Eagerly awaited by the tea lovers of the world, the spring harvest is called the first flush. It usually starts at the end of February and ends around end-April. Through out winter, while the tea bushes are dormant, their shoots store up essential oils. The first plucks of the year contain a large proportion of these high-quality essential oil rich young buds, known as the “golden tips”. These early leaves are usually more delicate and tender and therefore more light, floral, fresh and brisk in flavor. To preserve the spring leaf flavor, first flush Darjeeling teas are generally less oxidized during processing and may appear more greenish/yellowish in color than a typical black tea. First flush teas represent a small percentage of a Darjeeling tea farm’s overall yield, but account for significant portion of its revenue.
Three to four weeks after the harvest of first flush, new buds are generated, and the tea bushes are ready for the next round of plucking – that’s the second flush. They are picked when production reaches its highest level in May and June and is also called the “summer flush”. These tea leaves are at a more mature stage of growth but still contain compounds that yield a rich and complex cup of tea. The processing of the second flush leaves is like that of first flush, expect that they are subject to greater oxidation, which combined with the effect of climate, produces a brown liquor in the cup. Second flush teas follow the same basic steps as first flush, but each step has different parameters: the withering process doesn’t have the same extreme loss of moisture; rolling is more intense; the oxidation period after rolling is more pronounced; and the firing may be hotter and for a longer period.
There are two other flushes, “Monsoon Flush” and “Autumn Flush” which are less common than the first or second flush. The monsoon flush runs from 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 popular for iced tea. 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.
At any garden, the quality of a given tea can change depending on the amount of rain or sunshine or the arrival/departure of skilled laborers. That’s why every season, we cup hundreds of individual lots, or “invoices” as they’re called in Darjeeling, to make our selections of the different flushes of tea.