Mike Harney Spills the Tea: Tea Seasons

We get a lot of questions about tea here at Harney & Sons -- we’re pretty sure it’s because we’re a global tea company -- but the question we probably get asked the most is about tea seasons and about the difference between first, second and third flush. We will straight up skip the juvenile potty humour and go right for the fascinating facts about tea growing seasons and what all those terms mean.

What Does Tea Growing Season Mean?

The cycle refers to growth patterns of the tea plant. So, even though the tea plant is an evergreen and never shed its leaves, like a maple tree it does have times when it grows and times when it stops. Most growth periods are called “flushes.” The flushes vary depending on how close the plants are to the equator. Most northern hemisphere growing areas (China, India, Taiwan and Japan) follow the same seasons as we have. Growing stops in the winter, starts in the spring and peaks in the summer.

What Does the “Flush” Terminology Indicate?

Glad you asked! Spring growth in the first flush. Usually that is growth based upon stored energy from the previous year.

After the tea plant consumes all of its stored energy from the last season, it takes a pause -- kinda like most of us after Thanksgiving dinner. When it has enough energy from the spring and early summer, it does another growth season. Not all areas make a second flush. In the Lung Ching tea area, they cut the tea plants way back and wait until the next spring. And in Japan, it becomes bancha, which is not as good as the sencha made a few weeks before.

That leaves third flush, which is -- wait for it -- the third growing phase! Most areas do not worry about this. However, in India, after the plants dry out from the drenching monsoons, they start to grow again. These are more frequently called autumnal. It is a season of little production or note.

Is One Season or Flush Better Than Another?

This is all in the eye of the beholder. The Chinese would say “yes,” and the Japanese would agree. With Darjeeling from India, some people favour the brisk, greenish first flush. And some are aficionados of the darker teas with muscatel notes. Assam barely makes any first flush teas, saving their powder for the strong malty second flush teas. With oolongs, most people prefer the spring teas (more “soup” as they say).

While we’re talking about “season” and “flush,” you should know the terms are similar, but the Chinese use the terms of season, while British Legacy Teas from areas of India and Sri Lanka use the flush terms.

What Impact Does Weather Have?

The impact is an interplay of flush (which follows the seasons) and the weather. So spring comes each year, sometimes earlier but sometimes later depending on the weather. Nowadays, it is usually earlier because of global warming. Weather also affects the growth of any flush -- how hot and how much rain affects the growth of the tea leaves and how they make your favourite beverage taste.

What Seasons of Teas Does Harney Purchase?

Most of our Chinese teas are from the spring, with black teas coming after the green teas. Similarly, the best Japanese teas are from the spring or first flush. So, we buy our green teas from the spring or first flush, also many of the specialty black teas from that time. Our main Chinese black teas are from the second flush. As mentioned, in India it varies. Darjeeling is from both flushes, with the main purchase of blended darjeeling mostly from the second flush. Assam is 100% second flush.

I hope this helps you understand the terminology a little better than you may have previously. This type of topic is one of the reasons I love tea -- it’s an incredibly complex product, and there’s so much that goes into a simple cup of tea that most people don’t know. I find it fasTEAnating!