This Tea Tuesday, I’m drinking First Flush Tea from Charleston Tea Plantation, and friends, it is everything a cup of black tea should be.
What is First Flush tea?
The “First Flush” is the first harvest of the year, which occurs in the spring when tea plants experience escalated growth following a winter dormancy.
The term “First Flush” is most often used to refer to Darjeeling tea, which is grown in the Darjeeling District of the West Bengal region of India. In Darjeeling, tea is hand-picked four times a year, which results in four distinct flushes:
- First Flush happens in late April or early May
- Second Flush lasts from early June to mid-July
- Monsoon Flush occurs, unsurprisingly, in monsoon season from mid-July to late September
- Autumn Flush is early October through early December
Flushes don’t refer exclusively to Darjeeling tea, which is why Charleston Tea Plantation calls their first tea of the season “First Flush Tea.” The production of their first flush coincides with the First Flush FesTEAval, which is a celebration of tea, music, and food, held annually in June on the plantation.
Obviously, a tea plantation in the United States doesn’t have a Monsoon Flush because the US doesn’t experience monsoon season. So, while First Flush and Second Flush are fairly universal terms for the first and second tea harvests around the world, terminology can vary by region.
In Japan, for example, the first harvest is called the Shincha, and subsequent harvests can all be referred to as the Bancha, although they also have numbered names.
Does first flush tea taste different?
Yes! But it’s difficult to describe. On a compositional level, First Flush tea is different from later flushes because it contains more caffeine and higher levels of antioxidants. I’ve seen its flavor called delicate, intense, brisk, light, fresh, and nuanced. While this is an interesting collection of adjectives, it’s not actually all that helpful.
Tea can have a wide variety of flavors based on where it’s grown, when it’s harvested, how it’s processed, and whether or not there are added flavors (such as bergamot oil to make Earl Grey). And, not unlike beer or wine, unless you commit to trying a number of different kinds and learning a little about them, you’re not going to pick up on slight variations in quality and taste.
If you’re not a beer drinker, you’ll still taste the difference between an IPA and a stout, but you might not taste the difference between Harpoon’s IPA and Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA. I’d come up with a wine example, but I literally don’t know enough about wine to do so.
If you’re not a tea drinker, you’ll still taste the difference between a black tea and a green tea, or a black tea and a peppermint tea, but you might not be able to pick up on how a first flush differs from a second flush.
But Emma, how was your cup of First Flush tea?
Thanks for asking! To be quite honest — it was amazing.
The loose tea leaves smell earthy — like dry leaves on a Fall day. And once I brewed them, they were just heavenly. The flavor wasn’t overpowering or bitter, and it had none of the bland, staleness that sometimes comes with bagged black tea.
I steeped the leaves for six minutes, and they tasted like black tea intensified. The flavor was rich, complex and like you might imagine black tea tasting in a perfect world where novels are always engaging, purring house cats are plentiful, and the weather calls for a sweater.
I love your submarine tea holder thing!!! So adorable! Where did you acquire it?
I’m glad you like my tea sub, I think it’s pretty cute! I bought it at a kitschy store in Barcelona, but I’ve seen them in gift shops and boutiques other places too. Here’s one for sale on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Tea-Sub-Yellow-Submarine-Infuser/dp/B003TP0QJ8 but if I see one somewhere I’ll be sure to get it for you.
Great write up. I agree with Stephanie, the submarine is great and I’d love to know where I could get one for myself.
Thanks, Kevan! I bought mine in Barcelona, but I’ve seen them in cutesy gift stores other places too. Here’s a listing for one on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Tea-Sub-Yellow-Submarine-Infuser/dp/B003TP0QJ8 but it ships from New York, so that might get pricey. I looked up the brand, and it’s by a company called Ototo. On their website it lists online stores as well as the countries where their products are sold: http://www.ototodesign.com/WHERETOBUY.aspx The Czech Republic is on there, but it doesn’t give you store locations or anything, sorry!
I sent an email to them, so they should be able to tell me where in my area I can find one.
Ha, I also came in to comment on the submarine tea holder – it’s fab!
I didn’t know that about ‘first flush’ tea – I drink loads but it’s usually just Twinings bags. Your post made me want to look into the different kinds of loose leaf, although I suspect it’s a whole other world!
I’m so glad my post made you want to look into loose leaf tea! But I drink tons of bagged tea too. Loose leaf is generally higher quality, but there’s no shame in the convenience and deliciousness of a Twinings tea bag. Tea is one of my hobbies so I enjoy learning more about it, sharing what I learn here, and trying different kinds. I definitely recommend buying a tea infuser or strainer, and brewing up loose leaf tea some of the time, but it’s not a special club reserved for “serious” tea drinkers or anything silly like that.
I shared a couple links to tea submarines that you can buy online in my other two comments on this post, but I also want to mention that while the tea sub is adorable, it’s sort of difficult to get used tea leaves out of it and very fine leaves can still get through the holes. Those are the issues that come with a lot of tea infusers, though, so I still recommend this one for its supreme cuteness!
I like this idea of tea with books and cats.
This was a really great article because I had no idea about these different flushes! Am I the only one?
I had seen teas on some menus denoted as “first flush” or “second flush,” but I didn’t know what that meant until earlier this year when I went to Charleston Tea Plantation. So, you’re definitely not the only one for whom this is new information. Glad you liked the article!
Hi friend! Lurking about in older posts of yours — this sounds delightful! Also, I wanted to add that though many parts of the US don’t have a monsoon season, some of us Southwestern folks in the desert actually experience a rainy season / monsoon season. It’s my favorite time of the year there, and I wanted to shout it out!
Thanks for lurking in older posts, Crys! I love when people do that, especially when they leave thoughtful comments like yours. I had no idea the desert Southwest has a rainy season — that’s super cool/interesting! Thank you for teaching me something new!
Thanks once more for the heads up on the submarine, Emma! I just took delivery of a small fleet of them so I have one for myself and two for Christmas gifts.
I’m so glad you decided to buy a few tea subs! Thanks for letting me know!