Even though all teas come from the same species of plant, cultures around the world have developed many different ways of cultivating, crafting, and talking about tea. Often, the terms used to indicate grades or quality in one region are not applicable to teas grown in other countries, or even neighboring areas.
‘First flush’, for instance, describes the harvest date of a tea. Initially used in Darjeeling, a mountainous region of India, the first flush of the tea bush consists of the first buds of the season, which emerge after a cold dormant season. As in the temperate tea-producing regions of China, these tender young leaves are highly prized for their soft, smooth, and naturally sweet flavors.
Today, the term ‘first flush’ is applied to many teas that are not from Darjeeling. It is now common to see first flush teas from Assam, Sri Lanka, or other tea growing countries. But in China and Taiwan, early harvests go by different names.
In part, this is because many styles of tea made in China utilize a full stem, including 2-3 leaves with the bud. The same logic applies to most Assam teas, which are made with mature leaves to achieve their famously bold flavor. For all of these teas, different factors are used as measures of quality. They might be graded on elevation, or lineage, though most are still preferable when picked in the spring.
For green and white teas, which are graded by harvest date, Chinese growers have unique names for their early harvests in every region. In Zhejiang, spring Dragonwell leaves are called ming qian, referring to a harvest before the Qingming holiday that signals the beginning of spring rains. In Fuding County, the buds plucked in the early spring are called Silver Needle, for their distinctive closed shape and downy white coating.
Just as each region of China has developed unique styles for growing and crafting, they have also come up with distinct ways to describe their best teas. Despite the fact that Darjeeling and Dragonwell are both graded by harvest date, it is typically only Indian teas that are called ‘first flush’.
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