I’m on a mission to help everyone who is passionate about tea discover what they are really drinking. And why not, try something new along the way! Last week, we looked at what English Breakfast is made of – the magic trio of Assam, Kenyan and Ceylon. Now, I want to talk to you about flushes, or at least introduce you to them. You might not see them on your regular pack of tea, but if you’ve regularly bought tea presents for friends and family, or visit the speciality stores, you’re bound to have come across the term.
The plucking process
As you may remember, the plucking process generally involves the bud (first leaf, still not completely unfurled) and the two leaves immediately underneath it. In the case of special teas like Silver Needle, it’s only the bud that is taken.
The tea bush will continue growing throughout the year so tea pluckers can come back to take the top three leaves again and again. When winter comes, the tea bush will go to sleep and come back to life again in the spring. If you think of us humans for a minute, we keep doing things all day before going to sleep every night, but we are at the top of our game in the morning (most of us anyway!). Tea is the same – it will keep regenerating throughout the year but it’s that first spring harvest that is said to be the most concentrated in goodness and also the most delicate.
Ok, ok, so what are flushes you ask? Well instead of calling them seasons, in the tea world, different crops are called flushes. So the first flush is in the spring (March time), the second flush is in the summer (May and after) and the third flush is during early autumn (August – September).
Why flushes matter…
As I said above, the level of flavour and body that go into the leaves will be highly influenced by the type of flush. The first flush has a more concentrated flavour but a delicate, light body, whereas the second flush has a more distinct body. That’s why first flush Darjeeling (a light afternoon black tea) is considered the champagne of tea as a delicate body is desirable, whereas a second flush Assam is preferred to the first flush because it has a stronger body associated with a good Assam.
Single estate teas
Most commercial tea is mixed from different crops and from batches from around the world, so the flushes really matter only for single estate teas, a bit like single malt whisky. The name of the estate will sometimes be included in the name of the tea especially with historic estates, Margaret’s Hope First Flush Darjeeling is one example.
Buying tea from one estate will help you identify the difference that the climate makes over time and season by season. However, as a standalone purchase or drink in a tea room, I have difficulty tasting the difference between single estate teas and blends. I assume it’s the continuity that makes the difference in taste.
Which reminds me … time to put the kettle on!