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.

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