Black teas are all derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant & traditionally undergo four steps of processing: withering, rolling, oxidation & heat firing. This produces dark black or brown leaves, a slight burnt aroma & rich flavour.
Rolling techniques provide different degrees of twist in the leaves, affecting the final taste. Higher quality teas have a high degree of twist, but remain intact. This results in smooth full flavours, while enabling long brewing times that achieve high antioxidant levels.
Black teas are graded by leaf size, quality, intactness & tenderness:
- Broken pekoe (BP) – Very small leaf &/or broken leaf pieces.
- Broken orange pekoe (BOP) – A quality leaf intentionally cut to produce a tea that releases its flavours more quickly on infusion.
- Pekoe (P) – Short whole leaf pieces.
- Orange pekoe (OP) – Longer (higher quality) whole leaf pieces.
- Flowery orange pekoe (FOP) - high-quality tea made up of leaf & buds, each with one new leaf attached at the moment of plucking.
- Tippy golden Flowery orange pekoe (TGFOP) – Exceptionally high-quality whole leaf tea with a high proportion of leaf buds having golden tips (indicating newness/tenderness)
- Finest tippy golden Flowery orange pekoe (FTGFOP) – An exceptionally high-quality whole leaf tea with plenty of buds having golden tips; being made predominantly from young tender buds.
The size of leaves in any given region’s Pekoe grade is determined by the leaf size of the species of Camellia Sinensis grown there. Regions, where the tea bushes have large leaves, produce ‘larger’ Pekoe grades than regions where the tea bushes grow smaller leaves.
Typical breakfast tea blends are made from a blend of different broken or cut teas like broken pekoe (BP) and broken orange pekoe (BOP). It is the tea blender’s job to achieve a consistent blend flavour by sampling a large variety of teas and to select the teas and relative quantities of each to ensure the desired blend flavour.
Recent research suggests black tea may offer similar health benefits to more widely researched green & oolong teas.