Guest Post by Avani Jalan
What’s with the flush?
You must have heard about spring flush, or second flush with regard to tea when you buy them at fancy tea stores, or perhaps have seen it mentioned in descriptions of tea that you see online.
These references to the ‘flush’ indicate the season during which the tea was plucked and manufactured. For Assam teas, we normally have 3 flushes, the Spring flush, also referred to as the ‘first flush; Summer/Monsoon flush – most commonly referred to as the second flush, and Autumn flush or the third flush.
The term ‘flush’ refers to the literal flushing of the leaves on the tea bush. During the winter months, between December and mid-March, the tea bushes are dormant. The weather is too cold for tea plants to produce leaves. As soon as the Assam region receives the first spring rains, usually in the month of March, the bushes all start to put out leaves – or, are flush with leaves.
Light green leaves sprout to kick off a ‘flush’
When does it flush?
Since the first time in the year that the tea bush starts putting out leaves is in the spring months, the tea that’s plucked and manufactured is called first flush teas, or spring flush teas. First flush usually lasts for about 3 weeks to a month.
After this, there’s a period of dormancy, called the banjee period, where the bushes stop putting out leaves. Normally, this lasts for a maximum of 2 weeks. However, with climate change in action, and rainfall patterns changing, the banjee period has been extending, and this year – at Chota Tingrai Tea Estate the banjee period was one of the longest we’ve ever had. Our spring flush was cut short to only 2 weeks, with the banjee extending to over a month!
After this dormancy, the tea bush starts flushing again by mid-May, and this is when the quintessential Assam tea is made. We are eagerly waiting for this year’s second flush. Word is, the bushes are looking healthy, and the ‘two leaf and bud’ are starting to perk up on the bushes.
The tea bushes continue to produce teas for 4-5 months, and the peak of second flush comes in June-July when the best quality teas are made. After September, there’s another short period of dormancy that sets in.
By mid-October, the day starts shrinking, the sunlight becomes soft, and the tea bushes go into autumn flush. Tea made during this period is mild, with light coloured liquors compared to the strong second flush. Autumn flush lasts for about a month and a half, after which the tea bush has done its work for the year. Right around Thanksgiving, when the holiday mood sets in, the tea bushes also go into rest mode, and stay dormant until Spring!
Where is the second flush?
While management refers to the calendar, pluckers rely on various natural indicators to prepare for the arrival of second flush. The appearance of snakes and migratory birds signals changing weather and thus, the advent of second flush. Leaves growing back on bare shade trees is a more common way of forecasting harvests, and pluckers look out for sprouting leaves.
Currently we have many trees that are still bare and awaiting leaves, which means second flush is yet to come. It has been an uncharacteristically long dormancy this year.