea to Europe back in the day, and probably marketed the tea as ‘orange’ to promote the dynasty. 

What does Pekoe mean?

Orange Pekoe is a term only used in Western countries. It’s a European grading system — and Orange Pekoe (OP) is the highest grade you can get. 

No one is sure about the name Pekoe. Many believe it’s a mispronunciation of the Chinese word for white flower or white hair, which grows on the leaf and on the youngest leaf buds.

A 19th century tea magnate, Sir Thomas Lipton, is known for inventing the term ‘orange pekoe’, simply to make it more palatable for Western markets.

What kind of flavors are in Orange Pekoe tea?

Surprisingly, Orange Pekoe has very little influence on the flavor of your tea. Orange Pekoe teas can be very diverse and span across a number of different tastes. Some might taste maltier than others, some might be super light. It all depends on the leaf buds. Year on year, the taste of Orange Pekoe tea will differ based on rainfall and temperatures in the tea’s terroir. 

Explore different options of Orange Pekoe tea and see which ones you like the best!

How do you drink Orange Pekoe tea?

Like any black tea! Pick your flavour, add hot water and let it brew.

Here’s a few tips to make the perfect cup of Orange Pekoe tea:

  1. Fill up your kettle with fresh water from your tap or filter.
  2. Boil the kettle and pour over your tea bag (or loose tea leaves)
  3. Here’s the kicker: leave it to brew for a good 4 to 5 minutes — this way the flavor infusions really come to life
  4. Wait for it to cool down, then add milk, or whatever you fancy! Milk works well with black teas

What is Orange Pekoe tea good for?

Like most teas, Orange Pekoe has tons of health benefits. Here are a few we’ve found.

Improves your immune system

Black tea has antigens that boost your immune response. It’ll help you fight off any nasty viruses like flu, stomach bugs and all everyday colds and sniffles.

Helps digestion

Having a cup of tea after a big meal helps aid digestion – decreasing any negativity activity. It’s therapeutic when fighting any gastric and intestinal illnesses. 

Increases energy

Most black teas have caffeine in them. It enhances blood flow to the brain, but thankfully, it’s not strong enough to overstimulate blood flow to the heart. So you get gentle energy bursts that keep you alert and awake when you need it without feeling jittery. It also stimulates the metabolism and respiratory system, as well as the heart and the kidneys. Good all round!

Boosts your mood

Many people associate the act of drinking a cup of tea as a moment of relaxation. It’s proven to boost moods and is always something to look forward to at the start, middle, or end of your day.

Tons of antioxidants

Black tea has polyphenols. They’re not like antioxidants that you’ll find from fruits and vegetables, making black tea a great addition to a healthy lifestyle. 

Fights against cancer cells

Some research says that some tea antioxidants help prevent some types of cancer. Specifically, women who drink tea lower their risk of ovarian cancer than those who don’t. 

Stronger bones

It has also been suggested that regular tea drinkers have stronger bones and lower probability of developing arthritis due to the phytochemicals found in tea.

Thanks to the phytochemicals found in tea, tea drinkers lower their risk of developing arthritis and are found to have healthier, stronger bones.

Lowers risk of diabetes 

Based on a research study conducted of elderly people living in the Mediterranean islands, it was discovered that people that had been consuming black tea on a long-term basis on a moderate level (i.e 1-2 cups a day) had a 70% lower chance of having or developing type 2 diabetes.

A study done in the Mediterranean Islands found that older people who drank one or two cups of black tea a day lowered their chance of type-2 diabetes by 70%.

Reduces stress

Tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, this is what keeps us calm despite the caffeine content. That’s why your cup of tea is often the most calming and relaxing part of your day!

Keeps the dentist away

The Tea Trade Health Research Association found that black tea actually reduces plaque formation on teeth. 

Helps your heart

Studies show that those who drank more than 3 cups of tea a day had a decreased risk of stroke than those who only drank one. That includes green and black tea. 

Mime Petit

A home appliance enthusiast and creative writer.

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