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The tealeaves of Darjeeling 1st flush is green in colour, despite this tea is categorized as black tea. I would like to explain the reason why.

 

Only the first flush has green leaves

There are 3 types tea produced in Darjeeling (India): Spring tea, the1st flush (March-April), 2nd flush ( May-June) and Autumnal tea (September – November). The color of 2nd flush Darjeeling and Autumnal Darjeeling are in orange-brown. These two types of tea literally look like a “black tea”. On the contrary, the leaves’ colour of Darjeeling 1st flush is green and its liquor colour is creamy yellow.

The liquor of Darjeeling first flush

 

They made Darjeeling 1st flush GREEN in purpose

Some people say that Darjeeling 1st flush is green because it has less polyphenol and this is the character of a spring tea. However, this saying is not true. In China, there are many premium quality black tea which are plucked and produced throughout March and April. They are all in orange-brown color and rich in theaflavin. When tea is rich in theaflavin, we could tell by observing a golden ring formed inside the cup when tea is served.

So, why is Darjeeling 1st flush GREEN? We asked this question to the tea manufacturers, and they confirmed that they intentionally wanted to make Darjeeling 1st flush look green. Actually, Darjeeling 1st flush tea could be made into orange-brown colour if the manufacturers allow the tea to have sufficient fermentation. They purposely reduce its fermentation level so that it looks green and fresh. Darjeeling Autumnal tea could also be processed into green colour if the manufacturer wanted to do so.

darjeeling autumnal

Brewed tea leaf of Darjeeling autumnal tea

 

Once upon a time, Darjeeling 1st flush was not green

According to the manufacturer, in the old days the color of first flush tea used to be similar to autumnal tea. It became so green nowadays due to market demand. The main buyers of Darjeeling 1st flush are from Japan, demands in Japan market played an important role in influencing the fermentation level of Darjeeling 1st flush. For now, all the tea gardens in Darjeeling process lighter fermented 1st flush tea, that is why all the 1st flush tea we see in market are in green colour.

 

The reason why the 1st flush tea is green

There is a little secret in the process of making a Darjeeling 1st flush.

 

Due to its long withering period, the moisture level in tealeaves reduced and resulted a slow fermentation to take place

The withering process is the key process for making a black tea. Withering is a process where tealeaves were spread evenly over a perforated plate or bamboo tray and gradually reduced its moisture content .The objective of withering it to enable rolling process to be carried on easily. With lower moisture content inside the leaf, its texture gets softer and more elastic. Once the leaves have less moisture content, it takes a longer time for the leaves to ferment (after the rolling process) as it became harder to activate the oxidation of enzyme inside the tealeaves. It is just like a dehydrated apple can hardly change into brown colour, even if it is cut in half and exposed to the air.

withering process for darjeeling tea

Withering process for Darjeeling tea

 

less fermentation

The fermentation process is carried out after rolling process. Tealeaves were spread over a stainless steel tray and left alone for some time. Usually the time spent for the fermentation of 1st flush is shorter than autumnal tea. The 1st flush leaves hardly turn brown due to lower moisture level, even if its fermentation time was as long as autumnal tea’s.

 

Darjeeling 1st flush withering process is same as Oolong tea processing

The primary objective of withering is to naturally activate the oxidation of enzymes by using dehydration method. As a result, tealeaves produced from withering give a very sweet floral flavor. In fact, Oolong tea was made in the same way. We met a few tea estate managers in Darjeeling who dare to say that Darjeeling first flush is a type of “Oolong tea”. In any case, Darjeeling 1st flush is a semi-fermented tea. It is too green to be listed as black tea. The major difference between Darjeeling 1st flush and Oolong tea is the sequence of its process.

 

Oolong Tea Process

Withering(Fermentation) → Heating(Inactivate Enzyme)  → Rolling→ Drying

 

Black Tea Process

Withering → Rolling → Fermentation → Heating(Inactivate Enzyme)→ Drying

 

For making Oolong tea, the tealeaves were heated right after the withering process in order to stop the enzymatic activity. As for the Darjeeling 1st flush, tealeaves were not heated after withering process. In stead, rolling process will be carried out and subsequently tealeaves were fermented on the tray by themselves.

rolling process of darjeeling tea

Rolling process of Darjeeling Tea

Taiwan Oolong tea which gives very refreshing ‘green tea’-like flavor are produced from skill laboured withering process. As soon as withered tealeaves start producing a desired flavor, then they will be heated immediately to stop further oxidation of the enzyme. As for Darjeeling 1st flush, tealeaves are not heated after the withering process. It subsequently rolled and fermented right after the withering process. Due to the fermentation process after withering and rolling, its flavor becomes a little thicker and smoother (more matured).

The future development of Darjeeling 1st flush

The identical floral flavor of Dajeeling 1st flush was produced during withering process. The dehydration of leaves triggers the oxidation of enzyme. What if tealeaves were heated right away to stop the enzymatic oxidation? This perhaps could create a hybrid tea that has a mixed character between a green tea and Oolong. I am not hoping for such hybrid tea to be made from Darjeeling. But there is a chance that such tea will be produced in future.

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