"And the seasons they go round and round," sang Joni Mitchell talking about the carousel of time. However, we're going to talk about the carousel of tea which reveals a unique flavour each time it goes around. Incidentally, the tea carousel is also affected by the seasons.
There are multiple ways to distinguish between the large plethora of tea varieties and flavours out there, causing beginner tea lovers to experience severe headaches. One can distinguish teas based on type; black, green, white, oolong etc. Teas are also distinguished by the region they come from. Yet another way to distinguish teas is based on the season when the tea leaves were harvested. This is known as the flush.
Tea flushes are a great way to distinguish the quality and flavour profiles of different teas. Apart from the type of tea plant and the geography of where they are grown, the seasons also majorly affect how fast the tea leaves grow and how much flavour and aroma they retain. This is why the flush of the tea is considered to be such an important indicator of its quality, especially for Darjeeling teas which develop very distinct flavours based on when they are harvested.
There are three main flushes for Darjeeling teas:
SPRING / FIRST FLUSH
The First Flush is also known as the Spring Flush. Depending on the location, the harvesting can begin as early as late February and last up to May but most of the first flush teas are harvested in March. It is the first harvest of the year after the spring monsoons and is also sometimes called Easter Flush.
First flush is considered to be of the highest quality as the plants stay dormant through the winter and slowly build up the highest amount of antioxidants and stimulants than any other flush. The leaves are plucked while they are still young, in the most sought after 'two leaves and a bud' combo.
First flush tea is clear and bright, with a light yellow to copper colour cup when brewed. The flavour is delicate with a floral aroma and a light body. The tea is oxidized very lightly to retain the most flavour but this also makes it hard to store for long periods.
You can buy First Flush tea on our website here.
SUMMER / SECOND FLUSH
The Second Flush takes place in June and so is also called the Summer Flush. The leaves grow much faster and are allowed to mature more than the first flush. This results in a stronger yet smoother flavour.
The brewed tea has a dark colour with an amber hue. The flavour profile of second flush tea is well rounded, full bodied with a fruity flavour.
Darjeeling second flush has the distinctive muscatel flavour that Darjeeling teas are famous for. Scientists at the Tea Research Association in Assam along with Japanese scientists from Kyoto University have found that this distinctive grape flavour arises because of a gene that is activated as a defence mechanism against insects found in that region. Darjeeling second flush is considered to be the 'champagne of teas' because of its great flavour and is highly prized by tea connoisseurs around the world.
You can buy Second Flush tea on our website here.
The third main flush of the year takes place during October and sometimes into November and hence is called the Autumn Flush. The heavy monsoon season that arrives at the end of the summer provides the necessary moisture for the tea plants to grow but the plants actually go dormant during the monsoons and only begin growing after the rains stop.
The leaves grow large and careful weeding and pruning is required during the growth period to produce a good quality autumn flush. The brewed tea has a dark copper colour and has a strong but delicate nature. The tea is rich with a full body and a nutty or fruity aroma.
You can buy Autumn Flush tea on our website here.
Apart from these three main flushes, sometimes two more flushes are harvested in between these seasons. These in-betweeners, as they are rightly called, usually don't possess the nuanced flavour of the three main flushes and so are not of the same quality. They are often harvested to encourage growth for the following main flush and are used for commercial purposes such as tea bags and blended teas.
The two in-between flushes are:
The Monsoon Flush is carried out in between the summer and autumn flush after the monsoons have ended in late August or September. They have a strong and astringent flavour and brew into an orange coloured cup. The monsoon flush teas in Darjeeling are usually used for blends.
The Winter Flush is rare because it is not possible in many regions, including Darjeeling, because of the severe winter, which makes the tea plants go dormant. However, in South India, especially the Nilgiri Hills region, winter flush is harvested from December to January. The winter flush of this region has a light body and floral and fruity aroma.
It's incredible how the same tea plant can produce such a range of flavours and aromas depending on the season it's grown and harvested in, but that's the beauty of tea. It spoils you with the choice of such unique and distinct flavours and aromas. Now that you understand the basics of tea flushes, you'll be able to make a better informed choice while buying tea.