Alas! Alack! My box of Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea is empty!
I first came across this tea when I visited the Cutty Sark many years ago. As it is the world’s sole surviving tea clipper – very fast sailing ships of the 19th century – and the fastest ship of her time, it seemed appropriate to purchase a small wooden box of Orange Pekoe tea as a souvenir.
Like many first-time tasters, I expected a subtle hint of orange flavour or aroma – there was none, although I enjoyed the robustness of the tea that is both smooth-tasting and refreshing. It was only much later that I discovered the name actually has nothing to do with oranges, but everything to do with the grade (size and quality) of the tea leaves that are used. These mostly come from Sri Lanka and southern India.
Ceylon is the original name of Sri Lanka and continues to be applied to tea grown there – much of it in the high-altitude district of Dimbula.
Orange is the name given to this grade of tea by the Dutch traders and relates to the Dutch Royal House of Orange-Nassau.
Pekoe refers to the silvery white down present on young tea leaves, the name being derived from the Chinese word bai hao meaning ‘white hair.’
Twinings is the only brand of Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea I have been able to find in my travels around the country. For some reason I have only ever been able to purchase boxes containing ten tea bags! Imagine how that has to be eked out to make the enjoyment of the crisp, refreshing taste last!
Some drinkers regard Orange Pekoe as a classic breakfast tea although, as with so many teas, I find I can enjoy it at any time of the day.