What is First Flush Darjeeling Tea? Its Benefits, Taste & Origin – Herbs & Kettles
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What Does Darjeeling First Flush Tea Mean?

What does first flush tea mean?

by Poorvi Chordia, MD
Celebrate the Wonders of First Flush Darjeeling Teas: A Story of Origins, Flavor and Tradition

What does first flush tea mean?

Darjeeling’s First flush teas are renowned for their exceptional characteristics and flavors. This tea holds a special place in the hearts of connoisseurs and enthusiasts worldwide. It's a seasonal rarity and the leaves that have high nutrient content and impart a unique mouthfeel and flavor to the first flush tea.

The harvesting of these tender first flush leaves is a meticulous process, placing great emphasis on varietal selection and quality. While it's loosely categorized as a lightly oxidized black tea, it is a distinct type due to its specific processing methods. This painstaking process results in a delightful tea that is light, fresh, and delicate, with layers of complexity and notes reminiscent of a floral bouquet, herbs, green grass, trees, and citrus fruits.

With the arrival of spring, the tea gardens in Darjeeling awaken as tea buds start to sprout and slowly unfurl into young, exquisite tea leaves. Farmers eagerly await the perfect moment to harvest the most prized spring first flush, a moment that is patiently anticipated. Winter's cold and prolonged presence in this mountainous region of northeastern India gives way to hope and respite with the emergence of spring. During the winter, tea plants store nutrients in their roots, and the arrival of spring triggers the release of these vital nutrients in the first sprouts. These soft, tender, and nutrient-rich spring leaves are the most aromatic and flavorful, making Darjeeling's first flush tea a global favorite among tea connoisseurs.

Team Herbs & Kettles at the tea farm in India enjoying fresh tea plucks with the tea pluckers

Here’s a small sneak peek into the love and labor we happily put to offer you the best tea experience..

The mornings are brisk, while the afternoons bring warmth and sunshine to the gardens. Tea pluckers dot the gardens to the melody of chirping birds, carefully selecting the finest leaves. The Darjeeling first flush, first pick, is the most coveted, representing tea made from the first batch of tender leaves plucked from a specific tea garden. Single-origin and single batch further elevate its prestige. I eagerly anticipate a call from our Darjeeling farm partner, with whom we collaborate for this coveted Darjeeling first flush, first pick, to hear how it's tasting. There's an electrifying excitement that resonates with everyone. I'm always curious and hopeful that it tastes as good as, if not better than, last year. If our farm partner deems this batch excellent, a sample is promptly couriered to Atlanta for me to taste. If the batch falls short in quality or flavor notes, it's alright, as many more batches of Darjeeling first flush teas will be available throughout spring.

Let me share a little secret: while the first flush, first pick, is highly prized and sought after, it can also be costly due to its high demand in the tea world. Tea gardens at higher altitudes start plucking later than those lower on the mountain, and teas from these later batches can sometimes be truly remarkable. After sampling multiple batches and cups of tea, I endeavor to select three batches for procurement at Herbs & Kettles: a Darjeeling first flush first pick, the most exquisite batch of the season, and another that is slightly less expensive but still delightful. I also aim to maintain one tea from the Chinary (seed) variety and another from the renowned AV-2 cultivar, known for its sweet honey notes.

So, what does a high-quality first flush Darjeeling tea taste like, and is the fervor justified?

My answer is a resounding yes, but to truly grasp its essence, you must experience it firsthand. A first flush is akin to white wine, light with complex flavors. There's a freshness, a character that's challenging to articulate; it's not exactly astringency but rather the sensation of standing in a lush green spring meadow with fresh grass, a profusion of flowers, fruit-laden trees, and herbs. It's delicate with layers of complexity, and I relish savoring the teas in a tasting cup and a gaiwan to appreciate the various notes achieved through different steeping methods. Each cup of first flush Darjeeling holds a touch of magic, and it's worth noting that this exquisite freshness lasts for only nine to twelve months, then it transforms into a smooth, rounded mouthfeel. This change doesn't signify the tea has gone bad or expired; it simply heralds a different stage in its evolution.

Another common query is about the type of tea a Darjeeling first flush is. Although it's often likened to a lightly oxidized black tea, the most accurate description is that it's a distinct tea variety in its own right. Most tea farmers engage in a prolonged withering process after plucking, indoors or, in some innovative cases, a combination of indoor and outdoor withering. This extended withering phase plays a pivotal role in shaping the flavors of Darjeeling first flush teas.

First flush tea benefits, you may not know yet…

Withering helps reduce the moisture content of the tea leaves and triggers biochemical changes in tea polyphenols, proteins, lipids, sugars, and enzymatic activity. While prolonged withering denatures most of the polyphenol oxidase and peroxidase, trace amounts remain (compared to Darjeeling Emerald Green Tea, which is pan-fried or steamed). Thus, when the first flush tea leaves undergo oxidation after prolonged withering, the remaining enzymes aid in converting residual catechin polyphenols into theaflavins and thearubigins polyphenols, which are responsible for the tea's color and astringency, respectively.

Herbs & Kettle’s Best First Flush Teas To Try!

Discover our artisanal Darjeeling First Flush, an exquisite tea that captures the essence of a spring floral garden in bloom. Its fragrant blend boasts jasmine, chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, and a hint of white peach. It's a treasure for special occasions and a delight for tea enthusiasts and fans alike. This Mirik Valley gem, made from AV-2 cultivar leaves, delivers the rich, sweet flavors that make Darjeeling teas exceptional. Handpicked at high altitudes during the first weeks of spring, it's a limited, whole leaf tea that's truly exceptional.

Shop Now: Darjeeling Emerald Green Tea

Darjeeling Emerald Green Tea

Shop Now: Darjeeling Himalayan Rare Spring Treasure

Darjeeling Spring Treasure

 

This Darjeeling first flush tea has a taste that transports you to a Himalayan spring orchard. It's a well-balanced blend of sweet, floral, fruity, and herbaceous notes. This medium-bodied cup with luscious fruity aromas, hints of green grapes, and sweet floral undertones is simply rejuvenating. Sourced from the finest heritage bushes in Mirik Valley, it's truly a unique and exquisite tea, the champagne of teas. As a tea enthusiast, I'm incredibly proud to offer this high-quality gem.

Shop Now: Darjeeling Heritage Moondrop Oolong

Darjeeling Heritage Moondrop Oolong

 

In conclusion, the unique mountainous terroir of Darjeeling, with its cloud cover and distinctive processing method, gives birth to the incredible complexity of flavors found in first flush Darjeeling tea—a truly joyous and delicate experience. I hope you derive as much enjoyment from it as we do!

Discover the unparalleled freshness of first flush Darjeeling tea online only on Herbs & Kettles, a true tea connoisseur's delight.

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