It’s easy for us to lose track of the fact that tea has different harvest seasons. Its leaves are products of the seasons and the environmental conditions where they are grown. Their properties and flavours are ever changing. This is where the concept of a ‘flush’ comes in. A flush determines the season or that time of the year when tea leaves are picked – resulting in wholly different teas!
Darjeeling teas are a good example of this system of harvesting tea. The challenging terrain and rough geography in which these plants lie makes them exclusive and valuable. These leaves are harvested in four separate flushes, of which the first flush and second flush are best known.
The first flush (sometimes referred to as Easter Flush) contains leaves picked between February and April. These are fresh, delicate, young leaves – the first shoots and buds the plant has to offer after its winter dormancy. These tender leaves are light, astringent and floral in flavour. To preserve the spring leaf essence, these leaves are generally the least processed and oxidised, making them appear greener and whiter than other black teas. The first flush is nothing short of a luxury, and is often called the champagne of teas!
The second flush is obtained by picking the more mature, fuller leaves that grow between April and June. In some places, this season may last even up to August. These leaves grow faster than the spring buds and have deeper taste, colour and aroma. It’s a stronger tea which still maintains its fruity, fresh flavour – perfect for those long summer days and lazy evenings.
Some regions produce tea from a monsoon flush. These teas form the longest plucking period and begin as soon as heavy rains descend upon the crop. The liquor from the leaves gets stronger and nuttier in this time period, but the overall quality of the leaves tends to wash away with the rains. These are the leaves that are often used for commercial tea bag production and iced teas.
Finally, we come to the autumn flush, which sees the tea crop squeezing out all its goodness one last time to produce a rich, nutty, smooth liquor characterised by its deep copper colour. This happens during October and November, just before the plants and tea pickers retire for the strong winter.
The changing seasons and the changing teas never cease to fascinate me. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to taste the various months of the year as they pass by? The tea crop has so much to offer, and I like to experience this the most that I can. Each season calls for its own taste, its own characteristic, and its own personality. Just like wine, tea is an art that is both accessible and understandable. Tea is smarter than we realize, and we ought to brew in its wisdom.