First-flush tea, second-flush tea, and third-flush tea are just among the basic tea lingos you should be familiar with when you sit down in those tea cafes to order a cup of your favorite tea. After all, there are so many terminologies linked to quality teas, and only a connoisseur of the intricacies of such tea terminologies can get that warm welcome a cup of tea is supposed to give.
The terminology Tea Flush has been around for some time now since its inception by Indian tea farmers in the mid-19th century. It's used to classify tea leaves by the season they get harvested.
A flush is used to classify tea leaves according to the time they appear and get harvested; for example, the first flush is the first batch of tea leaves to appear and plucked while still young and tender. Other tea flushes are the second flush, monsoon flush, and autumn flush.
The classification was started by Indian tea farmers in Darjeeling during the mid-19th century to classify the tea leaves according to growth times as a result of weather patterns. Here's a guide into the flush tea categories
The time of growth and harvest determined the tea flavor; the flush classification was used to point out the differences. A tea plant has three flushes: first flush, second flush, and third flush.
The first flush is the leaves that show up during the spring - either early or late. It is also referred to as the spring flush. During winter, the tea plant produces no leaves because of the harsh conditions, and so it waits till the warmth kicks in during spring and responds by flushing out its leaves to soak the sunlight and bloom.
Harvesting gets done after spring rains; usually during mid-march to mid-April for early bloomers and late-April to early may for late bloomers. First-flush tea leaves are harvested while still young and tender to give the freshest and brightest tea with a mildly pungent taste that leads to a “dry” mouth feeling. First-flush tea, therefore, sells at a higher price (Premium Tea); in part, due to the sunshine-like fresh taste and because first flush tea leaves demand exceeds supply as new growth is not always that big.
The next leafing out takes place during the summer to give the next flush of tea leaves. Growth during the summer is vigorous as it’s the monsoon rain period. The plant gets well nourished leading to copper-purple leaves that give thick amber tea with an assortment of muscatel flavors.
Second-flush tea costs less than first-flush tea as the leaves are in abundant supply because of vigorous growth and more tea leaves picking a time – second flush tea leaves get harvested around mid-June.
Second-flush tea, however, may be less robust than first-flush tea, especially if the plants pick up excess water from the monsoon rains resulting in dilute flavors. That's why some connoisseurs are reluctant in expanding their palates to second-flush tea. But in general, however, second-flush tea, especially the Darjeeling oolong, is drunk wild world. It has a mild earthiness taste and feels thick in the mouth.
The next batch of tea leaves that show up during the autumn season are the third flush tea leaves. During Autumn, rainfall halts leading to slowed growth but the leaves pack a punch of terroir because the plants take in less water.
For tea connoisseurs, third-flush tea with it's dark "orangey" color is the best as it has a more robust earthiness taste. It’s a full-bodied tea suitable as a wake-up tea (for morning time consumption) because it generates strong infusion in a matter of seconds.
Third-flush tea is also full-bodied meaning it possesses strong flavors and feels thicker and malty in the mouth. The robustness and full-body make third-flush tea leaves suitable for use with milk, lemon, and sugar.
Other tea flushes apart from the three prominent tea flush are the batches that get harvested between the three flushes:
A tea connoisseur will tell you exactly what tea flush your tea has been brewed from simply by observing the following:
The first flush has a lighter color than the latter flushes: It has a weak lime green color which turns to a hue of greyish-green upon drying. Both second flush and third flush tea leaves are darker with the second flush being copper purple and turn to purple-brown when dried While the third flush tea leaves pale-brown color turn blackish-brown upon drying.
What is the color of the brewed tea when poured into a clear cup? Light, medium color, or dark-brown? Tea brewed form first-flush tea leaves has a light color while second flush tea leaves give thick amber tea and the third flush leaves give the dark-brown tea.
First-flush tea, with its gentle light color, has a fresh and bright taste with mild astringency (pungent that leads to a dry feeling in one’s mouth). Second-flush tea, on the other hand, produces little earthiness taste while the third-flush tea packs a punch of spicy tones and robust earthiness taste.
In retrospect, tea lingo runs deep, to avoid those awkward moments in tea shops when you are unable to order your cup, confused by the different assortment of tea available, brush up your tea terminologies every day. You can even get a notebook to document the experience: feeling, taste, aroma, and color of the tea you sip so that next time you can ask it to be served to you just the way you like it.