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Originally published February 22, 2012

No, Orange Pekoe does not taste or smell like orange. Fine is usually expensive, and Super Fine is usually more so. There’s Flowery and Golden Flowery, as well as Tippy and Golden Tippy, so there’s Tippy Golden Flowery but also Golden Tippy Flowery, which is different. Annoying, isn’t it? These terms are, by far, the most confusing obstacle to the new tea drinker; today’s essay will let you in on what they mean.

These many designations are called leaf grades. They serve a simple purpose – when tea is packaged and sold, it is sold in large lots by auction, in closed cases. Those cases are not all opened and inspected, because exposing the tea to air damages it and this is to be avoided. Therefore, the tea industry uses these grades to describe the tea leaves contained in the chests being put up for auction; the grower is expected to have properly sorted and separated their leaves to the correct grades, and the buyer knows, more or less, what to expect they are buying without having to look inside.

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On assumptions and arrivals: early American attempts at tea

Originally published July 7, 2011

Well, since it was the 4th of July and all…

It was, of course, the British who most determinedly set themselves to the “reverse engineering” of the cultivation and production of tea, with the object of producing tea in their own territories. In America, while tea had been enjoyed by the early colonists, its later association with the Boston Tea Party – an act of protest against symbolic, and heavy, taxes to Britain – put a major dent into its popular acceptance as a drink of choice.

Eventually, however, the unholy gobs of money generated by the British trade could not fail to reawaken an American interest in tea. Early U.S. works on the subject focus primarily on importing tea from China, but there was also some interest in the cultivation of tea, actually growing tea on United States soil. Both approaches to the “tea question” shared one goal: competing directly with, and eventually overtaking, the Great Britain-China trade for the supply of the world’s tea.

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