Tea flush refers to a tea growing season. The tea plant, like most plants, goes through periods of growth and periods of dormancy. Each flush is a period that starts when the tea plant grows new leaves and ends when those leaves are harvested. Darjeeling tea, which is grown in the Darjeeling district of India, has three major flushes:
- First Flush: mid-March to May
- Second Flush: June to mid-August
- Third Flush (Autumn Flush): October to November
There are two minor flushes as well:
- In-Between Flush: Two weeks in-between the first and second flushes
- Rains/Monsoon Flush: Between the second and third flushes during the month of September
It should be noted that the time periods are not fixed and it depends on the weather patterns in Darjeeling and the location of the estate. Excess rainfall earlier than expected can reduce the timeline of a second flush while increasing the rain flush by a few weeks and vice versa.
Darjeeling first flush tea is the first tea harvested in the spring after the winter dormancy. The color of the tea is light and clear with bright liquor. The leaves have a floral scent with a lively character. Generally speaking, first flush teas are more expensive due to their freshness and color.
Darjeeling second flush tea has a dark, amber color and strong flavor in contrast to first flush teas. The tea leaves have a purplish bloom and can have a fruity taste. Some tea connoisseurs prefer second flush for its distinct flavor, with high-quality teas fetching a premium price.
Darjeeling second flush is unique in the world of tea for its muscatel grape flavor. The unique flavor is caused by a combination of unique weather, topography, and plant types. Scientists from Tocklai Experimental Station (TES) of the Tea Research Association (TRA) in Upper Assam and Japan's Kyoto University have identified genes in the plants that only express themselves after being infested by insects. Small insects sucking juices from the stems leads to the creation of the unique fruity flavor and enriched aroma.
Third Flush and Other Flushes
Darjeeling third flush tea is dark or coppery when brewed with a full-bodied texture and rounded flavor. Autumn Darjeeling leaves are larger with a sparkling character, and tend to be priced slightly lower than first and second flush teas.
In-between flush tea tends to have similar characteristics to first flush, but slightly lower in quality. Monsoon flush is more oxidized and sold at lower prices, and is often used for masala chai. Both flushes are rarely exported.
Keep in mind that in addition to flushes, Darjeeling tea is rated using a grading system. Whole leaf, the highest quality, is labeled TGFOP, sometimes with "SF" or "F" in front. Broken leaf Darjeeling contains smaller tea leaves and/or pieces of large leaves and is labeled BOP, sometimes with "FTG," "TG," or "F" in front (for example, FTGBOP). Ranked below broken leaf are fannings, which consist of even smaller pieces of leaves. They are labeled as GOF or GFOF.