First Flush

New leaves
New leaves shooting up from the tea bushes

A first flush is the first round of leaf buds coming out of the tea bush in the year.

First flushes are considered the premium harvest for most tea varieties because the tea plants have stored a whole winter’s worth of nutrient reserve to energize that first growth rush in Spring. In some tea farms specialized in premium quality, they harvest only once a year that is this first flush.

The timing for first flush varies with the cultivar, growing environment, horticultural practice, and production requirements. In the production of premium green teas, white teas and oolongs, first flushes are highly regarded. They usually come in early in the year.

Some cultivars, such as the widely used Jiukeng Zao, budding can be as early as late February, dependent on the weather of the year, farm location and altitude. Some tea varieties require that the leaves have to grow larger before plucking, some not. For example, traditional style oolongs, such as Phoenix or Wuyi, leaves have to be fully open before plucking, their first flushes can be as late as May. In some high altitude oolong farms in Taiwan, they have to wait till June for the right moment.

How early a first flush is does not necessarily correspond with the tea quality, but rather the price. Sometimes in a same region, a first flush that comes later can be better than an earlier one. That is because plants of the same variety is likely to grow slower in higher altitude. Tea of the same variety from higher altitude are more likely to be better than that from lower grown one in the same region.

Depending on the kind of production style and taste requirements, the pluck of a first flush can compose of:

  • only the leaf shoots, i.e the leaf bud that are not even slightly open
  • the leaf shoot with one immediate young leaf
  • the leaf shoot with two immediate young leaves
  • the leaf shoot open with two immediate young leaves
  • the leaf shoot open with three immediate young leaves
  • excluding the open leaf shoot and plucking only the three young leaves under it

These refer to hand-plucked tea production only. In machine cut harvesting, a first flush includes anything protruding outside of the level of the last cut, and that are mown and sucked into the collection bag.

The resultant quality of a first flush tea is dependent on the quality of all elements of horticulture and processing, as in any tea production. First flushes may not produce the best tastes for certain black teas.

The term “first flush” appears in the following articles:

Leave a Reply