For many people Spring means crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and irises bursting up from their bulbs, trees with the sap flowing and the branches blossoming, birds singing for a mate, and all the other signs of reawakening. And for us tea lovers it also means fresh Spring (1st Flush) teas, generally lighter in flavor, as well as other teas served at outdoor tea parties (after months of being indoors away from snow and ice and cold).
The Vernal Equinox (when the hours of sunlight and darkness are equal) heralds the first day of Spring and gives us all a great reason to enjoy some great tea! Losing an hour of precious tea drinking time by setting your clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time is a pretty raw deal, but the naturally occurring (despite what the clock says) longer hours of daylight makes up for it (at least a little bit). It also signals the start (unofficially) of drinking your tea iced/chilled, should you be so inclined. In the Southeastern part of the U.S., “sweet tea” is not just a beverage, it’s an obsession, with every fast food joint, chain restaurant, and even the local hot dog stand touting theirs as “the best.”
The Seasons of Tea
Teas are harvested in “seasons.” Some teas are labeled by when they are harvested. The seasons and their labels are:
- Spring (First) Flush: First harvest season of the year, and often the most delicate and tasty tea leaves, since the plant has awakened from its Winter slumber.
- Summer (Second) Flush: A bit tougher as the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) responds to the trauma of have its tender shoots plucked off by summoning more of its plant energy to grow new leaves and buds. All this effort on the part of the photosynthesis process can result in complex flavors and a relatively long shelf life.
- Monsoon Flush: Those heavy rains spur rapid growth. The tea leaves are more flavorful than the First Flush teas, but not quite as many flavors as the Second Flush teas. The plant doesn’t have time for these to develop.
- Autumn Flush: These are supposed to be the best. Frustrated tea plants keep trying to grow only to have their new growth taken away for our consumption. They give it one more shot by putting in a Herculean effort here that results in the best tea leaves that smell great, have a wonderful flavor, and last on the shelf the longest.
Setting Up Your Spring Tea Time
Set up a Spring time tea table with a floral tablecloth, brightly colored teawares, and a big vase of fresh blooms. Select some petit fours with pastel icing, deviled eggs, and finger sandwiches made with fresh ingredients. Don’t forget to invite your friends (yes, I knew someone who actually did forget and then wondered why no one showed up).
Now for the Teas
- First Flush Darjeeling fresh off the plane (yes, some tea connoisseurs have been known to pay to have it flown in to them from India). From Darjeeling, a region in northern India, first seasonal plucking is in early- to mid-March following Spring rains.
- Jasmine Pearls Green Tea, made the traditional way of laying fresh jasmine blossoms in among the tea leaves and letting them wither together; the floral fragrance overwhelms my “sensitive sniffer” but the flavor is mild.
- Japanese Sencha Kyoto Cherry Green Tea with cherry flavoring added, a tribute to the famous cherry trees in Kyoto, Japan, kin to the cherry trees in Washington, DC, that bloom every Spring.
- Yin Zhen white tea from eastern China’s Fujian Province, a bud-plucked tea harvested from mid- to late March.
- Zhu Ye Qing from Sichuan Province China, where plucking for this tea begins in mid-March.
- Bi Luo Chun from eastern China. The earliest plucks occur from mid to end of March.
- Longjing (Dragonwell) from Zhejiang Province, China. The earliest plucks occur from mid to end of March in eastern China, and the leafy and bud green teas from Yunnan Province start to appear. While the tea is well known for its characteristically smooth flavors, the early spring pickings are more fruity, fresh, green, light, smoothly chestnutty with a touch of honeydew melon rind finish.
- Mengding Mountain Snow Buds, Huang Ya from Sichuan Province, China. Plucking for this tea begins in mid-March.
- First Flush Assams from Assam, a region in northern India, they begin their first seasonal plucking in early March.
- Nepalese black tea from eastern Nepal where harvest begins in March.
- Taiwanese Oolongs from central Taiwan where the production of semiball-rolled oolong begins in early Spring.
- Emerald Lily from Yunnan Province, China. Harvested in Spring and in Fall, this green tea has a lush lightness, a tingly-freshness, but also a creamy mildness.
- Yunnan Spring Buds from Yunnan Province, China. Harvested in early Spring (pre-Qingming season), the leaves are slightly twisted and steep up an incredibly subtle, yet flavor-rich brew: creamy, sweet orange-blossom aroma and light sweet-nut cup. Neither dry or astringent.
- Boseong Standard from the Boseong tea-growing region on the southwest coast of South Jeolla Province, South Korea. This green tea is part of their early spring harvest, full-flavored, light-bodied, grassy, smooth, and with the aroma of green floral sachet, subtle yet big tasting, slightly astringent and delightfully complex.
Take advantage of those extra hours of daylight as we head from the equinox to the Summer solstice, when the trend will have peaked and we will start back toward shorter daylight. Plan some picnics, walks in the park, hikes in the mountains, etc., and bring along the tea!
© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text