Tea flushes are new shoots, or leaves, plucked from the tea bush as it grows.
In hotter, more humid climates tea plants can have multiple flushes,
while tea plants growing in cooler climates
will have a shorter flushing season.
Both the first and second flushes
are considered to be the highest grades of tea.
The best flush is two tea leaves and a tea bud from the top of the plant.
You will often hear an Indian tea referred to as “First Flush,” “Second Flush” or “Autumn Tea,” or a Japanese tea referred to as “Shincha” or “Bancha.”
All of these terms refer to the “flush,” or picking of the tea.
Each growing region has its own condition and many cultures have their own nomenclature, but the basic principle is the same.
Generally speaking, this is how tea flushes work:
At the beginning of the growing season, tender new shoots grow
from the stalk of the tea bush.
These shoots have two leaves and a bud on the end.
When these leaves and a bud are picked, they are called the “first flush.”
They contain the most catechins (antioxidants), L-theanine (a stimulant) and caffeine of any of the pickings.
They also tend to have a very delicate taste, a light infusion color and a short shelf-life.
Once the tea bush has grown its two leaves and a bud,
it begins a short period of dormancy.
During this time, it grows, but very little.
The growth is trimmed to encourage new growth.
(Some plantations will use this growth to make very low-grade tea, which will not list a flush and is typically for bags and/or impoverished local markets.)
New leaves grow and are harvested.
These leaves are the “second flush.”
Some areas have subsequent harvestable growths, some don’t.
The nomenclature of flushes varies from region to region,
but the terms “first flush” and “second flush” are very common.
Indian and Japanese teas are most frequently named by flush.
Below are the names, qualities, and growth time of flushes from India and Japan.
First Flush/Spring Harvest — delicate, floral, pale infusion, usually made into black tea, but sometimes white — February/early March to April
Second Flush/Summer Harvest — full-bodied, sometimes with strong Muscat notes — mid-May to mid-June
Third Flush/Monsoon Harvest — plentiful but low in quality, very dark, dull in flavor, sometimes made into green tea — July to August
Fourth Flush/Fall Harvest — less common, very strong flavor, low quality — mid-September to late OctoberFifth Flush/Winter Harvest — uncommon, low quality — November to February
First Flush/Spring Harvest/Shincha/Ichiban-cha — delicate, fresh, a very large harvest — mid-April to early May
Second Flush/Summer Harvest/Niban-cha** — a low quality flush, often left unpicked — mid-June to July
Third Flush/Late Summer Harvest/Sanban-cha** — a mid-grade flush, often used for bags or sold loose as “bancha” for after meals or everyday drinking, less complex in flavor — July to August/September
Fourth Harvest/Fall Harvest/Yoban-cha** — an optional picking, also low grade — late September to early October
**All harvests after the first flush may be collectively referred to as “bancha.”