Tea Estates in Darjeeling trim tea plants after the First Flush

Explained: What are Darjeeling Flushes, and Why do They Matter?

Here is everything you need to know about Darjeeling flushes

In India, tea grows in abundance, making the country one of the largest tea producers in the world. Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Karnataka- many states in India produce tea. However, Assam and West Bengal are the most prominent due to their incomparable quality.

Tea plantation is difficult because it requires specific elevation, rainfall, climate, soil conditions and beyond all, meticulous processing. Darjeeling in West Bengal has all it needs to grow premium quality tea. With a specific aroma and musky-sweet flavour, Darjeeling is often called the" Champagne of teas". Since geographical factors play a significant role in giving the tea its flavour, aroma and colour, it is impossible to grow or manufacture Darjeeling tea anywhere else in the world.

What is a flush?

Many people confuse "flush" with "harvesting". However, there is much more to flush than just the act of harvesting. Tea plants go through the cycle of growth and dormancy depending on the geographical and climate conditions. A flush starts when the tea plant grows new leaves, and it ends when they are harvested.

Darjeeling tea has three major and two minor flushes. The duration of the first flush is considered between late February or early March to mid-April. The second flush begins from late May to June. The last flush of the year, also referred to as the autumn flush, occurs between October-November.

There remains a gap of almost two weeks between every flush when tea plants are believed to be "dormant". One minor flush occurs in between the first and second flushes, while another minor flush is seen in September, during the monsoon. However, flushes heavily rely upon weather patterns, so the durations are not fixed. Sometimes excessive rainfall curtails the second flush's duration while increasing the monsoon flush span by a few weeks.

First Flush: (Late February or early March)

This is when tea plants come to a wakeful state after a brief period of dormancy. It is also called "Spring Flush". If the weather is favourable, it can be the best flush of the growing season, and it gets lucrative prices in the market.

In the first flush, tea leaves are plucked when they are as tender as buds. The first flush tea has abundant antioxidants (catechins) and stimulants (L-theanine). However, they have a short shelf-life. The first flush tea has a floral meadow-like flavour, very delicate taste and generally pale colour.

Soon after the first flush, Darjeeling, the land of thunderbolts, witnesses storms and tea plants are dormant after soaking moisture. This is generally marked as the end of the first flush.

Minor flush (Late April-May)

With a view to triggering a growth spurt, tea estates in Darjeeling trim tea plants after the first flush. This harvest is used for making low-grade tea and is widely used in making tea bags. These leaves have an astringent flavour. Not all tea estates prefer minor flush harvesting. Some wait directly for the second flush.

Second flush (Late May-June)

After a brief period of dormancy, tea leaves again come to life. The tea produced during the second flush has a mature and fruity flavour. It has a less astringent taste, and some believe that the second flush teas are the best.

The second flush teas have a distinct taste and complex flavours—their flavour changes as the tea cools down. Most tea connoisseurs identify the second flush tea due to its 'Muscatel' flavour.

Minor flush (Monsoon flush):

Heavy rains are a prerequisite for tea plants. In Darjeeling, July to September are Monsoon months, and the place is greeted often with heavy rains. Some tea gardens use this opportunity to grow tea that is primarily processed as green tea. It has a strong flavour and is used in tea bags and blends. However, this tea is considered low grade and gives dark colour but dull flavour.

Third flush (October-November):

Also referred to as the autumn flush, the third flush is known for large leaves. Third flush teas are tricky and require extremely favourable weather conditions. Otherwise, they might just be unavailable.

When brewed, the third flush tea gives dark and coppery colour. Their prices are lower than the first and second flushes and are often consumed with milk and sweetener.

Why do flushes matter?

Though Darjeeling tea grows from the same plant Camellia Sinensis, each flush has its distinct taste, colour and aroma. They are then turned into varieties of green, black and oolong teas through meticulous processing.

Apart from flushes, Darjeeling tea is rated by the size and quality of the tea leaves. While whole leaves are the highest graded, dust is the lowest—in-between falls broken leaves and fannings.