So you may be hearing a lot of first flush talk right now. And though you enjoy tea, you may not be familiar with the term. Well, here’s a breakdown for you.
First Flush or Spring Flush is the very first harvest of the harvest year for high-mountain tea. Darjeeling First Flush harvest starts as early as February and extends to April. The brand new two leaves and a bud are plucked. These early spring leaves yield the best cup of Darjeeling Tea, with its sweet aroma and lingering aftertaste, thereby earning Darjeeling tea the moniker “Champagne of Teas”.
Teas are classified by type (Back/Green/White/etc.), place of origin (Darjeeling/Assam/Ceylon/China/etc.), and their harvest/production cycle during the year (Flushes).
Darjeeling tea experiences four seasonal flushes – the First Flush, Second Flush, Monsoon Flush, and Autumnal Flush – across February to November depending on the tea garden location. The teas are grown at different altitudes, and the soil profile and the climate vary per location. Hence the tea from from one Flush to another, from one estate to another is always unique.
Each Flush during the harvest year offers different flavors, aromas, colors, and body of tea as the tea bushes grow and mature. However it is First Flush tea that is the most exquisite and most-prized worldover.
Tea is not harvested during the severe winter months. The tea bushes lie dormant during this time. With the arrival of Spring, the valleys come alive with the blooms of the fiery rhododendrons, camellias, and magnolias. The bushes that have lain dormant through the cold months now have fresh new leaves. The estates come alive with the tea-pluckers as they deftly gently pluck these leaves and buds. These early spring leaves are more tender, thereby leading to a delicate tea that is light bodied and has floral, fruity, grassy, and astringent flavors. The picking is done before the spring rains.
The entire process of tea picking, rolling, and firing is carried out with scientific precision for this prized flush. First Flush Darjeeling teas are less oxidized during processing and may appear more greenish in color than a typical black tea, akin to green tea. It is light-bodied and appears pale.
Buying First Flush:
First Flush tea is premium tea and is more expensive than other teas; the demand for it is more than its supply. Do not let the prices inhibit you, for you are paying for the freshest cup of the most delicate and flavourful tea you will have throughout the year.
Whilst buying First Flush tea, make sure to check for its processing details. The First Flush tea will be accompanied by when and how it was processed and details of the tea bush and estate.
Storing First Flush:
First Flush teas are only slightly oxidized. It is best enjoyed fresh. Therefore, do not store them for long. They will last in their fresh state up to one year, if stored properly. The teas should be stored in dark airtight containers, away from light and moisture elements.
Brewing First Flush:
Steeping first flush teas at 80-85 degrees C for 2-3 minutes, using about 3 gm for 300ml of water produces the best results. Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel. Do not over-steep, else the tea will release any bitterness. The leaves can be re-used at least 2-3 times.
Tea drinking habits vary from person to person. The kind of tea we drink, and the way we make our tea varies, in fact from one household to another too. Our habits may be affected by the region we live in, the broad cultural milieu, availability of different kinds of tea and awareness of tea culture. Different members of the same family may prefer their tea in different ways. Also the climate and season affect our tea habits.
However if you’re looking at trying out Darjeeling tea, it’s best had without milk, especially first flush tea. The leaves should not be left to boil in the water. Instead boil the water, let it cool to around 80-85 degrees Celsius, and then steep the leaves in this water for 2-3 minutes. Strain and drink your tea. First Flush teas have a particular astringency, hence over-steeping will lead to a bitter infusion. Over steeping any tea is not good. Steeping time will depend on flush, estate, and type of tea, so you will have to do a few trials and arrive at the perfect tea for you. Darjeeling tea leaves can be re-used a few times.
So go ahead, try the Darjeeling First Flush.