Darjeeling tea is one of the tastiest black teas in the world, with a flavor unlike anything else on the market. That’s why it’s so highly praised, why it is often the most expensive and best tasting tea variety used in tea blends and why it costs more than many other varieties of single region teas. But with so many different types of Darjeeling tea, including first flush, second flush and third flush, how is the average buyer supposed to know what to buy?
If you’re stuck wondering what the different types of Darjeeling mean and what’s the difference between first flush Darjeeling vs second flush Darjeeling, then this is the guide for you.
Different Types of Darjeeling Tea
There are a few different types of Darjeeling tea. All of these should be grown in the Darjeeling region in West Bengal, because it has protected status, which means that only teas produced here can use the name. That helps to make things a little easier for customers, but the type of “flush” complicates it.
Darjeeling tea is often branded as one of the following:
- First Flush
- Second flush
- Third Flush
- In-Between Flush
- Autumnal Flush
- Rain Flush
Confused? Well, you don’t need to be, because it’s actually a lot simpler than you might think.
What is First Flush, Second Flush, Third Flush Darjeeling Tea?
The “flush” simply refers to the growing season, which are the periods in which it is grown and harvested.
First Flush Darjeeling Tea is grown from the middle of March to May. Second Flush Darjeeling Tea is grown from June to the middle of August. Third Flush Darjeeling Tea is from October to November and is also known as Autumn Flush or Autumnal Flush. The In-Between Flush Teas are grown in the short window between the first two flushes, which are the most popular, while the Rain one is grown between the second and third, which is when the monsoon season hits.
First Flush Darjeeling vs Second Flush
First flush tea tends to be very high and golden in color, with a rich, fragrant and lively taste that truly brings this unique tea blend to life. Second flush, on the other hand, is much darker, richer and deeper, perhaps more like traditional black teas that you might be used to.
The first flush teas are harvested when the leaves are full of flavor and character. They are fresh and simply divine. The second flush is harvested after a change in the structure of the plant, which is caused by bugs that interact with the plant as part of its natural cycle. This is why it tends to be stronger, darker and deeper.
Third Flush Darjeeling Tea Flavor
Third flush is somewhat rare when compared to first and second. It can be considered as a mixture of the other two in regards to the way it smells, looks and tastes. It has a light flavor not unlike first flush, but it has a texture, a fragrance and a color that is closer to second flush.
Which Darjeeling Flush is Best?
This is one of those things that comes down to preference. However, most drinkers prefer first flush and it also happens to be the most expensive and the most sought-after. It’s also our favorite, as you might have gathered from the description above (we tried to keep it neutral, but we love this tea, so it wasn’t easy).
It’s also a supply and demand thing, because first flush Darjeeling tea is produced in smaller qualities than the other varieties. This, combined with the obsession that the tea drinking world has for all Darjeeling tea, means they have the world at their feet after the harvest season.
As we said though, it’s all about preference. Most tea drinkers prefer either the first flush or the second flush, with third flush rarely getting a look in. Think of it like the console wars, with first and second being Xbox and Playstation, and third being Nintendo. It’s okay, but for true connoisseurs of the art, it’s all about one of the other two.
If you’re a big tea drinker, then we would recommend trying both of these flushes for yourself. And if you find that you love them both, then try the other flushes as well. There is so much to experience, so much to explore with this region. It doesn’t get much better than this where black tea is concerned.
Does the Season Change the Flavor?
Yes. It has quite a significant impact on the tea. Not only does a change in season bring with it some environmental changes, including the insects we mentioned for the second flush Darjeeling tea, but it also brings with it a drastic change in the amount of sunshine and humidity that the plants get.
In fact, the huge differences between first and second flush are great examples of how weather, seasons, and temperature changes can impact on the harvest of a tea. This is why it’s so important for tea to be produced under very specific conditions and why most teas are grown in the same region as they always have been and why growers trying to setup shop outside of those regions often struggle to create a product that excites the tea drinking public.
There are exceptions to this rule and we have enjoyed some very nice tasting tea grown in the south of England, for instance. But while this was more than passable, it didn’t come close to the best teas we have enjoyed from Indian, African and Chinese growers.
How do I Know Which Flush my Darjeeling Tea is?
It should indicate the type of flush on the packet. This is something that all the best providers list and something that the sellers should be more than happy to list if they use first or second flush. However, if a cheaper type of Darjeeling is being used, such as a third or rain flush, then they may try their best to avoid mentioning it instead using marketing buzzwords like “Fine Darjeeling or Premium Darjeeling”.
This might be the case with Darjeeling teas that are added to cheaper tea blends, as well as ones that are bundled into flavored teas along with an assortment of herbs, fruits and more. From a customer’s perspective, this is not good. You want a brand that is honest with you and by hiding this information they are not being honest.