The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Japan's Shincha
The First New Tea of the Season
Springtime in Japan means shincha (shin=new cha=tea), the first new tea of the
season to come to market.  Shincha can be any new crop or style of tea made
from leaf plucked during the preharvest, before the main spring flush harvest
begins.
Often times shincha is sencha be-
cause it's usually one of the earli-
est teas to come to market.

Shincha is made from the first tender new leaves of
the season and plucking begins in early April and
runs roughly a month, through early May.  

The shincha plucking season coincides with
China's
Qing Ming tea harvest which begins April 5th
through the 20th.  These Qing Ming teas are called
"before the rain" or yu qian teas.

Most Asian agricultural practices are gauged by a
solar calendar based on movements or divisions of
the sun in relation to the earth's position.  This solar
calendar is made up of twenty-four seasonal divi-
sions that mark the expected dates of natural occurrences in fifteen day cycles spaced through-
out the twelve months of the year.

When harvesting
green tea each day is important, with rapid
changes in the leaf as it grows and sends out new shoots, which
get larger each day.  So, timing is everything, as changes to the
leaf occur so quickly, that a tea being made one week, may not
be made the next.

Closely following that of both
China and Korea, the Japanese tea
season is as follows:

  • shincha-the first new tea of the season, limited early plucking from Seimei (early April)
  • ichibancha-first plucking from Rikka (mid-May)
  • nibancha-second plucking from Geshi (end of June)
  • sanbancha-third plucking from Risshu (mid August)
  • yobancha-fourth plucking from Shuban (late September)

For the Japanese, shincha represents the belief that each new tea exists for just a short time,
until it is replaced by the next tea to be harvested, not to be seen until the following year when
the cycle begins anew.

The Japanese eagerly anticipate the bright
flavors and grassy sweetness of the first
shincha tea harvest, associating its arrival
with a prosperous new harvest ahead.

Shincha is produced in all three major tea
producing regions of
Japan.  These early
spring green teas are so coveted because
they contain the largest amounts of what
makes them so delicious.

The tea plants store sugars and other com-
pounds in their roots during the winter dor-
mancy period.  As spring approaches and
the weather warms, the plants send the
sugars and other tasty compounds to the tips of the
plants, fueling new tea growth.  In the early, cool
days of spring, the leaves grow slowly, making
even more concentrated and complex flavor com-
pounds.

Some
tea producers believe that these early teas lack the  finesse and rich flavor that develops
in teas that have rested.

Most Japanese teas are finished into aracha, or crude tea which is refrigerated and kept fresh in
vacuum packed foil bags until it is ready to receive the final three finishing and refining steps,
producing a finished tea or shiagecha.

Some tea producers believe shincha lacks the more mellow, richer
flavor these teas acquire during this lengthier processing cycle.

Whatever the case may be, shincha remains a favorite tea, herald-
ing the beginning of the new tea season.  Shincha represents
about one-fifth of Japan's total yearly harvest.  It is produced in
small amounts, packaged immediately, and usually sold out by mid
summer.

Because it is so limited, it's also quite expensive, as most early spring teas are, so expect to pay
around $25 - $35 and up for just two ounces.  
Enjoy.
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