What is First Flush?
It can be intimidating when you step into a teashop and notice the countless types, classifications, and descriptions of tea. Who knew there were so many? Once you learn some of the basic tea lingo, you’ll be able to break down and decipher what each classification really means. In the world of premium teas, understanding Flush is a good place to begin.
First, teas are often classified by type, such as white, green, or black. Next, many teas are defined by the region where they were grown, such as China, Ceylon, India, or Bangladesh. Some teas may also be classified by how they were treated during processing, such as scented or flavored teas like Earl Grey and Jasmine.
When you take it a step further, premium teas are also often classified by Flush, or the time of year when tea leaves are plucked. Each Flush is determined by the geography and climate of the region where the tea is grown. First Flush is defined as the very first plucking of a tea plant’s harvest season. The new growth leaves plucked during First Flush are the youngest and most tender part of the tea plant and are said to yield the purest and freshest cup of tea that plant is capable of producing. Each additional Flush yields different flavor and aroma characteristics as the growing season for that tea plant progresses.
About Darjeeling Flushes
The Darjeeling region bumps up against Tibetan Himalaya and stretches between high mountain ridges and deep mountain valleys. The challenging geography and rough, sometimes inaccessible, terrain are what make Darjeeling such an exclusive tea. In fact, Darjeeling is only capable of producing one percent of India’s total tea output.The most common to be harvested and classified by Flush are the famous Darjeeling teas of India. Of India’s three main tea-growing regions, Darjeeling is not the largest but it is the best known for yielding some of the most prized tea in the world. To understand why is to understand the region’s geography.
Another reason Darjeeling tea is so prized is that it is completely unique to this region of India. While some Darjeeling tea gardens cultivate the native India tea bush variety (Camellia sinensis assamica), much of the tea cultivated in this region is the China variety (Camellia sinensis sinensis) that has acclimated to the high elevation and rugged climate that is similar to but unique from China’s. What’s more, many Darjeeling tea bushes may be a China-India hybrid found nowhere else in the world.
Because the winter weather is severe across the Darjeeling region, its tea bushes are dormant for many months of the year. Depending on the tea garden location, harvest season runs from February to November and yields several seasonal Flushes along the way. Each Flush takes advantage of the newest growth on the tea bush and reflects the seasonal effects on the leaves as the tea bush matures.
- The First Flush is the picking of the brand new two leaves and a bud in the earliest spring growth of the plant, as early as February and often lasting through April. These early leaves are usually more delicate and tender and therefore more light, floral, fresh, brisk, and astringent in flavor. To preserve the spring leaf flavor, First Flush Darjeeling teas are generally less oxidized during processing and may appear more greenish in color than a typical black tea. Darjeeling First Flush tea is some of the most prized and expensive on the market. It is so special and exclusive that tea connoisseurs consider the first harvest from this region to be the “Champagne” of teas.
- The Second Flush is picked as early as April and runs through May or June. Second Flush yields larger, more mature leaves with a purplish hue and silver tips or leaf buds. The leaf growth during this period is much more rapid than the early spring growth. These larger, fast-growing leaves yield a stronger yet smoother flavor for the finished tea. Teas from this Flush are known for their full-bodied, muscatel, and fruity flavor.
- The Monsoon Flush runs from June or July through October and yields large leaves that brew into a stronger color and bolder flavor that is less complex or nuanced than the previous Flushes. Teas from this Flush are often used for iced tea and commercial tea bag tea production.
- The Autumnal Flush happens in October and November and yields a finished tea with a rich copper-colored liquor that can be described as rich, full, nutty, and smooth in flavor. Leaf growth slows down during this period and the tea plant is squeezing out the last of what it has to offer before it goes dormant for the winter.
No matter which Flush a Darjeeling tea comes from, each batch of fresh leaf will be different from one day, one garden, one season to the next. Darjeeling leaves are processed…withered, rolled, oxidized…in a technique that reflects the conditions of the season and of the plucked leaf. So no batch of Darjeeling will ever be the same.
About Teatulia’s First Flush
After the winter months and spring rains hit Teatulia’s own gardens in Bangladesh, our tea plants awaken from their winter dormancy bursting with new, tender leaves. We pluck these robust leaves and turn them into the purest and most exquisite cup of black tea available from our gardens.
Our First Flush tea brews into a golden liquor with the gentle aroma of honey and caramel. It’s a mildly astringent tea with a complex flavor that blends sweet malt with notes of soaked raisin and barley. The brewed tea contains about half the amount of caffeine than a cup of coffee.
Buying and Storing First Flush
When you buy a First Flush tea, you’re buying some of the freshest and most exquisite tea available. First Flush teas are premium teas that are typically more expensive than other teas on the market, so you’re usually making an investment in that tea. Therefore, it’s important to buy it from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged. Ask the tea producer for specific instructions on storing and brewing your First Flush tea as well.
First Flush teas are usually only lightly oxidized so that their fresh flavor can shine through. Therefore, consuming your First Flush sooner rather than later is a good idea. First Flush teas can last up to one year if stored properly in a cool, dark place and in an opaque, airtight container away from light, moisture and pantry items like coffee and spices that can leach flavor into the tea leaves.
For more information about how to best care for your tea, visit our How to Store Tea page.
Brewing First Flush
Each First Flush is going to be different depending on where and how the tea was cultivated, harvested, and processed. To brew the perfect cup, ask your tea vendor for brewing instructions specific to the tea you purchased. Here are a few general brewing tips to keep in mind:
- Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Spring water is the best.
- First Flush teas are typically more lightly oxidized compared to other black teas. Therefore, they should be brewed in slightly cooler temperatures for less time to avoid a tea that is too astringent and bitter. We suggest brewing our Teatulia First Flush with water that’s just off the boil (180 to 200 degrees) for 2 to 3 minutes.
- If you don’t have an electric kettle with temperature control, just remember that at sea level water simmers at 190 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. The boiling temperature drops about a degree for every 100 feet in altitude increase.
- If your First Flush tea came with specific recommendations for brewing, use those. But using about 2 grams of loose leaf tea per 8 oz. cup of water is a safe bet.
- Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
- The longer your tea steeps, the more quickly it will release any bitterness and astringency. So it’s important not to over steep a First Flush tea that already has an astringent quality. Taste your tea after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.
- Most premium First Flush teas can be steeped multiple times.
- Some First Flush teas are strong enough to stand up to milk and sugar, but for the best flavor experience try sipping your First Flush without any additives. That way, you can enjoy the subtle flavor of the freshest spring tea leaves.
Darjeeling Tea via Wikipedia
The Story of Drinking Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss
Indian Tea via Tea Class by Adagio