Westerners are not really used to thinking about how seasonality affects our tea experience. Most of us buy our teas in vacuum-packed cardboard boxes on the shelves of our local grocery store. Happily, we now have many more options available to us than just the Red Rose or Lipton brand teas, but we still drink out of these plastic-wrapped boxes. Even the variety teas are sold in the same way-- fanciful combinations of some base tea with fruits, flowers, and spices. But we still are cut off from the seasons of tea.
As the Internet allows us to learn about the where of the tea-- the terroir, the way the combination of soil, earth, weather, and so on in a specific place make the tea unique-- we must also become cognizant of the when.
Until recently, I bought my Darjeelings according to what flush and estate I was interested in at that moment. Here, a second-flush Castleton; there, a first-flush Avongrove; and so on. For a boy raised on Lipton, that level of knowledge felt very advanced.
But the effect of drinking fresh tea near the time of its picking is pretty new to me. In fact, the tea shop I normally buy from doesn't easily share this information with their customers, and they don't tell you, "Oh, this is the 2008 first-flush, a year old. Maybe you should wait a week or two for the new '09 teas." (I know this, because I called to ask when their new 2009 Spring teas were arriving. Other than the air-freighted offering, they had no other information, and seemed surprised by the question.) Because I've been in the past so dependent on my vendor, I didn't know that this timeliness was an issue at all.
But I'm coming to understand how buying a 2008 first-flush during the Spring of 2009 may not really be very wise, because the tea has been in bins for about a year, losing its aroma and specialness over the long months. It seems obvious now, but I'd never even thought of how different a brand-new, absolutely fresh tea could be, compared to one that's been on the shelf for some time.
And so I'm very excited, because with the fresh new Spring teas appearing on the market, I am prepared to be buying these teas as they become available. This is the first Spring that I have participated in the movement of the tea seasons. I've already tasted some of these spectacularly fresh teas, and I look forward to learning more, as the seasons move.