Flush has a dual meaning, while it means the actual act of harvesting it also means the time of the year when it is harvested. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) goes through periods of growth and then dormancy, varying with the location where they are grown. In some places, the plant is grown year-round such as Nigiri, and in other places it is seasonal. In early spring, the plant “awake” from its dormant stage and the growing seasons start, leading to the first harvest and thus completing the “flush.” The exact tea name varies from region to region, the terms “First Flush” and “Second Flush” are common, especially for Darjeeling teas. Since the first and second flush is sought after they often include their flush in the tea name.
FIRST FLUSH (late February/early March through mid-April)
The most premium and sought-after flush, the first flush is the first growth after dormancy. The plucking/harvesting time varies by location, some being between late February/early March and going thru mid-April.
The leaf that is harvested has some special features because of which the tea is much sought after. The leaves are rather tender with new shoots on the stalks. They are called “buds” but are not like the common flower buds. The famous bud is the “two leaves and a bud combo” used in “tippy” teas. They are supposed to contain the most catechins (antioxidants), L-theanine (a stimulant), and caffeine.
Tea connoisseurs like to describe the sought-after liquid in several ways, such as very delicate tasting, with light, infused, pale color, or generally intense muscatel with ‘point’. The tea is usually prepared as a light yellow to coppery red cup color with delicate flowery aroma with a delicate, floral, pale infusion with a peachy green muscatel taste.
IN-BETWEENERS (late April to early May)
Some plantations harvest new growth sprout between first and second flush, as it catalyzes better growth. These sprouts create low-grade tea, usually used for bags and/or local markets. Darjeeling “In-Betweeners” harvesting begins in late April to early May. The taste is astringent but produces a well-rounded flavor.
SECOND FLUSH (late May to June)
The second flush is harvested after a brief period of dormancy. The harvest continues from late May to June. It produces an amazing, well rounded, mature and fruity flavor of tea that is said to be less astringent and even sometimes better than the first flush. The excellent muscatel character accompanies the previously preserved well-rounded taste. Another important character that makes it most sought after is that the world-renowned muscatel-like flavor becomes extremely evident, especially in the aftertaste.
MONSOON FLUSH – September
Monsoon flush is harvested from the tea that has grown after the heavy rainfall from July till September. This tea is primarily used for tea bags and lower quality blends. Even though the leaves are produced in plentiful, the quality is lower than the previous flushes as well as the taste is marked as dull.
THIRD (AUTUMN) FLUSH – harvested October and November
Autumn flush or “Autumnal” are characterized by their large leaves. Typically grown after or concurrently with monsoon flush, from mid-September until October/November. For the autumn flush, weeding and good fertilizer are extremely important because of their growth as well as the climatic conditions. The autumn flush leaves after processing produces a very dark leaf that can be characterized as a full-bodied and naturally fruity flavored tea (the buds contain more sap than normal due to slower growth). The taste is typically stronger than the second flush, so a very small amount of milk and sweetener maybe be added without it the liquid has a coppery color.
WINTER FLUSH - harvested between November and February
Around October, the tea plants are prepared for winter as the plants under 4 years need to be protected from the cold. But, sometimes another winter flush is possible, but it is extremely rare. Harvested between November and February, but only under the best weather conditions, and even then the quality is rather low.