All You Need To Know About Darjeeling’s First Flush Tea, In Under 10 Minutes!
What makes Darjeeling’s First Flush stand out among all the other forms of teas? What drives the prices of First Flush teas every year? Find out!
After three-four months of lying dormant in the winters, the tea plant — Camellia Sinensis — bursts back to life when spring sets into the mountains.
Straddled along the Tropic of Cancer, Darjeeling is an ideal location for tea as the mountainside soil receives an ample amount of rainfall to replenish the plant along with the appropriate sunshine. The result, a tea leaf whose taste cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
The tea plants, aged anywhere between 80–150 years, have been producing the finest quality teas that have become the signature of the region since the 19th century. Ideally, the plant between 5–30 years of age produces the finest quality of tea for which they are regularly pruned and have to be kept in good health. A sick bush cannot produce good tea.
Each year, after the autumn picking of the tea leaves is over, the plants are pruned and left alone. Occasional weeding and cutting of grass continues through winter months but the tea bushes are not disturbed. As the weather shifts from cool to cold, the tea bushes hibernate. It is only at the end of winter, when the sunshine permeates the mountainside and all that remains is the crispiness of the chill in the air, that’s when the tea plant begins to regenerate.
Within a week, fresh sprouts begin to appear on the branches and for anyone accustomed to the nature of the plant can see the difference in the shade of green of these budding leaves, they are lime in colour instead of the otherwise deep olive green of later flushes.
Such is the romance surrounding this exquisite tea that it has also come to be known as “Lover’s Blush”.
What is the First Flush?
The tea plant is an evergreen one. After the harsh winter, the plant seeks the sunshine to rejuvenate. Average winter temperatures vary between 0–4°C. As the plant returns to its original form, the first tender leaves to sprout on it are picked. This is the First Flush.
First Flush is the first pick of the year. This takes place between the months of March and April. Unlike the other two seasons of picking, the summer and the autumn, first flush is considered most exotic as the tea plant fills every new teabud with its concentrated essence through the winter months. The new leaves that emerge from the plant have a distinct flavour for which it is relished. While a single cup of Darjeeling First Flush can produce upto 4–5 notes from the floral and vegetal palates, studies have indicated that a total of 8 or 9 characteristic notes ranging from floral, vegal, woody and even earthy can be found across the Darjeeling region.
Like any other flush, the tea leaves can be processed to generate white, oolong, green or black tea. However, in the world of tea, First Flush always refers to a black tea.
Where do I find the tea?
Why is Darjeeling’s First Flush distinct?
First Flush takes place for all tea plants that are picked and yet, Darjeeling’s First Flush is considered the finest. For any tea lover, with the touch of spring around the world, the attention shifts to estates that provide the finest first flush from the region. The symphony of the characteristic flavours of Darjeeling, with distinct 8–9 notes set this tea apart from any other tea in the world. The character and complexity of Darjeeling First Flush is specific to only this region in the entire world, which makes it distinct.
Located at an altitude range of 1,500 ft to 7,000 ft, Darjeeling has been producing teas for almost 200 years. Its geographical position, soil and climate make it an ideal region to grow tea.
What does the tea look like?
The first flush tea has a distinctly clear, amber colour. It is said to resemble the shade of a sparkly champagne. And so, Darjeeling’s First Flush is famously called “The Champagne of Teas”.
While some tea experts call it a cup of a bright spring sunshine others have called it the ‘benevolence of nature’.
How did Darjeeling teas originate and are the bushes of a special variety?
Tea has been grown in Darjeeling before the British arrived, although commercial estates were set up by them. Buddhist monks travelling from China through Nepal to India were the first carriers of the tea bush. They had been consuming tea for years before they brought it to Darjeeling. Seeing the success of the tea bush in China, they planted a few bushes in the Darjeeling region and relished the difference in taste. The teas of Darjeeling had a distinct floral flavour which they had not tasted before.
The British brought tea as a crop to Darjeeling and almost all the estates have been set up in the region by the East India Company. They studied the soil and savoured the distinct flavours of the tea and then, took it to the world.
Given the limited quantity in which it is produced, Darjeeling has been a celebration with tea lovers across the world ever since.
Over the past few decades, the clonal variety of bushes — namely the AV-2 — has been producing the best teas. A few China bushes that are in the age between 5–30 years also produce some fine tea.
Why is Darjeeling’s First Flush such a delicate flavour?
It is so easy to get it wrong. The flavour of the first flush is rather subdued, compared to other flushes. Every slightest change in the climate or the soil reflects in the flavour of the First Flush tea. While this is the connoisseur’s delight — as it helps them to identify each year of First Flush owing to these ‘imperfections’ in the taste, for a tea grower, it is a considerable challenge.
Several tea estates have taken to adding a touch of floral additions — like jasmine — to the first flush. These help in masking the imperfections of weather change on the tea and help tea takers to find a similar taste every year.
However, those true to tea, prefer First Flush with all its imperfections. It is these subtle change of notes that make every cup stand out from the others.
How to brew a Darjeeling First Flush perfectly?
While making tea is a joy in itself, brewing a cup of Darjeeling First Flush is an art. It will require your complete attention. If you boil the water for too long, or let the tea steep for more than 3–5 minutes, you will not find the true essence in your cup.
Most tea-tasters agree that unlike all other black teas, Darjeeling’s First Flush should not be made with boiling water. For best results, use fresh tap water and let it cool down to about 190 degrees before adding tea leaves to steep. The leaves should be allowed to steep for four minutes. First Flush steeped for three minutes is equally agreeable, depending on your taste. Suit yourself!
What if I like a strong tea?
Darjeeling First Flush is a delicate flavour. Over-steeping or adding extra leaves to the pot does not help enhance the flavour. In fact, it could ruin your cuppa. A well-brewed cup has the right notes to alert your senses at once, with joy.
Do I take milk in Darjeeling First Flush tea?
Darjeeling First Flush is astringent in nature and a well-made cup could curdle the milk and ruin your tea. It is best to avoid taking milk with this tea. And given its divine taste, many consider it a crime to add anything to it at all. Not even sugar.
What are the correct notes to identify the finest first flush of Darjeeling?
When you take the first sip of the First Flush, you’ll find a sweet hint of honey and even a vegal tone. Our favourite highlight of the tea is ever-so-light sweet aftertaste. The astringency of the tea tantalises the tastebuds and heightens the flavour. The tea tastes as crisp and bright as it appears in the cup. Like the first laugh of a baby, the first flush of Darjeeling is just as sublime.
Why is the price different for First Flush from Darjeeling?
The price of the First Flush varies primarily because of the elevation in which they grow. The tea procured from estates located higher in the mountainside are considered better.
For tasters, the price of the tea varies on the character of the cup. If the tea has more than 4 of the characteristic notes found in Darjeeling First Flush then it is definitely a fine tea worth more than the other teas.