Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SFTGFOP2....say what?

This, dear readers, is tea lingo. It means:
Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, 2nd flush.

And that means a black tea, probably grown in the Darjeeling or Assam regions of northeast India, composed of whole leaves as well as — up to 25% — the immature terminal buds, i.e. baby leaves, of the tea plant. It will have been processed in the "orthodox" manner of oxidation (lightly crushed, fully oxidized, and rolled; as opposed to the CTC method, which means crush-tear-curl). This tea will be the highest possible quality of this variety, and will have been picked in the second harvest of the season, which is normally considered better than the first.

The next level down will be just FTGFOP (which, some tea cognoscenti joke, means "Far Too Good For Ordinary People") followed by a 1 or 2 to indicate which harvest. There might even be some further classifications like "Clonal" (Cl), which yes, does mean that the plant the tea came from was cloned from some marvelous original. If that isn't enough tea nerdiness for you, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_pekoe. Or, for a cool flowchart of the major tea processing methods, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Teaprocessing.svg.

I betcha "tip top" and "tippy top" are superlatives borrowed directly from tea classification. I never realized that the tender growing leaf at the top of a tea plant was what I was talking about all the (well, few) times I've used such phrases.

The lower you go on the tea plant, the lower the quality of the tea. Here's a nifty graphic I found on Wikipedia, along with the Chinese names for each grade   these are not translations of "Orange Pekoe," which is a classification assigned to teas grown outside of China. You may be wondering what "Orange Pekoe" means, and I can assure you after exhaustive research that it just means black tea of a standard good quality. It has nothing to do with oranges, neither citrus nor the princely House of Orange-Nassau. I suppose that the ambiguity of what "Orange Pekoe" really means is part of the reason the tea industry was spurred to add so many more epithets to the classification of these teas.

I mention all this because I have posted/will post notes here about some very fine Darjeeling and Assam teas, and will mention these classifications. They look pretty insane and/or fussy, but I'll use them just the same. It seems the proper thing to do as I trip along through some of the most special golden flowery harvests of tea available.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Scottish Breakfast (caffeinated)

I had an old box of Taylors of Harrogate tea that I wanted to contrast with my fresh packet from Upton. I brewed both for 4 minutes at 212F and added milk. The main difference was strength; I put the two cups side by side and could tell, even with the same amount of milk, which was the better brew. I tossed out the Harrogate tea and finished the Upton one. At first it was difficult to enjoy, since I'm still in an Oolong frame of mind (tongue?), and black teas seem rather dull, dusty, and one-dimensioned in comparison. But after about three sips, I was hooked. The Upton Scottish Blend tea, a mix of Assam, Ceylon, and Yunnan (Harrogate was pure Assam), had a sort of meatiness to it, aside from the flavor from the milk. Today, October 12, the weather dipped suddenly into a cool damp phase after a longish stretch of truly lovely clear "Indian Summer" weather (I've been told Indian Summer can only happen after the first frost, which hasn't occurred yet in this region). So it was the perfect day for a cup of Scottish tea. The sheep in the picture above are Soay, a primitive small breed that lives only on the outer isles of Scotland. They are remarkable for their stoic qualities  if not their wool or meat, which are as meager as the land they live on. They are about 55 pounds, as big as a medium-sized dog. Primitive breeds like the Soay shed their outer coat once or twice a year, and you can gather it and spin it if you really want to but it's probably not worth the effort. According to this website, the Soay are "aloof, wary, and graceful," and they also sometimes "stott (sprint-jump on all fours) when alarmed or exuberant." If I ever live on such an island I'll get a few and watch them stott while sipping Scottish tea.

Scotch Pancakes, mmm
The perfect accompaniment to my tea would have been a Scotch pancake. This is not really a pancake as Americans know it, but rather a sweeter, less moist variety that is served room temperature and can be eaten on its own or with jam and clotted cream. (Syrup would be disgusting.)

In the absence of Scotch pancakes (one of the things I could not find locally in NYC, at least not yet, unless I made them myself; I have no need to learn how to make another delicious baked goodie), I satisfied myself with just the tea. Caffeine hit was milder than I expected, 5 out of 10, but I drank the cup slowly over an hour, keeping it warm on my coffee-cup warmer at my desk.