Have a Spring Fling with First Flush Teas
By Colleen Luckett
When you read the quote in this picture, was your first thought, “That’s SO me!”? Well, if you haven’t tried the oh-so-amazing first flush teas of the spring season you might be seriously missing out. Spring fever doesn’t even begin to cover it!
What is a first flush tea?
The first flush is determined by the geography and climate of the region where the tea is grown—and there are perfectly delicious winter, summer, and fall harvests—but first flush is often synonymous with spring. First flush is when growers pluck the tips of tea leaves ahead of the regular harvest season. This is said to be the youngest, most tender part of the tea plant, yielding the purest and freshest cup of tea it can produce. Each additional flush produces different flavor and aroma characteristics as the growing season for that plant progresses.
Spring teas such as Japanese sencha (the first harvest of which is called shincha) and Chinese longjing, as well as Taiwan's airy high-mountain oolongs, India's first-flush Darjeelings, and Hawaii’s “premium tips,” are thought to be the best of the best.
As with most first-harvest yields, first flush teas aren’t plentiful, which means they’re premium in taste and quality – so you’re making an investment! In China and Japan, where tea isn't just a commodity but also a way of life, a pound of select early spring harvests can run you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. On that note, it’s best to buy these exquisite teas from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged.
How do I store it?
First flush teas can last up to one year if stored properly in a cool, dark place and in an opaque, airtight container. They also should be away from light, moisture, and pantry items like coffee and spices that can leach flavor into the tea leaves. You can get further storage instructions from your tea producer for your own first flush tea.
How do I brew it?
Each first flush is different depending on where and how the tea was cultivated, harvested, and processed. To brew the perfect cup, as with proper storage, ask your tea vendor for brewing instructions specific to the tea you purchased. Here are a few general brewing tips brought to you from the folks at Teatulia.com:
- Start with fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Spring water is the best.
- Brew in slightly cooler temperatures for less time to avoid a tea that is too astringent and bitter. First flush teas are typically more lightly oxidized compared to other black teas.
- If you don’t have an electric kettle with temperature control, just remember that at sea level water simmers at 190 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. The boiling temperature drops about 1.66 degrees for every 1,000 feet in altitude increase, so it’s 202 degrees here in Denver, Colorado.
- If your first flush tea came with specific recommendations for a brewing ratio of tea to water, use those. But about 2 grams of loose-leaf tea per 8 oz. cup of water is a safe bet.
- Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel. We here at Koffee Kompanions suggest using one of our beautiful Tea Tabard tea cozies specially designed with rounded corners to “hug” the table and keep the heat in.
- Taste your tea after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer. Remember, the longer your tea steeps, the more it will add bitterness and astringency.
- You can steep most premium first flush teas multiple times.
Note: Drink your first flush tea without milk and sugar for the purest taste. Put ‘em back in the cupboard!
Last step: turn off your phone, tell the kids to go play outside, and lose yourself in the luxury of that first sip. Ahhhhhhh.
Have you tried some of these first flush teas? Please regale us with your experience in the comments below!