Spring has sprung in the mid-Atlantic and in addition to flowers in our area this past week saw the first of what will be several first pluckings (first flushes) of this year’s tea season. Whether in China, Japan or India, the first flush tea is always considered the most special and typically sells for more money at the tea auctions.
First Flush – Why is it so special?
As we have talked about in the past, terroir effects the tea plant, and the first flush arrives after the plant has been dormant for some time, usually over winter, or during the peak time of year for the plant’s growth leading up to flowering. Of course it is not to the farmer’s benefit to allow the tea plant to blossom as all the growing energy will go into the flower and not into the leaves. Due to that energy, these first pluckings have the most nuanced flavors and usually demand the highest prices, like Pre-Qing Ming Dragonwell or Bai Hao Silver Needle. Both teas carry a taste of light spring grass or flowers.
China First Flush
In China, the first flush comes during the period before Qing-Ming, a big national holiday that is dedicated to the cleaning of the family tomb, to show respect for past relatives and the importance of family, as well as other spring activities like flying a kite. This holiday also falls right around the start of the spring rains. While the rains bring much needed water for the tea plant, they will cause the leaves to loose flavor.
Darjeeling First Flush
In Darjeeling, India, the first pluck will come in late March to early April. A first flush Darjeeling, is practically a green tea with a very light and floral smell, even though it is manufactured as a black. It is truly a reflection of the freshness of spring. While most people are familiar with Second Flush Darjeelings, as that is the Darjeeling that has traveled the globe and has introduced the world to the champagne of teas, it is very different from a First Flush Darjeeling and typically picked in June before the summer monsoons.
Japan First Flush
The first flush in Japan comes in late April to early May. These first flushes go into Ceremonial Grade Matcha, Shincha (not be confused with Sencha), and very top grade Gyokuro. These teas are again lighter and more nuanced flavor adding a sweetness that is not typically found in Japanese greens.
Enjoy a first flush tea next time you get a chance and enjoy a cup of spring.