Darjeeling’s First & Second Flushes

Having such a unique and interesting profession makes Ahmad Tea’s Tea Tasters quite a hit at dinner parties (if they do say so themselves). But they sometimes grumble about the number of times they are asked: “Don’t you ever get bored of tasting tea all day?” They usually reply: “Does an art critic get bored of galleries, or a food critic of restaurants?” Which is basically a fancy way of saying there’s a lot more to tea than meets the eye. And one fine Wednesday in August provided the perfect example of what a wonderfully varied art form tea is, when they compared Darjeeling’s first and second flushes.

What’s so appealing about Darjeeling?

Regulars to this blog may recall back in June, when we explored some beautiful first flush Darjeeling teas, but now is the time to see how some of their younger siblings measure up. First though let’s recap on some Darjeeling facts: Darjeeling is the name given to teas that are grown in the small region in north east India of the same name. The teas command some of the highest prices at world tea auctions owing to their uniquely delicate flavours and their scarcity. Their distinctive qualities are due to the extreme conditions in which they are grown – the high altitudes and harsh climate of the Himalayan foothills.

Lush Flushes

So what is a flush? Well it basically tells us when the tea was plucked. After going dormant for the cold winter, Darjeeling bushes burst back to life with fresh new shoots that are plucked from March to April. These teas are called ‘first flush’ and are the most sought after and valuable variety, produced in limited quantities. Next come the ‘second flush’ teas, often plucked in May and June, followed by the monsoon flush’ plucked during the rainy season between July and September and finally the autumn flush between October and November.

Examining the Leaves

Here are some of our Tea Tasting Team’s findings as they examined some magnificent first and second flush Darjeeling samples. Following their standard procedure, they started by looking at the dry leaf and already they saw a noticeable contrast between the two, with the bright green and light brown leaves of the first flush replaced by the second flush’s dark brown and almost black appearance. This contrast looked even more stark after looking at the infused leaves.

The Colour

Next they noted the most obvious variable of all, the colour of the liquor. Dominic remarked: “Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that these teas really come from the same bush, just they’re plucked at different times of the year”, as the colour was so distinct. The first flush had a yellow/golden hue, while second flush is a richer and darker infusion. When they looked at the infused leaves themselves the first flush teas were even greener than the dried leaves.

The Taste & Aroma

Moving on to the aroma, first flush had a light and floral fragrance, while the second flush was more rich, full-bodied and earthy. And finally – the taste. Generally Darjeeling’s first flush teas are characterised by a fresh, delicate and lightly intense flavour. Of the teas on offer, Saleh described them as having a ‘pleasant, light and astringent taste’. On the other hand, second flush Darjeelings are typically described as having a ‘muscatel’ (grape-like) flavour and being stronger and smoother than the first flush. Dominic declared the overall quality of the second flush teas to be ‘fruity, slightly sweet with a deeper, rounder flavour.’