Shincha | The Beginning of the Year’s Tea Harvest
In the old Japanese folk song Chatsumi (“tea plucking”), women in traditional tea picking dresses are depicted as hand plucking tea leaves against the backdrop of the lush green tea fields. Hachiju-hachiya, or the eighty-eighth night after risshun (first day of spring) marks the beginning of the tea harvest season, where the tender leaves are harvested after a long winter’s rest.
May is eagerly anticipated by tea enthusiasts in Japan as it heralds the arrival of the year’s first tea.
Shincha ‘新茶’ (meaning “new tea”) refers to the first flush of tea that is harvested. Typically, tea leaves are harvested four times a year - known as Ichibancha (also known as shincha), nibancha (second), sanbancha (third) and shutobancha (autumn-winter tea).
Shincha is characterised by an earthy aroma that is brewed to a beautifully transparent yellow-green infusion. It is distinguished by its exceptionally sweet and delicate notes, which are owed to the plant’s hard labour of storing up plenty of nutrients during winter dormancy. For this reason, shincha is arguably regarded as the highest grade of sencha. Compared with the later flushes, it has a low astringency as it contains less catechin and caffeine. It is told that those who drink tea picked from the eighty-eighth day will live a year in good health.
Timing is crucial for tea growers as the tea plant goes through rapid growth at the peak of their flavour. On the same day that the young tea buds are harvested, they are also steam dried, rolled, sorted and packaged without pause so as to preserve their freshness and flavour. The first harvest is therefore considered all the more important as the year’s harvest predicates upon this delicate process.
Shincha varies in taste every year due to a number of factors - including climate, geographic location, harvesting and brewing method. For this reason, one can appreciate the individual expression of the tea plant and the labourer's careful handwork in each cup of shincha. The appreciation of shincha is also linked to the Japanese sensitivity to the changing of the seasons as well as an awareness of the passage of time. In a modern and fast-paced world, shincha offers a much needed slowing down of time and provides a deeper connection to our natural surroundings.