Our guide to first, second and autumnal flush teas

Tea picker holding tea leaves

Does the flush really matter?

Those who really love their tea will know that black teas (Camellia Sinensis) vary hugely in their flavour, colour, complexity and aroma. In fact, black teas can easily be compared to fine wines in their dizzying diversity of taste.

So what are the elements which make black teas so different and distinct from one another? Partly of course the region in which the tea was grown as well as the genetic variation between plants. However, the time of year at which your tea has been picked can have a very important bearing on how your final brew will taste. In the tea world these variations in harvesting time are generally split into 3 categories: first, second and autumnal flushes.  So what are the differences?

First flush teas

First flush teas are -  as the name implies -  the earliest harvest of the year, which in many regions of the world begins at the end of winter/early spring. The leaves picked at this time of year are the new, most tender growth. Often it is only the delicate top two leaves and the bud which are plucked. Unsurprisingly, the tea made from first flush leaves are renowned for their light, fresh and floral flavours. There is often a little more astringency in first flush teas, which can be mitigated with careful brewing or enjoyed in its own right. Generally first flush tea contain higher levels of nutrients and caffeine than later flushes. In the Darjeeling region of India teas plucked from the first flush are highly prized and are often referred to as the ‘Champagne of tea’. Indeed, first flush green teas harvested in Japan and China are almost always considered the creme de la creme of tea harvests.

Second flush tea

Second flush teas have generally been harvested in early summer and will often have a darker appearance in the cup than first flush teas. The delicacy - which is so characteristic of the first flush - has given way to nuttier, fruitier, earthier flavours. Second flush teas are often described as having a pleasing ‘muscatel’ flavour (i.e. similar to dark, sweet muscatel grapes - we're back to wines again!). The taste is stronger yet smoother and second flush teas can be brewed more robustly than the tender leaves of the first flush harvests.

Autumnal flush tea

Autumnal flush teas are harvested right at the end of the growing season. In most tea-growing regions this is around October to November when leaf growth has slowed and the tea plant is approaching it’s dormant period. Although some tea connissours shun this later harvest it can be enjoyed for its dark, nutty, almost spicy taste and aroma. Due to these unique properties autumnal flush teas make a particularly good base for heavily spiced Indian chai teas.


So, which flush should I try?

Here at High Teas HQ we love tea from all three of these flushes. If first flush teas are your thing then keep an eye out in spring when stock starts to come in from our suppliers of the very first teas of the year. This is always an exciting time for us here at High Teas! However - and we can’t stress this enough - second and autumnal flush teas have many fabulous, interesting qualities and we HIGHLY recommend giving all of these a try to find out which you prefer! A great way to discover which teas you love most is to sign up for our Estate Tea Box, where you will receive four new teas every month, including first, second and autumnal flushes, when they’re at their very best!

Taste our top picks of seasonal teas with our Estate Tea Box!