The changing of seasons is perhaps among the most beautiful phenomena in nature. The seamless transit from summer through winter is spectacular, as are the qualities that each season brings with it. The bloom of flowers, the falling of leaves, warm breezes or snowfall, each season paints a different picture to us and have a way of a way of stirring a myriad of emotions.
Nature designed the seasons to be unique and diverse. As a reflection, seasons elicit unique characteristics from everything else. The best example that I can think of, obviously, is tea. Whether it is the sweet aftertaste of grapes, a light body or floral aroma, time of harvest has a big impact on those subtle nuances you enjoy in your cuppa.
The season of harvest is termed as flush and in India, especially with Darjeeling teas, there are five flushes – three major harvest seasons with two intermediary ones. And each season yields a tea that is unique and full of personality, one different from the other.
Also called Spring flush, first flushes are called so because they mark the first harvest of the year. The leaves and buds are picked around March, following the spring monsoons. Darjeeling first flushes are every tea connoisseurs treasure, owing to their gentle, delicate taste, rich aroma and light body. Darjeeling’s first flush tea is usually reserved for export since it is highly sought-after throughout the world.
In between flushes
Tea that is picked post first flush and prior to second. This occurs around late April or early May.
Harvested in the month of June, second flush teas are also called summer flush teas since June brings the full glory of summer. The remarkable muscatel teas arrive during this particular flush. The tea is usually full-bodied with a sweet, grapey finish. The second flush tea grown in Assam brings on a healthy competition, with its bold body and strong flavours.
As the name suggests, monsoon flushes are post the rains that follow the second flush season. The leaves are more mature by this time and the flavours lack the delicacy of spring and summer flushes. The monsoon flush teas of Assam, Nilgiri and Darjeeling, etc. are produced by the CTC method and used for blends such as masala chai.
This brings the final harvest of the year, with the tea leaves picked around October. The autumnal flush, these teas are quite delicate, despite being stronger than first and second flush teas. A cup of this brew bears notes of spices and has a full, rich body.
Observed almost exclusively in the Nilgiri mountains of southern India, these teas are harvested from December to January. In Nilgiri, the term winter flush is used interchangeably with autumn flush, since there is no distinct autumn and winter in the south Indian tropics. Quite the undiscovered treasure, the black teas picked at this time from Nilgiri are intensely aromatic and pack quite a flavour punch.