What does First Flush Darjeeling have in common with Oolong tea? It’s all about the process. Despite Darjeeling being a black tea, the Springtime picking has a unique fresh greenness to it that makes it a little different from other Darjeeling harvests. Oolong also has a unique oxidation process that makes it an interesting meld between green and black tea.
Oolong is often described as an “in-between” tea compared to green and black. But surprise – it’s a little more complicated than that. The oxidation process of black tea involves the leaves being crushed or twisted, which turns the leaves brown after they’ve been oxidized. Green tea is traditionally processed by withering, heating, rolling and drying. The heating actually prevents oxidation and preserves a freshness. Black tea, on the other hand, is processed by being withered, rolled, oxidized and dried. Oolong tea begins to oxidize before it is crushed, which is why people often describe it as “in-between green and black”, according to Eric Scott, a self-proclaimed Tea Geek and graduate student at Tufts University.
Tea picked at the beginning of the season (mid-March to May depending on weather) is known as “first flush”. First flush teas are made from baby tea leaves that have just woken up after being dormant for the winter. What sets First Flush Darjeeling apart from other black teas? It isn’t processed as deeply. When it is rolled, it retains some of the “leaf juice”, which makes it special, according to Andy Boone, Master Blender at Happy Lucky’s. That’s why you get a subtle greenness in the leaves and an abundance of silver tips. The liquor is smooth on the palate with undertones of citrus and grape.
Tea processing and picking is one small part of the specialness of tea. It’s amazing that all these flavors can come from a single kind of plant. What else are you interested in learning about in the world of tea? Let us know! We love to geek out on tea.