There was a time when our eating habits were heavily influenced by growing seasons. Asparagus was something eaten in the spring, when it first emerged from the spring-warmed soil. Melons were treats to be enjoyed on hot summer afternoons and berries were a fleeting gift of scorching days. We now live in a time when shipping and transportation systems allow us to enjoy these foods throughout the entire year. However, it does not mean the quality is always the same. Anyone who has eaten a tomato in January knows that convenience has its price. But what about tea?
Many of us are used to enjoying our favorite teas year-round, but it is worth recognizing that tea is also a seasonal crop. Knowing tea’s calendar can help tea drinkers discover some fleeting and fine treasures.
Pre-Qing Ming teas – Chinese green teas, generally picked before April 5.
These are the first Chinese green teas harvested each year. This harvest of tender, new leaves yields particuarly fine Dragonwell and Bi Lo Chun teas. Some vendors advertise other types of teas like oolongs as Pre-Qing Ming, but those teas do not necessarily benefit from the use of such young, fresh leaves. Some tea drinkers prefer the slightly later Yu Qian “before the rain” teas, which are Chinese green teas picked between April 5th and 20th. Read more about Pre-Qing Ming here.
Yin Zhen – Chinese white tea, mid-March to mid-April
Yin Zhen, also known as Silver Needle, is a noteworthy tea from China’s Fujian province. It is only harvested for a few days each year and it is skillfully dried to produce a unique and prized tea.
Sakura sencha – Japanese green teas, late March through May
Sencha is the most popular tea in Japan, but this version is produced for a very limited time. The blooming of sakura, the cherry blossoms, is tracked each year in Japan, much as the fall foliage is followed throughout New England. This special sencha includes cherry blossoms and leaves and is usually only available for a few weeks in the spring.
Shincha – Japanese green teas, May through July
The word shincha translates to “new tea.” These first leaves of the year are harvested, then lightly steamed. These leaves are considered to nutrient rich after a winter of dormancy. Because of its very minimal processing, it is highly perishable and only available seasonally. Several companies accept pre-orders of shincha as supplies are so limited.
Few teas have become so known by their harvest schedule as India’s Darjeelings. It does not take long before a new tea drinker becomes aware of the differences of first flush and second flush Darjeelings.
First Flush Darjeeling – Indian black teas, late-February to April
First Flush Darjeelings are a lighter black tea with a delicate flavor and a pale liquor. There are floral notes to this brew and the supply is scarcer than other flushes.
Second Flush Darjeeling – Indian black teas, June to mid-August
Second Flush Darjeelings are much darker and more robust than First Flush. Rather than floral, the tea has a more fruity flavor. This tea represents the muscatel, or grape, taste that many associate with Darjeeling teas.
Autumnal Flush – Indian black teas, October to November
These teas are not as well known as the other flushes. The flavor is not as bold as a second flush.
Assam teas are also classified as first flush or second flush. Again, the first flush is generally lighter and fresher tasting than second flush.
You can read more about the Darjeeling flushes here.