Darjeeling 1st Flush is at last nearly here – and find out what else has been filling up my tasting table this month.

It’s been two months since I posted about sourcing this year’s spring teas from my kitchen in London – rather than from gardens around the world. I’ve now had the chance to taste some of those teas and make our selections, so it feels like a great time to update you on what’s happening at origins across the globe and what you can expect to be drinking this year.

Looking ahead, as we go deeper into the season, I’ll be sharing more updates most Mondays (here and on our Instagram channel). These will tell you what’s coming in each week and how the seasons are progressing – so do check them out. I’d love feedback too – just leave comments below about what you’d like to know and any questions.

For now, let’s start with somewhere we last updated you on back in April…

Comparing Darjeeling 1st Flush Samples in the factory at Badamtam
Comparing Darjeeling 1st Flush Samples in the factory at Badamtam

Darjeeling

We’re usually drinking our Darjeeling 1st flush by the end of April. Right now, though, we’re hearing from thirsty Darjeeling 1st flush fans who are keen to taste this season’s tea – and we don’t blame them. We actually selected our 1st flush very early this year before the lockdown in the gardens – it was produced when the conditions were perfect. Tea master Sen at Badamtam Garden knew what I was looking for and so they produced a very tippy batch for us (this means that the tea was picked very carefully). This tippy nature and the great production conditions mean it’s very floral and the syrupy character is emphasised.

Why are we still waiting? Not long after the pressures and disappointments of lockdown, the region experienced a bad cyclone. All Darjeeling tea travels through Kolkata, which was affected badly enough that offices and businesses were closed for a period. This created a very long backlog for getting samples and teas sent to London.

Darjeeling 1st flush is always heavily anticipated, and we work hard every year to make it available for tea explorers as quickly as possible. The anticipation is in part because for many, it represents the first taste of spring and the arrival of the new tea season; and in part because the character and taste of the traditional style can change very quickly after it’s produced, so it tastes best when it’s very fresh.

This year I have selected what’s known as the “clonal” style of 1st flush – it is made using newer cultivars of the tea bush that produce lighter, sweeter more aromatic 1st flush than the traditional style which has some briskness (this is like structure – it means it feels a little bit rough or sharp in the mouth). When briskness combines with sweetness it creates a very refreshing character. In the traditional style of 1st flush, it’s the briskness that tends to dominate with time and for some, it starts to mask or cover up the floral aromatics. That’s the reason it’s best drunk for just a few months after it’s produced. This newer style though does not age in the same way – in fact, I was still drinking last year’s 1st flush until recently and really enjoying it.

I’m pleased to say that our 1st flush from the organic Badamtam Garden remained in the cool climate of Darjeeling during the cyclone and so avoided the heat of Kolkata. It has now left Kolkata so I am expecting it imminently!

And what of the 2nd Flush? I’m happy to report the gardens are now back up to 100% of their workforces and 2nd flush production is in full swing.

This year, I’m looking for something slightly different from our 2nd flush. We know the impact that organic production has on the health of producers and their environments – and indeed us as tea drinkers – so I’m only considering teas that have been produced organically.

I’m hearing some good reports that quality this year will be very high, thanks to the long recovery period of the bushes after the 1st flush was cut short. As I work through the samples as they arrive, I’ll share more detail on the individual gardens we select.

The tasting table at Badamtam when I was there last spring
The tasting table at Badamtam when I was there last spring
Tom tasting tea at home
This year's tasting table in my London kitchen!

Now, over to China…

Dragon Well

Mr Wen’s organic Dragon Well tea has arrived and we launched it this week. The buds are smaller because of last summer’s drought, but this has not affected the taste. The tea is brilliantly spring fresh, but with the underlying warmth from the firing to bring out its characteristic chestnut flavours. – I’m really enjoying drinking it.

To see the differences between this year’s tea and last year’s, check out Felicity’s very short video.

Taking in the view in Yong’an garden in Chun’an County - the garden we source our Organic Dragon Well from
Taking in the view in Yong’an garden in Chun’an County - the garden we source our Organic Dragon Well from

Red Dragon

Ever since we bought our first batch of Red Dragon, I’ve been working closely with the tea master, Chen Qiguang, looking at how the tea’s developing as the bushes mature and the garden establishes itself. When I tasted the spring tea last week, I liked it, but it has quite a different character to what we had last spring. This years reminded me a little bit of a good high-grown Ceylon, but that meant it was a little dry in its floral aromas rather than sweet and fruity. I’ve asked Chen to try baking this spring batch a bit – and I’ll also taste the summer batch. I’m expecting these on the tasting table early in July.

Chen Qiguang and Me in the Red Dragon Garden
Chen Qiguang and Me in the Red Dragon Garden
Red-Dragon-in-the-middle-of-oxidation---during-this-process-the-leaves-will-go-from-being-bright-green-to-a-deep-red-colour
Red Dragon in the middle of oxidation during this process the leaves will go from being bright green to a deep red colour

What’s next?

Right now, I’m deep in prime second flush Assam Breakfast tasting, while tracking the Gyokuro samples that are winging their way from Japan daily. I’ll be back here soon to let you know how they are tasting. I’ve had reports today that unfortunately Assam has had some flooding this week – this will definitely affect the flavour of the tea that is being produced and reduce the quality. I’ll be speaking to the farmers and keeping very close to the gardens to find the flavours and teas I’m looking for – and that best celebrate the uniqueness of Assam as an origin.

5 responses to “Sourcing Update: July”

  1. Really interesting post on the new spring teas and fantastic news on the expected arrival date for 1st Flush Darjeeling. You have also garnered my interest in 2nd flush this year, which I don’t normally buy.

    • Hi Judith. Unfortunately I haven’t found a Nilgiri Frost tea this year and as the season is short, I’ll have to wait until early next year now to see what what comes up. If you like the sharp refreshing Nilgiri though, I’d recommend trying Darjeeling 1st Flush as an alternative. It’s more floral than Nilgiri and with less bite, but still with that refreshing character. It’s slightly more syrupy too. Do let us know if you want any other recommendations! – Tom.

  2. Hi I am very interested in the biology of your first flush report timing and organic then an enforced wait before second flush meaning the bush got time to recover, so are there some lessons in all of this?
    I am especially interested as my grandfather was recovering from a World War One illness in Darjeeling with a tea planter. As they did a lot of Tiger hunting I wonder if Kolkata experienced disruptions due to the war upsetting supply ships to Europe and if inadvertently they found out the same process then?
    Or is it unique in the tea plantation history?
    Would be fun to know!
    Love Liz

    • Hi Liz. Thank you for your message – it’s really interesting to hear about your grandfather and I will definitely ask the tea farmers when I’m next in Darjeeling. The most recent example that we have is from 2018, when the 2nd flush was lost entirely to a political strike in the area (not specific to the tea gardens). The same hypothesis was made then that bushes would have time to rest but actually we didn’t see much difference in the next year’s 1st flush. In that case the gardens were left entirely untended. This year during lockdown, they have been able to use a skeletal workforce to maintain the gardens, which is why I (and speaking to the farmers, they too) think that there is a better chance of a good effect on this year’s 2nd flush. I hope that helps answer your question – Tom.

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