Tag Archive for TeaGuy

Tea 201 - FTGFOP - Leaf Classifications and What They Mean

A good illustration of FTGFOP

A good illustration of FTGFOP

FTGFOP. Phew what a mouthful!  It feels like a code of some kind.  In a way it is.  It is actually an acronym for Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.  It is considered the highest grade of Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka.  The acronym states exactly what this type of classification: it’s the finest, with lots of tips, flowery…oh and it’s orange pekoe.

I will digress briefly because I would like to explain what orange pekoe is.  I’m sure you have seen it around in the grocery store.  When I first saw it, I assumed that it was black tea with some orange for flavoring.  Actually, this tea has nothing to do with orange; it’s a misnomer.  It is actually a typical black tea of medium size leaf.

The word pekoe apparently comes from a mispronounced transliteration of a word for Chinese tea known as white down/hair (白毫;Pe̍h-ōe-jī: pe̍h-ho). This refers to the white hairs on the leaf.

The origin of the word ‘orange’ is a little tricky.  It’s not related to an orange flavor.  One possible origin is that the Dutch East India Company marketed the tea as orange in reference to the Dutch royal House of Orange-Nassau.

Another possible origin is that the name refers to the leaves copper color of high quality oxidization before drying.  Or it could refer to the bright orange color of the dried pekoes in the finished tea.

There are actually more acronyms out there.  In fact, there is a whole list of grades for orthodox black tea.  There are lists for whole leaves, for whole broken leaves as well as fanning grades.

Oh! I almost forgot, among some tea aficionados, there is a another meaning for the acronym FTGFOP: Far Too Good for Ordinary People. Ha! What do you think?

Tea 201 - Tea and the 20th Century



While tea has been around for centuries, it wasn’t until recently in the 20th century that the popularity of tea really began to rise.

This was the century that the all too familiar tea bag came into existence thanks for the creative mind of Thomas Sullivan.  He was a tea merchant from New York who used to send tea samples in silk bags to his customers.  Because of this intriguing invention, the cost of tea lowered in price.  This also allowed for the masses to be able to drink tea without the need of extra and complicated utensils.

It was also during this century that the tea crop itself began to expand in its source.  Where it was once strictly in Asia, our familiar Camellia sinensis started to find its new home in Africa as well as South America.

But that’s not all.

There are three other major reasons as to why tea consumption in the west grew in popularity:

One was the ever rising trend in the whole “let’s get back to nature” trend as well as the aspiration of leading a simple and healthy lifestyle.  Tea, being a natural beverage with many obvious health benefits was easily adapted into this trend.

Another was the massive immigration of Asians to the west.  In doing so, the immigrants also brought their love of tea with them to the western countries.

Another is the increase of western travelers journeying to the east.  In their return, they would also bring tea with them.

The result is that tea activity has grown to a whopping three billion dollar a year industry producing more than 2.5 million tons of product yearly in more than 20 countries!  Phew what an industry!

Tea 201 - Varietals - What's in a breed? (Camelia Sinensis)

Camelia Sinensis var Sinensis

Camelia Sinensis var Sinensis

Tea. Camellia sinensis. By now you should be well familiar with these words and how they are synonymous with each other.  This evergreen plant from the countries of hot climates with its delicate little white flowers and yellow stamens should be seared into your mind.  It is the mother of all tea.  But now, I think you are ready for some mind blowing news: there are actually two varietals of the Camellia sinensis! Gasp!

The first’s formal name is actually Camellia sinensis sinensis.  This varietal has smaller leaves and loves cool and high mountains like in central China and Japan.  This plant can reach a maximum height of 10 feet or so.  Little known fact: this plant is a bush unlike the other varietals which are trees.

The second varietal is known as Camellia sinensis assamica.  This plant thrives in lower elevations in more moist and tropical regions like in Northeast India and the Yunnan and Szechuan provinces of China.  This plant is much larger than its counterpart.  Potentially reaching up to 65 feet tall, this is not the varietal you would want growing in your back yard.

But wait! There’s one more varietal that I had forgotten to mention.  There is also the Camellia sinensis cambodiensis (also known as Camellia sinensis parvifolia) also known as the “java bush.”  This breed has been mainly cross bred to allow for certain traits, the Java bush is not usually used for commercial tea production.  It is considered a hybrid plant and is rarely cultivated on its own.  It is a multi-trunked tree (like the assamica) but shorter in height (like the sinensis).

Just when you thought that tea was as simple as one plant…

What do you think, dear readers? Every time you drink a cup of tea, I challenge you to question what varietal you’re drinking!

Tea 201 - Fair Trade - The Effects of Sustainable Investment in People

Fair. Trade.  You see these words thrown around in tea shops and coffee shops.  But what does it mean?  Why is it such a big deal?  Well, never fear my dear readers.  I am here to tell you!

To put it simply, fair trade is the economic model that literally cuts out the middle man between the growers and the shops that sell the products.  This allows for the farmers to be given a chance and the capacity to compete in the global market.

It was created in 1988 when the fall of coffee prices created a panic for developing countries that were supplying the beans.  This directly impacted the small farmers.

When you see the words Fair Trade on a product, you may also notice that the price is sometimes higher than a typical store brand.  That’s because there is also a “social premium.”  What you’re paying for is not just for the product itself.  You are also paying for funds that go directly into the communities of the workers through educational, social and cultural development.

There are six keys principles of Fair Trade according to a well known company who deals in Fair Trade called Rishi:

A Fair Price: Fair-Trade-certifying organizations establish a fair price, guaranteeing farmers and workers a living wage as well as an additional sum of money or “premium” for investment in social, environmental or economic development.

Fair Labor Conditions: Fair Trade workers and farmers are guaranteed safe working conditions and fair living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

Direct Trade: Fair trade products are purchased directly from Fair Trade producers, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and allowing farmers to strengthen their organizations and become competitive players in the global economy.

Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade producers within the farm or organization democratically decide how to use their Fair Trade premiums.

Community development: Fair Trade producers invest their Fair Trade premiums into projects that benefit the community and environment including but not limited to the following: improved healthcare, education, business, and farming improvements.

Environmental sustainability: The Fair Trade system strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promotes the improvement of soil fertility through practices such as crop rotation and limits the use of harmful chemicals in favor of farming methods that protect and preserve the health of the soil, air, water, workers and consumers.

What a wonderful business model, don’t you think? All in all everyone wins! Do you invest in Fair Trade products?

Tea 201 - Indian CTC Black Tea

CTC sounds like a company’s acronym, no?  While it is an acronym, it actually stands for the process that defines this type of black tea: crush, tear, and curl.

The CTC method was invented in the early 1930s by W. McKertcher.  Its popularity spread quickly a crossed India and Africa.  Unlike normal teas that are rolled in the final stage, CTC is actually passed through a machine of cylindrical rollers containing hundreds and hundreds of small sharp “teeth.”  Because of this process, about 80% to 90% of the factory’s production is of small particles (fannings) for tea bag blends.  It is fully oxidized and machine processed making it less expensive and considered to be less quality than what is considered “orthodox.”  CTC is usually a conglomeration of tea leaves harvested from more than one plantation during the first harvest.  They are then blended together which allows for consistency in their flavor.

CTC tea is drunk typically by the general public in India and in the usual manner: boiled in a combination of milk, water and sugar.  This is done simply because CTC is considered to have a bitter taste due to its supposed “low quality.”  In all honesty, the flavor of the CTC tea is purely based on whether or not the harvest was of good quality or not.  This tea is popular due to the fact that the tea can be mixed with other herbs, spices and creams as well as manipulated to appease the taste buds of the drinker.

There is the question as to whether or not CTC retain most or any of the same health benefits of normal teas.  This is because of the process that such a question is raised.

In the end, the popularity of this tea relies solely on the tea drinker. What do you think, dear readers? Do you like/drink CTC?  If so, do you drink it straight or do you manipulate it in anyway?