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What is a first flush?

A first flush is the first round of young leaf buds coming out of the tea bushes in the year. Depending on the kind of production style and taste requirements, the pluck of a first flush can compose of:
  • only the leaf shoots, i.e the leaf bud that are not even slightly open
  • the leaf shoot with one immediate young leaf
  • the leaf shoot with two immediate young leaves
  • the leaf shoot open with two immediate young leaves
  • the leaf shoot open with three immediate young leaves
  • excluding the open leaf shoot and plucking only the three young leaves under it
young leaf shoots and leaves

These refer to hand-plucked tea production only. In machine cut harvesting, a first flush includes anything protruding outside of the level of the last cut, and that are mown and sucked into the collection bag.

First flushes are considered the premium harvest for most tea varieties because the tea plants have stored a whole winter's worth of nutrient reserve to energize that first growth rush in Spring. In some tea farms specialized in premium quality, they harvest only once a year that is this first flush.

The resultant quality of a first flush tea is dependent on the quality of all elements of horticulture and processing, as in any tea production. First flushes may not produce the best tastes for certain black and post-fermented teas.

The timing for first flush varies with the cultivar, growing environment, horticultural practice, and production requirements. In the productions of premium green teas and the white tea Silver Needles, first flushes are highly regarded. They usually come in early in the year. Some cultivars, such as the widely used Jiukeng Zao, budding can be as early as late February, dependent on the weather of the year, farm location and altitude. For producing traditional style oolongs, such as those of Phoenix or Wuyi, where the leaves have to be let grown and fully open before plucking, their first flushes can be as late as late May. In some high altitude farms in Taiwan, sometimes they have to wait till June for the right moment.

How early a first flush is does not necessarily correspond with the fineness of the tea quality, but rather the price.

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