Tasting 3 Seasons of Darjeeling - First Flush, Second Flush and Autumn Flush
You often hear us talk about the different seasons of Darjeeling tea in terms of First Flush, Second Flush and Autumn Flush. For the uninitiated, these flushes denote the time when tea is plucked and produced: First Flush in spring (end of February - end of April), Second Flush in summer (June-July) and Autumn Flush (October-November). The tea produced during each different season exhibits unique characteristics making it a worthwhile pursuit for every tea enthusiast to experience it in their cup. Especially important to understand, no matter which season the tea is plucked it’s from the very same bushes!
Currently, we have teas from three seasons from a single tea estate, Arya! Also, all three teas were produced last year using the same tea cultivar, AV2. This is indeed a rare alignment of the stars. Cultivar is a type of tea bush. There are hundreds of them. A tea garden typically has a few cultivars of tea growing. To borrow a vintner's term, think of cultivar it as a varietal of grape.
About the legendary Arya Tea Estate before we start the actual tasting. This estate was established in 1885 courtesy of British colonialists who were setting up a tea industry in Darjeeling to break their dependence on China, the sole source of tea for Europe until then. This lovely boutique garden is nestled in a serene setting quite close to the town of Darjeeling. Fortunately, it is rather easy to access this garden, so we have visited many times in the past. They make beautifully crafted organic high elevation teas in small quantities. We have proudly offered Arya teas since our founding.
Now let’s taste test these special teas! The leaves of the First Flush tea (Arya Spring 2020) have an appearance which is slightly darker than a typical Darjeeling spring tea. However, upon tasting the tea you realize it has the wonderful complexity of a fine First Flush tea. There is a unique buttery-ness to the tea and deeper notes of apricot, rather than peach which is more typical in other First Flush teas. A sweet aftertaste rounds out this tea to one’s great satisfaction.
The Second Flush tea (Arya Ruby 2020), which most of our regular Darjeeling fans would recognize because we’ve offered this tea for many years. The long wiry leaves of Arya Ruby, with its luxuriant golden tips, has a warm chocolaty aroma. When Arya Tea Estate came up with this tea in Darjeeling around 20 years ago, I remember being blown away by its sublime flavor. It still manages to evoke that feeling when I drink Ruby, although some years more than others. Compared to Arya Spring, the Ruby is much darker, just like a regular black tea. The aroma of Ruby recalls dried raisins, roasted almonds, maple and jaggery. In this cup you can enjoy the famed "muscatel" flavor found in Darjeeling Second Flush teas: a mix of grapes, almonds, and a touch floral (rose?)
The difference between a First Flush and Second Flush Darjeeling is always dramatic. It is hard to compare one with the other, almost like a white and red wine. The seasonal character of Darjeelings is distinct and I cannot say one is better than another. I enjoy both seasons. If you are looking for a more robust tea, skip First Flush and pick up a Second Flush. But if you are looking for a delicate floral tea, avoid the Second Flush tea. We would love to hear your thoughts.
After the soaked-to-the-bone monsoon months are over, and the hills have dried off a bit with the approach of fall, it is time for Autumn Flush tea production. There has been an idea floating around for a while that Darjeeling Autumn Flush is the best among the three flushes. It started with an NPR article written by Jeff Koehler.
Normally, the Autumn Flush tea is thought to be slightly milder than Second Flush tea. It is more "coppery" and the sweet finish is more pronounced in the autumn. Well, let's see what we have in the Arya Ruby Autumn Flush. The leaves look quite similar to the Second Flush, dark grey and copper tones with abundant golden tips. Both have aromas that recall cacao notes, ripe plums and pepper. Lovely notes of plum, apricot and caramel to delight your palate with a sweet aftertaste that lingers pleasantly. Although the cup looks remarkably similar in color, this batch of autumn Ruby has more body than the Second Flush Ruby. A surprise! This likely has to do with climate change. Sadly, I fear there are more weather surprises ahead that will impact each season. This my friends, is what keeps me up at night!
Anyway, hopefully you’ve learned more about Darjeeling Tea Flushes and are curious to try them side by side. Therefore, we’ve created a sample set including all three seasons from the Arya tea estate. This will make it easy for you to taste and compare these fine Darjeeling teas. And of course, let us know what you think. Until next time, may you find peace and happiness in your cup!