There is a method of growing, harvesting, and processing tea. We have a lot of information out on the Hackberry Tea website about different types of teas, how they're processed, how to brew them, where they come from, why they're good for you, but we haven't talked about one of the biggest contributors to differences in flavor and quality. We know that elevation, climate, and careful monitoring during oxidation play a significant role in flavor and quality, but the timing of when tea leaves are plucked might be the single most important component in determining quality and flavor. Tea flushes are the different seasons determined for prime tea leaf picking. Tea leaves are harvested beginning in the spring, through the summer and fall, and go dormant for the winter. During the winter, nutrients and flavors slowly build up in the soil, and when tea leaves are ready for the first harvest, those leaves produce the best of the best tea. And so the process continues; as the harvest season progresses, changes occur in the leaves. Leaves from the first flush are the most delicate and the best, and as the second flush approaches, the leaves grow faster and become sturdier. They still provide high-quality tea, but the tea's nature has changed. For every tea leaf, there is a season, and for every tea drinker, there is a flush. Read on to know more about each flush and determine which flush fits you the best.
First Flush: Late February through April
The first flush is the first harvest of the season. Leaves plucked in the first stage are of the highest quality and the most delicate. They are also known for containing the highest level of antioxidants, catechins, and polyphenols because they have been collecting in the plant during winter. Some of the best tea comes from the first flush. To preserve flavor, these leaves are generally less oxidized. As a result, black tea will have a greenish color to them. The two largest leaves and a bud are removed when leaves are plucked. These are the best leaves of the first flush. First flush Darjeeling is referred to as the Champagne of teas. It grows in the Darjeeling region of northern India, usually in some of the highest elevations. While at Hackberry Tea we don't offer first flush Darjeeling, we offer ceremonial grade matcha. The main difference between these two is that ceremonial grade matcha is shade-grown to encourage the production of chlorophyll, but Darjeeling is not. Matcha is harvested quickly and carefully to prevent oxidation, whereas Darjeeling is oxidized like other teas, although also done very carefully. The processing of the first flush Darjeeling is very meticulous because of how delicate the leaves are. To preserve flavor, first flush Darjeeling isn't oxidized as much as other black teas, so you see a lot of green in the leaves. If you'd like information on how to try first flush Darjeeling for yourself, send us an email, and we'll point you in the right direction.
Second Flush: April through May or June
Depending on the harvest, the second flush may be picked as early as April and lasts until May or June. Second flush teas are often more golden after they're oxidized than the first flush's green hue. Leaf growth after the first flush is much faster compared to the early spring growth. These leaves are stronger and result in a sweet and smooth flavor. They can often be sweeter and fruity. Second flush teas are a high-quality tea as well, though they may not reach first flush status. At Hackberry, we're proud to offer second flush Darjeeling. It's an excellent tea, smooth and full-bodied.
Monsoon Flush: July to Early October
The Monsoon flush is also called the Rains flush, which occurs after all the late summer monsoon rains. This flush produces large and strong leaves with bolder colors and less complex flavors. The monsoon flush tea leaves are used for iced tea and commercial tea bag production. Because they are stronger and sturdier, they have a longer shelf life and are better suited for tea that might be stored for a long time.
Third Flush: Early October to Mid-November
The last flush of the year is known as the third flush or autumn flush. At this point, leaf growth has significantly slowed down, so the yields are smaller. The slowing down of leaf production means the plants are about to go dormant for the winter, and the tea plant is squeezing out as much as possible until the following spring.
The Less Known Flush – Munnar Teas
This flush doesn't follow the sequence because it completely breaks the mold. In Northern India, flushes are determined by the seasons and weather. Tea leaves go dormant in the winter. But in Southern India, they can grow year-round. So, while they don't follow the traditional tea flush mold, it deserves an honorable mention. The climate and abundance of water sources make it a perfect environment to grow many kinds of white, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea.