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Japanese Green Tea Hibiki-an
Atsushi Yasui
36 Shimonoto Yuyadani Ujitawara, Kyoto
610-0221
Japan
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Shincha News Flash 2013

Shincha News Flash!

We have been following the green tea sprouts from early spring when the tea trees put out their first new buds to the harvest of Shincha, the first tea of the year. Now, we bring you the latest breaking news and information from Hibiki-an's tea farm in Ujitawara in Kyoto!

Aracha processing by hand

Sorting by hand

Traditional style farm work

Modern Aracha processing machine

Sorting by modern facility

Modern agricultural techniques such as improvements of fertilizer and mechanization have dramatically improved agricultural productivity.
In this news flash, we would like to compare the productivity of traditional versus modern Japanese green tea growing and processing steps. We’ll point out and compare a few steps below.

After harvest, fresh tea leaves are processed the same day by the tea farmer. These tea leaves are called "Aracha" and their weight is approximately one-fifth that of fresh tea leaves. This processing method was created by Sohen Nagatani in 1738 and then mechanized.
The Japanese green tea processing machine was first invented around 1897, and has continuously been improved. Until that time, fresh tea leaves had been processed by hand. It is said that it was very hard work and one craftworker could process a maximum of only 18 kg (39.83 lb) of Aracha per day. In contrast, the average farmer’s factory today can process 200 kg (441 lb) Aracha per day.

Aracha is processed by the farmer, but these tea leaves are not finished. The tea leaves are usually finished later by the wholesale merchant. Aracha is sorted, dried, blended and so on. During the sorting process, Aracha is sorted into leaves, stems, veins, and powder. The sorting process had been done by hand until around 1970. A worker had been able to sort 5 kg to 7 kg (11.0 lb to 15.4 lb) tea leaves per day. A modern sorting facility can sort approximately 200 kg (441 lb) tea leaves per day.

It is said that agricultural productivity has improved exponentially over the last 60 or 70 years. This is all thanks to modern agricultural techniques, improvements of fertilizer, mechanization, and so on.

As above, productivity at every step of the way has dramatically improved. As a result, recently you can enjoy even the highest grade tea like our pinnacle grade, which is on par with teas dedicated to the royal family at an extremely reasonable price, even if you live outside Japan.
Harvest in May



Stored in the Granary



In contrast to Sencha, which is enjoyed for its freshness immediately after harvest, Gyokuro and Matcha gain an enriched flavor over time, and so are best some months after harvest. A long time ago, people started drinking Gyokuro and Matcha from the May harvest of the previous year at the Autumn ceremony "Kuchikiri no Gi". Some tea connoisseurs seek out "Kuradashi Gyokuro" and "Kuradashi Matcha" which has been enriched over a few years time. "Kuradashi" means taken out from the granary.

We at Hibiki-an are currently in the process of creating a very small quantity of "Kuradashi Gyokuro" and "Kuradashi Matcha". Last year, in May 2012, we took a small quantity of Gyokuro and Matcha tea leaves and stored them in the granary in the traditional way in order to make "Kuradashi Gyokuro" and "Kuradashi Matcha". Like a fine wine aged in the cellar, these tea leaves have been stored since the May 2012 harvest and will be ready for sale in Autumn 2013. We will be selling this special "Kuradashi Gyokuro" and "Kuradashi Matcha" in mid-Autumn. Please wait and see!

Present storage techniques enable to keep tea leaves fresh for almost one entire year. Today's connoisseurs favor both fresh Gyokuro and Matcha, along with enriched Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha. It just depends on each person's individual taste and preference. Indeed, fresh flavor of Shincha Gyokuro and Shincha Matcha inspires delight of the spring and the early summer season.

Now Shincha Gyokuro and Shincha Matcha are available at our webshop. Would you try the fresh flavor of Shincha Gyokuro and Shincha Matcha which can be enjoyed only once a year during the harvest season?






Modern facilities and expertise regarding tea preservation enable us to keep tea leaves in good condition for a year or more. However, Shincha (the first tea of the year) just after harvest is known for its unique excellent and refreshing aroma.
The remarkable fresh aroma of Shincha comes from a type of natural alcohol, the leaf alcohol (formula: C6H12O) that is found in fresh green tea leaves though a few hundred kinds of ester constituents create the refreshing aroma. This special leaf alcohol can be found only in Japanese green tea.

The leaf alcohol is created by a kind of fatty acid known as linolenic acid. The most leaf alcohol can be found not in Niban Cha (the second tea of the year) or Sanban Cha (the third tea of the year) but Shincha or Ichiban Cha (the first tea of the year) because the fatty acids which have accumulated since autumn of the previous year are most concentrated in the first harvest.
Leaf alcohol easily evaporates because it is volatile. Shincha retains its leaf alcohol only a few months, even if Shincha is specially finished and stored. We take great care to preserve our Shincha teas to retain the leaf alcohol. For example, if tea leaves are not allowed enough time to dry during the finishing process, the tea can easily deteriorate. In addition, all of our teas are specially packaged to stay fresh.

It is said that the leaf alcohol, which is the source of the unique excellent and refreshing aroma of Shincha, has the comfortable aroma of a lush green forest after rain. It works to relax your mind and body.
The aroma of tea leaf alcohol is not only attractive to humans. Insects also love tea leaf alcohol. When tea leaves effuse the scent of leaf alcohol, it draws many insects to the tea fields. If farmers allow weeds to grow around the tea trees, the leaf alcohol prompts the weeds to produce phenol. Phenol kills harmful insects, therefore the weeds act as a natural insect repellant. Leaf alcohol helps tea trees to protect themselves from insects.

To enjoy the unique excellent and refreshing aroma of the tea leaf alcohol, it is best to brew fresh green tea with a little higher temperature water. The leaf alcohol is well extracted by higher temperature water. It is the reason why we recommend two ways of brewing Shincha (brewing by higher and regular temperature water).

It is only once each year, during the harvest season, that you can enjoy the unique excellent and refreshing aroma of Shincha.

Packaging in 20kg vacuum sealed bags

Cold storage chamber

Grinding "Tencha" tea leaves with stone mill into Matcha powder

Certification of Multiresidue GC Analysis. This analytical method covers 230 analytes. No analytes are detected.

Report of heavy metal analysis

Certification of non-radiation
Efforts to Keep Tea Leaves in Good Condition:
We make continuous efforts at every single step from harvest of tea leaves to delivery to our customers. This encompasses the harvest, finishing process, storage at the factory, delivery, and ends with our customers all over the world being able to enjoy a farm-fresh cup of Japanese green tea.

"Aracha" tea leaves, just after harvest and processing by farmers, are brought to the factory. "Aracha" tea leaves are finished: sorted, dried, blended, and on so on. Then they are vacuum packed in 20kg (44.1lb) bags, and stored in a special cold storage chamber. Temperature in the cold storage chamber is kept at about 5C (41F) throughout the year.
The finished tea leaves are repackaged into smaller size bags just before shipment to our customers around the world. The remaining tea leaves are vacuum packed and stored in the cold storage chamber again. The smaller size bags are packaged with nitrogen in order to keep the tea in good condition even during international delivery.
The harvest season is the busiest time of year not only for farmers but also for the factory. All "Aracha" tea leaves can't be finished at one time. In fact, more than half of the unfinished "Aracha" tea leaves are vacuum packed and stored in the cold storage chamber until after the busy harvest season is over. The average tea factory handles ten to several hundred tons (1000 kilo grams) of tea leaves per year.

In the case of Matcha, tea leaves are stored in a cold storage chamber as "Tencha" tea leaves before being ground into the fine powder known as Matcha. Tencha is ground into Matcha just before shipment to the customer. If the finely powdered Matcha was stored for a longer time, it would more easily deteriorate.
As above, it is most important to vacuum pack or nitrogen pack the tea leaves at every single step just after "Aracha" tea leaves are brought into the factory, in order to keep the tea in ideal condition throughout the year. These processes protect the tea leaves from oxygen, heat, moisture, and light, and require a surprising amount of time and effort.

Analysis of Tea Leaves:
We periodically ask a third party laboratory to analyze our teas for residual pesticides, heavy metals, radiation, and so on, to ensure safety. Attached are images of the analysis report on this year's crops. No suspicious analytes were detected.

As above, our teas are continuously and strictly inspected. We strongly believe that ensuring the absolute safety of our products is most important. It is our sincere wish that our customers enjoy our teas at ease, with the knowledge that they can depend on us to provide them with a safe and wholesome product.






The harvest of tea leaves for Gyokuro and Matcha started around May 20. As with the Sencha harvest, this year's Gyokuro and Matcha harvest is a few days later than usual.

Gyokuro and Matcha are grown in the shade for 20 to 30 days before harvest. High grade Gyokuro and Matcha are shaded from sunlight by a structure called "Tana" as in the above picture. It is reasonably dark and amazingly cool and quiet in the "Tana" structure. Most of all, the air in the "Tana" is filled with the fresh green scent of tea leaves, so brisk and invigorating. While the tea trees are covered by the "Tana" for 20 to 30 days to shade sunlight, if you walk beneath the canopy, among the green tea trees, you feel that the tea trees surely must breathe and effuse elements which are healing and comforting, though it has not been proven by science. Under the "Tana" canopy, the air feels thick with these healthful and comforting elements.
Anyone who walks under the "Tana" is aware of an immense feeling of serenity and tranquility. Indeed, the women who pick Gyokuro and Matcha under the "Tana" say that in contrast to the Sencha harvest in full sunlight, which brings joy from the bright sunlight, hearing birdcalls and murmur of a brook, the Gyokuro and Matcha harvest under the "Tana" brings a feeling of peaceful tranquility and comfort because of the cool shade, quiet calm, and the heavy scent of the green tea trees.

Gyokuro and Matcha gain an enriched flavor over time, and are traditionally enjoyed some months after harvest. In fact, a very special type of Gyokuro called "Kuradashi Gyokuro" and "Kuradashi Matcha" are aged for a few years, like a fine red wine. However, today's tea connoisseurs favor both fresh Gyokuro and Matcha and enriched Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha. With fresh Gyokuro and Matcha, you can enjoy not only the smooth and mellow taste, but also a unique fresh aroma characteristic of Shincha. This unique freshness cannot be found in typical enriched Gyokuro or Matcha.
We are now currently offering Shincha Gyokuro and Shincha Matcha, which are both limited edition teas only available this harvest season. If you love Gyokuro or Matcha, you are sure to enjoy the unique freshness of these two very special limited-edition teas.

Tea sprouts just after harvested

Steaming process

Crumpling process


Shaping process

Aracha just finished processing

Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association Trade Show

Buying and selling tea

Aracha tea leaves waiting to be bid upon
"Aracha" Processing steps:
Now is the time for the Shincha (Sencha) harvest that we have all been waiting for! From the time the sprouts grow enough to the time the leaves become too large to harvest is just a few days. So tea leaves for Shincha (Sencha) must be harvested as quickly as possible in one long stretch. Many tea processing facilities will work non-stop, holding an all-night vigil for the Shincha.
After being picked or trimmed, fresh tea leaves are processed the same day. Processing steps are 1) Steaming, 2) Drying and Crumpling, and 3) Shaping. It is said that the Steaming step is the most difficult and requires skill and experience, even though the steaming time is just 30 to 60 seconds. If tea leaves are steamed heavier, the astringency and refreshing aroma that characterizes Sencha is destroyed. On the contrary, if tea leaves are not steamed enough, the taste will not be good at all. Farmers arrange the steaming temperature and steaming time, considering the conditions of picked fresh tea leaves (thickness of tea leaves, how soft, and so on).
Aracha is green tea that has been processed by the farmer, but is not finally finished. It is unique simple flavor, so that it has been enjoying for centuries. Our litmited edition Farmers' Shincha is "Aracha" Shincha. You can enjoy the natural taste and refreshing aroma of this "Aracha" Shincha at an affordable price.)

The Kyoto Tea Trade Show:
Aracha is green tea that has been processed by the farmer, but is not finally finished. It is either sold directly to the wholesale house or bid on at the Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association (Kyoto Prefecture Headquarters of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations).
At the Kyoto Japan Agricultural Corporative Association, over half of the tea at the show is grown in Uji. These events are held three times every week throughout the harvest season at the Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association. At the peak, over one hundred tons of tea leaves are collected and dealt on one day. Buyers consider the breed, location of the tea farm, farm or family name, tea quantity, and so on. They also thoroughly test the quality of the tea when they tender a bid. To appreciate the quality of the tea, they carefully check the water color and clarity as well as the brightness of the appearance of the tea leaves. They will not accept defective leaves which do not have enough brilliance or cloudy water color. To judge them, unfailing discriminating technique is required.


Tea sprouts just before harvest. It is the perfect time for harvest.

It is important to cultivate successor farmers to carry on the tradition of tea culture.

It is hard work to carry harvested tea sprouts up a steep incline.

It is important to place harvested tea sprouts in the shade in order to protect fresh tea sprouts from heat.


The rain in the harvest season is a great blessing and a hassle at the same time


Spider taking shelter from rain among tea leaves
Organic Shincha Harvest:
The Shincha harvest of conventionally grown teas began about 10 days ago. On the other hand, the Shincha harvest of organic tea began a few days ago. Our organic teas are grown with only natural organic fertilizers, which work slowly. Therefore organic Shincha tea is generally harvested 7 to 10 days later than conventionally grown teas.
For excellent harmony of refreshing aroma and smooth taste of Shincha (Sencha), it is important to harvest tea sprouts at the perfect time. If too early, the yield amount would be too small. If too late, the flavor would be dull. Tea sprouts grow very quickly after the middle of May, so that the best harvest timing for Shincha (Sencha) spans just a few days. The harvest season is the busiest time of the year for farmers. Therefore, it is not so easy to harvest Shincha at precisely the right time.
Organic Shincha Premium is now available.

Rain in the Harvest Season:
In May, throughout the Shincha Harvest season, it often rains in Kyoto. During this time, the flavor an aroma of the tea leaves is deepened by the rain. Indeed, tea leaves harvested on the day after a rain are frequently deeper in flavor and aroma.
However, if tea leaves are harvested covered in rain drops, it ruins the quality of the tea. This low quality tea is called TSUYU-ME, meaning sprouts with rain drops. Besides, tea leaves grow quickly after the rain and easily grow too large to harvest. These are the reasons why rain in the harvest season bothers tea farmers.
And if it rains in the early stage of the harvest season, the tea leaves prices go up sharply. The amount of tea leaves harvested and placed on the market dramatically decreases because rain hampers the harvest.
Certainly, the rain in the harvest season is a great blessing and a hassle at the same time.

Obuku is the first place where tea trees were planted in the Uji region of Japan.


Tea sprouts, which would be picked a few hours later


Sencha grown in the Obuku area was presented to the Japanese Emperors for many years.




Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium, which are grown at Obuku area and specially picked by skilled hands
Now is the time for the Shincha (Sencha) harvest that we have all been waiting for! Shincha harvest started in the Uji region some days ago.

Obuku, where is located in mountain ravines, is the first place where tea trees were planted in the Uji region of Japan. Sencha produced in the Obuku area was presented to the Japanese Emperors for many years.

Today most tea leaves are trimmed by machine and traditional hand picked Sencha is rarely grown and is therefore very precious. The flavor and aroma of hand picked Sencha is much more mellow and refreshing than tea trimmed by machine.
Even a skilled tea harvester can hand pick just up to 6 to 8kg of fresh tea leaves all through the day. The picked fresh tea leaves are processed and finished, at which point the total weight of the tea leaves is only about 18% of the fresh tea leaves. Even if about 20 skilled tea harvesters pick all through the day, we can only gather around 25 kg of finished precious hand picked Sencha. From the time the sprouts appear to the time the leaves become too large to harvest is just a few days. So tea leaves for Shincha (Sencha) must be harvested as quickly as possible in one long stretch. Therefore it is never easy to pick large amounts of tea leaves by skilled hands in just a few days.
Top grade tea, hand picked Sencha is grown only in quite a small amount, because there is only one small place in all of the world perfect for farming this special tea - a tiny area of land located right here in the Uji region of Japan. Therefore, hand picked Sencha is very precious.

At last, we can celebrate the first tea harvest of the year with Shincha and enjoy its wonderful fresh flavor!
(The tea leaves for our Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium are grown in the Obuku area, the birth place of Uji tea, and picked by skilled hands.)

Conventional grown tea tree sprouts as of May 2

Conventional grown tea trees

Organic tea tree sprouts as of May 2. They have been growing more slowly than conventional grown tea sprouts.

Organic grown tea trees. The brown portions of tea leaves have been eaten by bugs in last summer and autumn.

After the tea farmers pull up the weeds from around the tea plants, the weeds are placed in plastic bags in order to make compost.

Beneficial insect in organic tea farm
(Ant walking on organic tea leaves)
This April was a little tough for the tea trees, especially the last half of the month. There were a few cool mornings during the early to middle growing stage of the tea sprouts. The minimum temperature of the mornings of April 20, 22, and 23 was 2C (36F) or 1C (34F). It is said that severe weather hones the flavor of the tea, though too much severe weather damages the tea sprouts. Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, it is expected that this year's crops will have a generous and excellent flavor.

Organic tea has a simple and traditional flavor similar to teas grown many years ago in ancient Japan. With organic tea, you can taste the natural features of the type of tea, soil, climate, and efforts by the farmer. All of our organic teas are certified by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan. They are grown with only natural organic fertilizers and no agricultural chemicals or pesticides.
Organic fertilizer works slowly. In contrast, chemical fertilizer works quickly and efficiently in about a month, while organic fertilizer works slowly for 3 to 9 months. Therefore organic Shincha tea is generally harvested 7 to 10 days later than conventionally grown teas.
The simple and traditional flavor of organic tea must be very close to the Shincha flavor which people enjoyed and celebrated a long time ago. We have been arranging to add Organic Sencha Premium to our line of 2013 Shincha teas, and started accepting pre-orders. Would you check it once?

Now the sun is getting stronger every day and especially after April 25, the tea sprouts have been growing very quickly. It rained on April 24, 26, and 30 which were much needed. The Shincha (Sencha, conventionally grown tea) harvest is just around the corner. It is the busiest season of the year for our tea farmers! At the organic tea farm, the Shincha (Sencha) harvest will start about 7 or 10 days later than conventionally grown teas.

Tea farms at Ohbuku area where is surrounded by mountain ravines. And tiny streams running at Obuku area.

Eagle flying over Obuku area

Tea sprouts for machine trimmed as of April 26

Tea sprouts harvested by hand appear differently than those harvested by machine.

Tea sprouts as of April 26 for hand picked

The tea jar was used to bestow tea leaves harvested in Ujitawara to the Japanese Emperors.
Over the last seven days (April 20 to 26) the minimum temperature each day was about 3C (37F) to 10C (50F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. Thus our little green tea sprouts continue to grow and have transitioned from brand new to the middle stage of their growth cycle. It is said that sprouts grow quickly and vigorously when the minimum temperature each day is consistently over 10C (50F).
This year's harvest will probably start in a few days on May 6 or 8 which is the usual time of year, contrary to former predictions. Tea farmers had predicted that the 2013 tea harvest in Kyoto would start around May 2 or 4.

Tea trees harvested by hand grow differently than those harvested by machine. In the case of tea trees trimmed by machine, tea sprouts grow from the previously trimmed stubble. By contrast, in the case of tea trees picked by hand, tea sprouts shoot from the natural forks in the branches. The flavor and aroma of hand picked tea is much more mellow and smooth than tea trimmed by machine and the leaves are of higher quality. Tea leaves that are picked by hand can generally be harvested a few days earlier than tea leaves trimmed by machine.

Obuku is the first place where tea trees were planted in the Uji region of Japan. They were planted by Kohken, a Buddhist monk, around A.D.1271, after Eisai popularized the idea of tea drinking in Japan around A.D.1191. Obuku is a small area of land with a diameter of less than one mile (600 meters). Even today, Obuku is known for producing very rare, highest grade Sencha. In Japan, there are only a few places where top grade Sencha is produced, and the Obuku area in Ujitawara is one of them.
Obuku is located in mountain ravines, where tiny streams run, and the soil is full of minerals. The misty climate, sloping hills, warm days and cool nights provide a very ideal setting to grow the highest grade tea. Indeed, Sencha produced in the Obuku area was presented to the Japanese Emperors for many years. The tea leaves for our Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium are grown in the Obuku area, the birth place of Uji tea, and picked by skilled hands.

We have been arranging to add Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium to our line of 2013 Shincha teas, and we started accepting pre-orders. Would you check them once.

Rape blossoms around our tea farm

ARACHA tea processing factory, too is waiting for harvest season.

Tea leaves for Sencha (Shincha) as of April 19

TANA canopy fully covered

Inside of TANA canopy

Tea leaves in TANA canopy as of April 17
Over the last two weeks (Apr. 5 to 19) the maximum temperature each day was about 15C (59F) to 22C (72F), and the minimum temperature each day was about 4C (39F) to 11C (52F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. It is the ideal condition for tea sprouts at the early stage of growth. So, tea sprouts have begun to grow quickly and vigorously. We hope that the spring frost will not come at the end of April because it could possibly cause serious damage to the tea sprouts. Tea sprouts in the middle or later stage are most susceptible to damage by spring frost.

In contrast to Sencha, tea trees for Gyokuro and Matcha are now being covered with curtains. The structure of the picture on the center of upper side is called "Tana". Tea leaves for Gyokuro and Matcha are carefully grown under diffused sunlight for twenty to thirty days before harvesting, creating Theanine, which gives the tea a wonderfully sweet taste. Tea leaves for Gyokuro or Matcha are grown under diffused sunlight in three steps, (1) we cover only over the top of the tea trees, (2) we cover the sides, and (3) we put an additional covering over the top to create more shade. It enables us to adjust the level of shade and sunlight. It is difficult to assess the timing and takes skill and practice to grow perfect green tea. If covered using inappropriate timing, tea sprouts don't grow enough or create enough Theanine, which gives the tea its characteristic sweetness. Tea spouts for Gyokuro and Matcha will start to be harvested around on and after the middle to end of May.

Meanwhile, the tea leaves for Sencha (Shincha) are being generously flooded with light. There is about three weeks or less left until the Shincha (Sencha) harvest!



Pure, calm and clear brooks run in and around our tea farms

Mountain azaleas blooming around our tea farm

Spider emerging from hibernation

Tea sprouts have begun to grow quickly because of warm weather in some days.
The outdoor temperature usually gets steadily warmer after the peak of SAKURA cherry blossoms. The weather is often cool before or around the peak of SAKURA in springtime. This spring chill is called HANA BIE. HANA means SAKURA cherry blossoms, and BIE means cool down in Japanese.

Many brooks run in and around our tea farms. All of them are pure, calm and clear. As you may know, high grade and quality tea grows in mountainous regions, specifically in lush valleys surrounded by mountains. Our tea farms are located upstream in the mountains, so all of the brooks in and around our tea farms are quite clean, pure and untouched as they come straight out from the mountain rocks and earth. Mist is another geographical feature essential for growing high grade and quality tea. These brooks and the difference in temperatures between day and night work to create mist, which keeps the air and earth moist and perfect for growing green tea.

At this time, insects, which passed the winter safely, emerge from hibernation and come into operation. In contrast to insects developing to the adult stage in early summer, these overwintered insects are very guarded and amazingly quick in movement. To take pictures of them at our tea farm, it is very difficult to get an opportunity to release the shutter. Same with these insects, tea sprouts have begun to grow quickly because of the warm weather in recent days.

Obuku area, in the mountain ravines, the cherry trees started to bloom a few days ago.




Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold.

Tea sprouts as of April 5
At last, the cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara in mountain ravines are now at their best.

At this time, it is possible for the cold weather to return, but it rarely frosts. A frost in spring is devastating because it completely ruins any tea sprouts. Electric fans are strategically placed around the tea trees to stir the air during the month of April to avoid spring frost. Late frosts may occur on cold nights when there is radiational cooling with no cloud cover and no wind at midnight. Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold. It is also important to check if all electric fans work normally, and to repair any malfunctions in March. We must pay attention to the lowest temperature of each day until the end of April.

The weather forecast predicts that it will soon become warm enough to be favorable for tea trees. Judging from the tea trees' condition and climate after last summer, the tea leaves have grown bravely. We think that this year's harvest will start May 1st or 5th which is about 5 days earlier than usual. It depends on the weather.

Cherry blossom buds at Yuyadani area in Ujitawara on March 29, 2013

Cherry blossom buds on April 6, 2012

Cherry blossom buds on April 1, 2011

Proof of tea tree absorbing enough nutrients

Tea sprouts as of March 29

Wildflower at our tea farm after rain
This is cherry blossom season in Japan. The beautiful pink blossoms can be seen at parks which are filled with so many cherry trees, as well as scattered throughout famous temples and shrines. Kyoto's cherry blossoms started to bloom a few days ago. We took photos of the cherry trees at our tea farm. The cherry blossoms at our farm in the lush valley surrounded by mountains will soon be in full bloom. It is about some days earlier than usual, and a week or 10 days earlier than last year.

Our tea trees were fed a generous amount of fertilizer last Autumn. Then they were fed fertilizer again at the end of February to the middle of March. The old tea leaves have become a deep burnished green color. This is proof that the tea trees are absorbing enough nutrients from the fertilizer. It takes a few weeks to a month after being fertilized for the tea trees to fully absorb and then begin utilizing the nutrients. If new buds grow before the tea tree has finished fully absorbing the nutrients, then the taste of the tea leaves becomes less smooth and mellow.

This winter in Kyoto was quite average. Not too much snow and not too severe, though it was not a mild winter either. It was relatively warm in March, and began rapidly getting warm after the equinox (March 20th). Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, this year's harvest will likely occur a few days to a week earlier than usual, like the cherry blossoms. Tea sprout growth often mirrors the blooming of the cherry trees. If the cherry trees bloom early, the tea harvest will be early too. It is about four weeks or more until the Shincha harvest.

Plum is in full bloom around the middle of March here in Ujitawara.

Plum is a traditional auspicious motif as well as pine and bamboo in Japan. (Above is white Ume plum)

Red Ume plum in Kohno area, Ujitawara. 


Cherry blossom buds on March 22

Tea sprouts on March 22. They have just begun to grow.
In March the weather began to warm up just a little and the sky has changed from winter's heavy and dark gray to spring's light and clear blue here in Ujitawara, Kyoto. Little birds have started whispering, insects have come out of hiding and started acting up, and the babbling of a brook melts your heart.

UME Japanese plum is in full bloom around the middle of March here in Ujitawara as it does every year. UME blooms about a few weeks earlier than cherry blossoms. Once you step into a plum grove, you feel the balmy plum aroma, which hints that spring will come soon. Today, cherry blossom appreciation is most special, among all the charming sights of spring in Japan, but many years ago, people went to see the UME Japanese plum, not the cherry blossom. Around the 12th or 16th century, bloom gazing moved away from the UME plum to the cherry blossom.

On the other hand, the cherry trees start to swell buds. Tea sprouts, too have now been starting to appear around the week of the equinox (March 20th). The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara will bloom in 10 days or 2 weeks.

UME is called the flower telling of the arrival of spring in Japan. Tea trees, tea farmers, and the whole tea industry are eagerly waiting for spring and Shincha (the first tea of the year) harvest which usually starts around the beginning of May and continues for 4 weeks or more.
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What is Shincha?

In Japan, we have the tradition of celebrating Shincha, the first tea of the year, also known as Ichibancha. Similar to the Beaujolais Nouveau of French wine, the name Shincha celebrates the first tea harvest of the year.

The tea trees were fertilized last autumn in order to enrich the soil and have absorbed and stored the nourishments through the winter. Soon, they are flooded with dazzling spring sunshine, and the tea trees come into sprouts at a stretch. Japanese green tea is usually harvested between two and five times each year from Spring to Autumn. But the first pick, Ichibancha, is by far the best.

In contrast to Gyokuro, which is enjoyed for the high-toned sweet taste and flavor, Sencha is enjoyed for the superb harmony of refreshing aroma, flavor, and bitter taste. It is said that Gyokuro and Matcha enriches the flavor over time, and so is best six months after harvest (- though today's some gyokuro lovers like fresh Gyokuro as well as enriched one). Sencha, on the other hand, has the most refreshing aroma immediately after being harvested. So it is Sencha, not Gyokuro and Matcha, that we enjoy when we have Shincha.

In the present day, people are able to enjoy fresh Shincha tea flavor and aroma throughout the year almost the same as real Shincha, because preservation techniques and technology have made remarkable progress. At least, this is true at Hibiki-an, because we take so much care to preserve the freshness of our green tea leaves. We can't say whether this is true of other companies. A long time ago, when the tradition of celebrating the first tea harvest with Shincha began, people did not have modern preservation techniques such as vacuum packing and refrigeration - so it was very exciting to be able to enjoy a fresh cup of Shincha. But even today, it is very enjoyable to experience the flavor and aroma of new Shincha tea leaves freshly harvested from the farm.

Although Shincha is harvested starting in the middle of April in Kagoshima, Shizuoka and a few other regions, in Uji in Kyoto, Shincha is harvested starting at the beginning of May.






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Status of Shincha Teas - Now Available

Shincha is Now Available
At last, the Shincha Harvest started here in the Uji region! Some of our Shincha items are now available.
We have arranged to add three limited edition Shincha items only available this Shincha harvest season, featuring some regular Sencha items with especially enjoyable Shincha flavor. And other Sencha regular items are planned to be replaced later by Shincha step by step.
Celebrate our first tea harvest of the year with Hibiki-an's Shincha and enjoy the remarkable fresh flavor which can only be experienced once every year!
Limited edition Shincha items
All items below are limited edition of 1,200 packages each ONLY AVAILABLE this spring harvest season. We have arranged various types of Shincha, which will be specially finished to enjoy Shincha's refreshing aroma and flavor. For more information regarding each item, please click on the links below. We hope you will enjoy the refreshing aroma and smooth flavor of each Shincha item!
[Limited] Shincha Traditional (80g/2.82oz): US$28.00 (Out of Stock)
These tea leaves are finished in the traditional Uji/Kyoto style. Therefore the astringent refreshing aroma and mellow flavor are prominent, and the harmony is excellent...
[Limited] Shincha AOTE (80g/2.82oz): US$26.00 (Out of Stock)
With Shincha AOTE, the astringent refreshing aroma and bitter taste is moderated, the tea color is greener, and the taste is mellower...
[Limited] Shincha Fukamushi (80g/2.82oz): US$23.00 (Out of Stock)
Saemidori breed brings us pleasure in the springtime, to consider the unique flavor and early-ripening. Enjoy the sweet and smooth taste unique to this tea, as well as the fresh aroma...
[Limited] Farmers' Shincha (160g/5.64oz): US$29.00 (Now Available)
Enjoy the natural taste and refreshing aroma of this "Aracha" Shincha at an affordable price. "Aracha" is unprocessed tea that Japanese farmers have been enjoying for centuries...
[Limited] Shincha Gyokuro (80g/2.82oz): US$26.00 (Now Available)
With our Shincha Gyokuro you can enjoy both the refreshing aroma of Shincha and the mellow smooth taste of Gyokuro in one cup of tea. In the tea industry, it is called "Kabuse Cha"...
[Limited] Shincha Matcha (30g/1.06oz) US$29.00 (Now Available)
Recently, Shincha Matcha is enjoyed mainly among teachers or masters of tea ceremony. They enjoy the fresh flavor of Shincha Matcha. And they feel delight of the spring season, inspired by the fresh flavor of Shincha Matcha...
[Limited] Shincha Matcha Refill (120g / 4.23oz): US$93.00 (Now Available)
(As requested by many customers, this value package was newly added for the 2013 Shincha season.)
This Shincha Matcha Refill package is an excellent value. The price is actually discounted 20%. Over time, the refreshing aroma will moderate and the flavor will enrich, so that you can enjoy a subtle variation of aroma and flavor with each refill...
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Replacement Status of Regular Teas

Replacement status of regular Sencha items by 2013 new crop
Replacement status of regular Gyokuro items by 2013 new crop
Today's Gyokuro lovers favor both fresh Gyokuro and enriched Gyokuro which is specially stored for some months to a few years. It just depends on each person's individual taste and preference to know which kind will be their favorite.

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A Tip to Enjoy Shincha

Shincha's best features are its refreshing yet mellow aroma, and balance of sweet and bitter taste. There are two methods to brew each type of Shincha. One method is the same as the usual way to brew tea, and the other brews at a little higher temperature to bring out the sharper taste and more refreshing aroma of Shincha.

Brewing Process:

- Shincha or Shincha Fukamushi
Shincha is brewed using the same method as regular Sencha: 176F (80C) water for 1 min. Only for Shincha Fukamushi, please brew for shorter time, 40 to 45 sec. For sharper and more refreshing flavor, use higher temperature water (85C / 185F).

- Shincha Gyokuro
Shincha Gyokuro is brewed using the same method as regular Gyokuro: 158F (70C) water for 1 1/2 to 2 min. For sharper and more refreshing flavor, use higher temperature water 176F (80C) for 1 min. This is the same method for brewing Sencha, but is also perfect to bring out the flavor of Shincha Gyokuro.

- Shincha Matcha
Shincha Matcha is prepared with 176F (80C) temperature water, in the same way as usual Matcha. For sharper and more refreshing flavor of Shincha Matcha, use higher temperature water (194F - 212F / 90C - 100C).
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