Darjeeling: The First Harvest of Spring

Imagine your first cup of Darjeeling tea. The aroma greats you with a soft flowery scent. The taste is delicate with a fruity apricot peach flavor. You have just experienced a tea like no other. Darjeeling first flush spring tea is widely regarded as some of the worlds finest black tea.

If you have recently entered the world of fine loose tea, Darjeeling is a must try. Darjeeling may seem a bit confusing at first, but once you know about Darjeeling’s three cropping periods First Flush, Second Flush, and Autumnal Flush, you will have a better understanding of this wonderful tea.

Growing Darjeeling

In the cold high foothills of the Himalaya mountains lies the Darjeeling district of India. Once a transcendent place for Tibetan Buddhist Monks, Darjeeling is the northern most district of West Bengali in eastern India.

Tea growing here is said to produce some of the highest quality teas on the planet, often called the Champagne of Tea. Many plants are over 150 years old and still flourishing. The highly acclaimed, aromatic Darjeeling tea is made from the smaller-leaved variety of the Chinese Camellia sinensis plant.

The Darjeeling tea growing region has nearly ninety tea estates within seventy square miles. In addition to it’s small size, production is low due to its colder climate. Plant growth is slow and harvesting is difficult, with tea plants growing on slopes of sixty or seventy degrees. Less than one percent of all India’s tea is produced in Darjeeling, so there is never enough tea for demand.

What makes the prized Darjeeling tea so special?

The higher elevations of eighteen hundred to sixty-three hundred feet account for the teas thinner body and more concentrated flavor. The warmer sunny days and cooler evenings of the growing season along with soil chemistry, rainfall and cloud mist are all factors synergizing to create the intense Darjeeling tea flavor.

Darjeeling tea is mostly hand plucked by women, while the men process the tea in the adjoining factories. Workers harvest the tea by hand plucking the top two leaves and bud of the tender young shoots over three harvesting seasons. Each bush is harvested every four to eight days during the growing season.

All of these factors create a tea unlike any other. Traditionally processed into fully oxidized black tea, the brewed tea yields a golden amber color with delicate flowery flavors and hints of peaches and apricots.

First Flush Spring Tea

This refers to the first harvest of spring which begins in March through April. The first new growth or “flush” pushes nutrients into the young plant tips as the plant comes to life after a long cold dormant winter.

The new growth contains the most catechins, which have antioxidant properties. They also contain the highest amount of L-theanine, an amino acid found only in tea, known for its calming effects and caffeine, a stimulant.

Spring tea is typically a light yellow to coppery red cup color, with a delicate flowery aroma. It is a brisk tea and very delicate with a short shelf life.

Every year the spring season is much anticipated by tea connoisseurs. And every year produces a slightly different tea, all depending on climate conditions. The quality and character of Darjeeling tea varies drastically over the course of the growing season.

Brewing Spring Darjeeling tea is more like brewing a green tea than a black tea, even though they are produced as a black tea. The tea leaf is slightly green in color and taste as well. The first flush Darjeeling is quite delicate and should be drunk before autumn arrives. Steep in hot water below the boil for under three minutes as you would a green tea for the best results.

As the growing season progresses the first flush teas are quite different than second flush teas produced in the summer months.

Second Flush Summer Tea

May through June the second flush teas are harvested and have a more robust body and muscatel character with powerful aromas.

Second flush Darjeeling teas are more complex and unlike any other tea.

Second flush teas are an amazing, well-rounded, mature and fruity flavored tea. It is a slightly less astringent tea and some think even better than the first flush. These are my personal favorites.

Third Autumnal Flush

Autumnal teas are produced October through November following the late summer monsoons. They are similar in character to second flush teas.

The tea plants resume their growth after the monsoon season ends. The leaves are darker and produce a full-bodied fruity flavored tea. It is a bit stronger than the second flush and brews a more coppery colored tea.

Darjeeling Tea Estates

Darjeeling tea is traditionally produced as a black tea, but many tea estates are beginning to produce white, green and oolong teas as well.

Of the nearly ninety Darjeeling estates, Adagio Tea provides teas from the Glenburn, Puttabong, Rohini, Singbulli, and Sungma estates among others. If you’ve never heard of these, that’s alright. Know that all teas from the Darjeeling region are among some of the best in the world.

Adagio’s limited edition 2017 Darjeeling Spring Tea is from the beautiful Glenburn Estate. In addition to it’s outstanding tea, the Glenburn estate is famous for it’s visitor’s hotel and tourism attraction. At 3,200 feet, the views are absolutely breathtaking. I can see why the Tibetan Buddhist Monks called it their transcendent place.

Mary Ann Rollano is a tea specialist celebrating the joyous and healthy benefits of tea. She writes about the skills of selecting, brewing and creating a healthy lifestyle with tea on her blog, Life Is Better With Tea. She develops tea infused recipes for restaurants and works with tea companies in marketing their brand.