The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Shincha-Japan's First New Spring Tea
of the Preseason
In Japan the first early days of spring heralds the awakening of the tea bushes
with tender new leaves and buds, ready to be harvested and brought to market
to eagerly awaiting customers.  This first new tea of the season is called shincha
(shin=new  cha=tea).
Shincha is plucked in the pre-
season, before the first flush
spring teas.  Japan's harvesting schedule is
based on the lunar calendar as are most tea
producing coun- tries.   The shincha season is
a sub-division under Ichibancha with limited
preseason plucking from Seimei, which runs
from early April to early May.  The regular
season then begins with Ichibancha, with the
first plucking from Rikka, which runs from mid
May to mid June.

Every year there is a celebratory mood as the
Japanese people rush to their favorite tea
store or outlet to get shincha tea from the
very first harvest of the year, much like other
tea producing countries celebrate their
harvest of first flush teas, such as China's
"before the rains" teas with plucking beginning in late March, just before their Qing Ming festival,
celebrated around April 5.  

                                         Shincha reflects a saying in Japan that "each tea exists for just
                                         a short moment in time, and one tea must yield to another until the
                                         same time next year, when a new tea will replace it," and so time
                                         flows.  The meaning behind the lovely sentiment is that we only
                                         have each unique tea but for a moment, to enjoy until it is gone with
                                         the season, so we should savor and appreciate each and every tea
                                         as it comes.

                                         During winter dormancy the tea bushes store up vital compounds,
                                         vitamins, minerals, and glucose.  When the tea bushes awaken in
early spring it sends up these stored up nutrients to the tender new emerging buds and leaves,
which is why the shincha harvest contains the highest amounts of catechin polyphenols, as well
as other essential vitamins, minerals, and compounds.

Shincha is produced in all of Japan's tea
growing regions.  Its flavor is fresh and bright with a
herbaceous, grassy sweetness, and light green infusion.  Because sencha is often the first tea
to come to market, it is often shincha, but shincha can be any style of tea plucked during the
preharvest, before the main harvest begins.

Because of its short production window, just
a small amount of shincha is produced each
year, equalling approximately one-fifth of
Japan's total yearly tea production.  And be-
          cause demand far exceeds supply, it
          is usually quite expensive, with two
          ounces costing $25 to $35 or more.

          The amount of shincha produced used
          to be so small, it was only available in
          the area it was produced in, but today
          it's air-shipped around the world,
          available to all tea lovers.

          Even though it's extremely popular
          among tea drinkers, the tea producers that make shincha have long debated its merits
          when compared to other
Japanese green teas. Some tea producers argue that this early
          pre-season tea lacks the character and richness that teas develop after a resting period
          of a few months.

                                              There are normally nine manufacturing steps used to
                                              Japan's green teas.  Most teas receive the first six steps, process-
                                              ing the tea to a half finished state called aracha.  Aracha is a
                                              stable, primary tea that is kept fresh in vacuum packed foil bags
                                              and refrigerated until it's ready for the final three finishing steps,
                                              producing a finished refined tea, or shiagecha.

                                              Some producers believe that the months of "resting" give these
                                              teas a more mellow flavor, softening the sometimes sharp charac-
                                              teristics and giving the finished tea a deeper, richer flavor that is
                                              missing in the shincha.

          Despite this ongoing disagreement on the merits of shincha, it disappears quickly from
          the store shelves, usually sold out by July.

Sencha is the next spring tea to come to market and heralds
          the start of the main spring tea harvest.  Sencha is produced
          throughout the entire tea season, but the quality gradually
          diminishes over time.  The first sencha of the season, first-flush
          sencha, is always more costly mainly because it is the best,
          turning out a rich, sweet, and satisfying cup of tea.

          As the tea season goes on the quality decreases with each successive flush, as does the
          cost.  The later flushes of sencha are stronger and edgier in flavor and darker in color,
          without the sweetness or finesse of the first-flush senchas.

          So, as the saying goes, "the early bird gets the worm."  You need to get out early in
          spring to get the best teas nature has to offer.
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