They say there are over a thousand types of teas. For someone beginning their tea explorations but preferring to stay close to home, orthodox black teas are a good starting point. Orthodox teas are made by hand, or involve more human intervention, and this manner of tea-making maintains the integrity of the tea leaves. CTC (crush, tear, curl), as machine-made teas, come out looking and tasting a certain way. That standardization, while necessary for the CTC, is what you won’t find in an orthodox tea, and that is why we seek them out as tea lovers.

In your exploration of orthodox black teas, you will need an anchor of sorts to set forth on your jaunts. Tea grades can come in handy. Though they are far more useful for tea buyers because they offer a reference for quality and price, they could also give you an indication of the teas to aspire to.

You have probably heard of Orange Pekoe, or OP. It’s a whole-leaf grade and indicates a good-quality orthodox tea. Orange, it’s believed, was a stamp added to imply “good enough for the Dutch royalty, the House of Orange"—Holland was the entry point to Europe for tea. Building from this, the grade scale goes up like a game of word building. So, if OP is a tea with whole long leaves, FOP, or Flowery OP, introduces the presence of buds or tips (tea buds are unfurled leaves, considered to be packed with flavour.) Add Golden for GFOP and you will find the proportion of buds to leaves tilting in favour of the former. It reaches a crescendo with the TGFOP, or Tippy GFOP, which has an abundance of tips. Right at the top sits the Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, or FTGFOP, a tea grade of the finest pluckings, rendered flavourful by its buds. If you want to remember this grade, this mnemonic will help: Far Too Good For Ordinary People.

And if that’s not enough, a superlative SFTGFOP grade caps the list with a flourish (S=Special).

Orthodox broken leaves have a separate grading scale and include some of the best and most expensive teas. Some say that the dust and fannings from a high-grade tea are actually superior to a low-grade leaf tea. When it comes down to it, there’s a snob value attached to orthodox tea, and with good reason—the sheer range of flavours. It’s likely that among these, you will find teas that become a personal indulgence.

Here’s one place to start: If milk and sugar remain steadfast accompaniments, venture towards an Assam orthodox tea. If you like flavourful, but light or mellow, choose a spring or autumn Darjeeling or a Nilgiri. If you seek pronounced flavours in a tea drunk plain or slightly sweetened, choose a summer tea from Darjeeling or Assam.

TEA TAKES

Here are three orthodox black teas that would fall in the FTGFOP grade or higher. They cover three regions and three seasons: Glendale Special Spring Twirl Black, Mangalam Gold Summer Black, and Gopaldhara Autumn Black.

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

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