At our Teahouse in Middlebury VT, folks often sit down, look at the menu, read “Nepal 1st flush black tea” and ask “What does flush mean?” Well, we could (and have) devote an entire Tea Workshop to address this very question, and to indulge in tasting the special category of first flush teas from Nepal and India. This blog here is a little primer to entice those who may want to go deeper and to taste outside of their regular tea chest of teas.
You might think the answer to the question “What is a flush?” is complicated, but actually it is quite simple. A “flush” refers to new growth of the tea plant and the season it is harvested. For example a “1st flush” tea refers to the Spring growth of the tea leaves. A “2nd flush” refers to the summer growth and the subsequent harvest. Take a guess on what 3rd flush :)…Also, there’s a Monsoon Flush in late summer, but generally these teas are best for blending. In India and Nepal, each harvest season has its own distinct tea style that is traditionally made. Partly this style is defined by the discretion of the tea maker, but much of it has to do with what is going on in the environment at the time. Long days of sunshine, lots of rain, little rain, cold nights. All these factor into the final tea taste and the style that is developed according to those factors.
What is not simple about first flush teas is their taste…they hold a certain ability for complexity…spring harvest teas are the first harvest of the year…the tea plants have been storing up all that energy over the winter dormancy! Traditional Indian first flush usually teas are less oxidized to bring out the more complexity in the leaf…notes that are more golden in color, but bold and dynamic in taste. With that lighter oxidation level, a tea maker can bring out tropical notes, like pineapple, mango, or starfruit…and still have that strength that is undeniably black tea! With later flushes, the weather changes, and thus does the tea making methods…
Can you imagine now how the season may effect the taste of your cup of tea?