T.S. Eliot was the first to say that April is the cruellest month and The Tea Centre agrees. It’s the only time during the flush season that you can’t harvest Darjeeling!
Spring is a time for rebirth, rejuvenation, and reaping the tasty tea that comes from Darjeeling in West Bengal, India. This delicate black loose leaf is ‘the champagne of the teas’. Moreover, starting in the Northern Hemisphere’s springtime, Darjeeling is only plucked during four main harvests commonly known as ‘flushes’.
The four harvests roughly coincide with the seasonal changes that occur in India’s West Bengal province. In turn, each flush has its own unique characteristics and flavour profile.
In this Tea Journal entry, The Tea Centre’s top connoisseurs breakdown the ins and outs of each flush, the history of Darjeeling, and the reason why it’s considered such a luxurious tea.
The History of Darjeeling
Darjeeling’s history is part of the larger story of India under British imperial rule during the nineteenth century. The British East India company took an interest in India when Sir Joseph Banks told the colonial trading body that indigenous tea plants were growing near the Chinese-Indian border in a region known as Assam.
This, in combination with the lure of arable land for opium, gold mining, and a British conflict in the neighbouring Sikkim region, led to British occupation of India, including both the Assam and Darjeeling districts.
Darjeeling became a hospital base and convalescence town for British expatriates looking to escape hot Indian summers. One British resident in Darjeeling, Dr. Archibald Campbell, took an interest in tea cultivation and began experimenting with crops.
By 1852 his experiments became success stories with several gardens commencing production. Darjeeling tea was on its way to fame and fortune.
Why is Darjeeling the ‘champagne of the teas’?
The prestige and expense surrounding Darjeeling tea is commensurate with several factors aside from its exquisite taste. Among these factors is climate, production output, trademarks, and harvest practices.
Unlike Assam, which is grown in low-lying areas, Darjeeling grows exclusively in the high mountains. Specifically, Darjeeling must be grown at an elevation above 2,000m within the region.
This definition has Geographical Indication trademark, which means every Darjeeling The Tea Centre supplies is the real thing! Merchants trademark Darjeeling because—just like champagne from France’s Champagne region and Parmigiano-Reggiano from Reggio Emilia in Italy—is not only significant for its great taste. The local economy is also heavily dependent on Darjeeling tea exports.
Furthermore, Darjeeling is often more expensive due to low production output and high tea grading of the first and second flushes in particular. For example, while Assam tea makes up approximately 53% of Indian’s total tea production, Darjeeling only contributes 1% in comparison!
The Tea Centre’s collection of Darjeeling teas builds on this exclusivity by offering a number of single-origin loose leaves sourced from orthodox (handpicking) tea estates. Darjeeling teas like Goomtee Premium, Makaibari, and Mineral Springs are examples of this.
First Flush | February – Mid-April
Light spring rains herald in the first harvest, or ‘flush’ of Darjeeling. This is why the loose leaf from this crop sports a pleasant petrichor aroma. Further delighting the senses is the delicate floral and fruit tones inherent to the first flush crop.
Also known as the ‘spring’ flush, the tea blend sports green tones and downy buds from the tip of the tea plants. As a result, the tea becomes a sparkling pale brew upon infusion. Another reason why the first flush in particular is the ‘champagne of the teas’. You can savour a First Flush Darjeeling here.
Second Flush | May – June
Remember how we said April is the cruellest month because harvesting halts temporarily? This is because from mid-April to May, the tea farmers cease gathering leaves to allow enough regrowth to fill out the second flush (also known as the summer harvest)!
The dormancy allows the leaves to develop a richer muscatel flavour and distinctive woody undertones. Moreover, the light amber infusion and accompanying nutty wine-like aromas make second flush loose leaf a delicious afternoon tea. You can taste it for yourself when sipping on The Tea Centre’s Second Flush Darjeeling tea.
Monsoonal Flush | July – September
A Darjeeling summer brings about heavy rains, resulting in an informal ‘monsoonal’ flush that sports the delicious petrichor aroma once again! Due to the excessive moisture, these leaves in particular are large and more robust in flavour in comparison to previous flushes.
In fact, while considered to be a lower quality Darjeeling, many locals prefer this loose leaf. This is because it’s full-bodied brew makes it one of the few Darjeelings that lends itself well to milk. Otherwise, this flush produces a dark amber colour upon infusion.
The Third Flush | October – November
When the monsoonal season comes to a close in September, Darjeelings are once again given a little time to regrow again! Given these leaves are given a longer dormancy period, the ‘autumn’ flush contains the largest loose leaves and buds full of sap. You can find elements of this in our Himalayan Blend.
As a result, the third flush is thought to be the strongest-tasting Darjeeling sporting a smooth black tea taste. A suitable breakfast tea, the autumn flush has top notes of spice and musk (sometimes with a hint of sweetness. It also brews up as a rich burgundy colour.
Want to put your taste buds to the test? You can explore The Tea Centre’s entire collection of delicious Darjeelings here.