The unique flavour of a Darjeeling tea is often described as a ‘Muscatel’ but the flavours vary with the season – and it is the plucking period that defines the season. There are four harvests a year in India: First, Second, Monsoon and Autumn each producing teas with different characteristics.
It is a common misconception that the earlier the flush the higher the grade, but though the First Flush is highly sought after because it contains the new buds, it is possible to have an extremely high grade, very desirable tea from the Second Flush as well as having a lower quality tea from the First Flush.
First Flush, Easter Flush (March – April)
After the dormant Winter months, the bushes have delicate new shoots and the leaves are tender with a very light grey-green glazed appearance. The infused leaf has a prominent lime greenish brightness and a floral scent and the liquor has a clear, fresh, bright, lively character with a brisk flavour and a pleasant hint of mild astringency.
Second Flush, Spring Flush (May – June)
The succulent leaves have a purplish bloom and are picked with a sprinkling of silvery tips – the leaf buds. The liquor is more rounded and mellow with a slightly fruity flavour. The liquor has a distinctive amber colour and the famous ‘Muscatel” flavour becomes more pronounced.
Monsoon Flush, Summer Flush (July – September)
During this period the liquor changes and it develops a stronger profile but retains the classic brightness and character with a rich and full-bodied aroma. These ‘Monsoon’ teas have more colour, are stronger and make up the bulk of the ‘breakfast’ blends.
Autumn Flush (October – November)
The Tea now has a light coppery tinge and the liquor has a delicate Autumnal note.The liquor takes on a light copper/brownish tinge with a delicate yet sparkling character and a quite distinct from the Spring and Summer teas. The infused leaf has a coppery gold brightness with a sweet, fresh aroma.
Winter Months (December – February)
Dormant period with no production.
Even within these broad categories, climactic variations and the distinctive characteristics of each estate will mean there are significant differences between the teas produced – all part of Darjeeling’s legendary appeal.