Shincha News FlashShincha News Flash

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!

Around June 20: (Efforts to Keep Tea Leaves in Good Condition)


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.

Around June 13: (Tradition and Innovation)


Typical tea farm developed on steep ground in the 1970s. Maximum slope of this picture's tea farm is about 30degrees. It is difficult work to cultivate this type of tea farm.

Today's kind of tea farm on level place at where farmers can work easily and efficiently

New generation farmer who will begin a new tea farm business
From 1950 to 1965 a tea farmer was able to earn a living by farming 0.74acre / 3,000square meters of land. Today a tea farmer must farm 7.4acre / 30,000square meters to 9.9acre / 40,000square meters of land or more. Tea agriculture productivity has increased by a factor of 10 and tea prices have reduced by a factor of 10 over the past 60years.

The progress of tea agriculture productivity is mostly attributable to mechanization of harvesting, modernization and increase in size of the processing factory, cultivation technique, agricultural evolution, breed improvement, and so on.

The agrarian reform of 1947 created many farms throughout Japan. And there was a resurgence in tea farming in the 1970s when there was high economic growth in Japan. At the same time, there were some key innovations in harvest mechanization, which brought radical change in productivity and modernization including improvements to tea processing facilities. And it is said that the modern agricultural evolution has brought 30 to 40 times more efficiency in pest and weed control over the past 60 years.

Tea farms of the 1970s were developed on steep ground. However it is quite hard and tough labor to work at such tea farms. Today tea farmers must manage 10 times the size of some decades ago and so flatter farms are preferred. And there has been a shift away from Japanese tea among Japanese adolescents, similar to the situation with French wine among French adolescents. Japanese tea needs some innovation and should be promoted in different ways from the past few decades, like French wine.

A well-respected modern business leader, whose long-established company has been in business for over 500 years in Japan, has recently said that "tradition" is built through the accumulation of "innovation" and that "tradition" is never built by observing customs alone. We, Hibiki-an, believe customer-oriented innovation is key and innovation can drive tradition, but there should be a balance between tradition and innovation. We observe certain traditions like hand-picked teas, HONZU Tana canopy, traditional Sencha flavor developed by Sohen Nagatani, cultivating our tea farms around the birthplace of Uji tea, and so on.

Around June 6: (Tencha / Matcha Processing)


Cargo truck carrying tea sprouts just after harvested

Tea sprouts just after harvested are waiting for processed in container. The container is air-conditioned in order to prevent heat damage.

Steaming process

Blown upward by a blast of air, the tea leaves soar upward about 6m (19.68ft) and are quickly cooled.

Tea leaves dry in a three or five level fire pit, heated from underneath by a burner.

The temperature inside the fire pit is carefully controlled.

Tea leaves emerging from the fire pit

Tencha Aracha just after sorted. It is called Aracha Tencha.

Before Tencha is ground into Matcha powder, the tea is known as Aracha of Tencha.
Fresh tea leaves are processed just after harvest. At the most, they should be processed within 24 hours after harvest. Tencha (Matcha) processing includes 1) Steaming, 2) Cooling down, 3) Drying, and 4) Cutting / Sorting. Matcha tea leaves before ground into powder are called Tencha.

1) Steaming:
Fresh tea leaves just after harvest are steamed for 30 to 40 seconds. The steaming process stops oxidation (fermentation). Steaming temperature and steaming time should be adjusted by the condition of the tea leaves. The steaming process is one of the most important steps and determines the quality of the finished tea.

2) Cooling down:
Steamed tea leaves are quickly cooled by a strong blast of air. This fast cooling process extracts the aroma and bright color of tea leaves. Blown upward by the blast of air, the tea leaves soar upward about 6m (19.68ft).

3) Drying:
During this step, the tea leaves are dried in a fire pit. Inside of the fire pit is a three or four level structure, heated from underneath by a burner. The temperature of each layer is carefully controlled from 110 to 180C (230 to 356F). Before entering the fire pit, tea leaves are distributed evenly across a conveyor belt so that they dry consistently. There should be no overlap. Tea leaves pass through all levels of the fire pit to dry for about 20 minutes. This drying process determines the aroma and taste of Tencha (Matcha).

4) Cutting / Sorting:
After emerging from the fire pit, the tea leaves are cut and sorted to determine if they are dry enough. Thicker sections of the tea leaf such as stems and veins may not be completely dry, and are dried again in the fire pit. Finally, the cut and dry tea leaves are mixed thoroughly to ensure consistent quality and flavor. At this point, before Tencha is ground into Matcha powder, the tea is known as Aracha of Tencha.

Around May 30: (Shincha Harvest of Gyokuro and Matcha)


Hand picking harvest under "Tana" canopy

Inside "Tana" canopy

Tea sprouts just before picked

Recently it is not easy to recruit for hand picking

Picked by skilled hand


Picked sprouts will be weighed soon. Wage is calculate based on the weight.

Tea trees are pruned to very low height immediately after finished picking

The harvest of tea leaves for Gyokuro and Matcha started around May 17. As with the Sencha harvest, this year's Gyokuro and Matcha harvest is almost same with 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.

Around May 23: (Aracha Processing)


Tea sprouts just after harvested

Steaming process

Tea leaves just steamed

Crumpling process


Shaping process

Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association Trade Show

Buying and selling tea

Cool storage warehouse at Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association
"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.

Around May 16: (Organic Shincha Harvest)



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.

Spider is one of beneficial insects in organic tea farm

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

Butterfly 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.

Around May 9: (Shincha Harvest at the Birthplace of Uji Tea)


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

Lunch is one of pleasant times for hand-picking ladies.


Cooling kettle of tea in a nearby brook
Now is the time for the Shincha (Sencha) harvest that we have all been waiting for! Shincha harvest started in the Uji region a few 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.)

Around May 2: (Birthplace of Uji Tea)


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

Late cherry blossoms flapping in the wind

Tea sprouts for machine trimmed as of May 2

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

Tea sprouts as of May 2 for hand picked

The tea jar was used to bestow tea leaves harvested in Ujitawara to the Japanese Emperors.
This April was ideal for tea sprout growth. We experienced mild weather, the perfect amount of rain, in moderation, and pleasant warm, sunny days. In the last half of April, it rained on the 18th, 20th, 21st 28th, and 29th, and thus we were fortunate to avoid the late spring frost, which can ruin tea sprouts. So, the tea sprouts have been growing quickly and vigorously. This year's harvest will probably start May 7 or 10 which is the usual time of year or perhaps a few days later. Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, it is expected that this year's crops will have a more generous and excellent flavor than recent years.

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 2014 Shincha teas, and we started accepting pre-orders. Would you check them once.

Around April 29: (Organic Tea Farm)


Organic tea tree sprouts as of April 28. They have been growing more slowly than conventional grown tea sprouts.

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

Compost made in the foil bag

Spider web. Spider is one of beneficial insects in organic tea farm

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

Wildflower around our organic tea farm
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.

If you walk around at both an organic tea farm and a non-organic tea farm in the summer season, you will quickly understand that an organic tea farm lives together in the ecosystem and a non-organic tea farm tries to control the ecosystem. You can see a spider's web among the tea trees on the organic tea farm. Spiders, lizards, mantis, and ladybugs are natural enemies of harmful insects, and they carry out important duties on the organic tea farm.

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 2014 Shincha teas, and started accepting pre-orders. Would you check once?

Around April 25:


Tea sprouts grow quickly and vigorously

Tea sprouts shine in the breeze

TANA canopies, too shake with the wind

Clear brook runnng in and around our tea farms

Japanese wisteria swaying in the breeze

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 25
Over the last seven days (April 19 to 25) the minimum temperature each day was about 6C (41F) to 12C (54F) 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).

The appearance of the tea farm changes dramatically after the first and second tea sprouts open. The tea farms change from dark green to a cheerful yellow-green. A bright green sea of tea sprouts shine in the breeze and the sunlight. To see the tea sprouts shine brings joy because the yellow-green color of the young sprouts will deepen in about two weeks when the third or fourth tea sprouts open. It signifies the arrival of the tea harvest.

This year’s harvest will probably start in two weeks or more on May 7 or 10 which is the usual time of year or perhaps a few days later than usual.

Around April 18:


"HONZU" TANA canopy fully covered. "HONZU" is the most traditional style of TANA canopy made with reeds and straw.

Inside of "HONZU" TANA canopy

Tea leaves in "HONZU" TANA canopy as of April 16

Feeding fertilizer in usual modern TANA canopy

Material storage, too is waiting for harvest season.

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 18. It rained in this morning for the first time in ten days.
Over the last week (Apr. 11 to 18) the maximum temperature each day was about 15C (59F) to 25C (77F), and the minimum temperature each day was about 4C (39F) to 9C (48F) 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.

"Honzu" is a very special way of building "Tana". It is the traditional way of diffusing sunlight from long ago, and these days it is very rare to see, even in the Uji region. In the "Honzu" method, tea farmers build a structure to provide shade to the tea trees using only reeds and straw. Old-style reeds and straw provide the ideal shade for tea trees. And it is said that the constituents exuded from the straw through the rainwater exercise good effects on the tea leaves.
However, it is not easy to build this structure of reeds and straw, to gather so much reeds and straw, and to manage to keep the "Honzu" in good condition throughout the growing season. For example, if a strong wind blew just after placement of the straw, the straw would be blown away and ruined. If it rains once after the placement of the straw, the rainwater firms the structure. Today only less than 10 farmers in all of Japan manage "Honzu" (only in Ogura and a few other areas in the Uji region). Our Kuradashi Gyokuro Pinnacle, which is limited edition only available in autumn, is grown in diffused sunlight under the reed and straw "Honzu". Please wait and see.

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!

Around April 11:


Obuku area, in the mountain ravines, the the cherry blossoms are now their best.

At birthplace of Sohen Nagatani, as of April 10



Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold.

Tea sprouts as of April 11
The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara were at their best last weekend and early this week. At the birthplace of Uji tea, the Obuku area nestled in mountain ravines, the cherry blossoms are now at their peak. Among all the cherry blossom trees in Kyoto, those which grow in the Obuku valley always bloom last.

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 quickly became warm in Kyoto this week (especially after April 7). 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 5th or 10th which is almost same with usual. It depends on the weather.

Around April 4:


cherry blossoms started to bloom in Ujitawara. This is as of April 2, 2014

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



Tea sprouts as of April 4, 2014

Camellia petals fallen by yesterday’s rain. Spring flowers will fully place by winter or early spring flowers soon.
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 almost same as usual, about a week later than last year.

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.

We had severe weather this winter and relatively cold temperatures in March. Then at the beginning of April, the weather in Kyoto gradually turned warm. Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, this year's harvest will likely come same as usual year, like the cherry blossoms. Tea sprout growth often mirrors the blooming of the cherry trees. If the cherry trees bloom late, the tea harvest will be late too. It is about four weeks or more until the Shincha harvest.

Around March 28:



Babbling of a brook melts your heart

Cherry blossom buds on March 28

Proof of tea tree absorbing enough nutrients

Tea sprouts as of March 28

Plum and camellia have been falling. Full-fledged spring is coming.
Past the equinox (March 20th), sunlight has been getting strong rapidly, little birds started chirping their spring melodies, the babbling of a brook melts your heart, and insects come out of hiding and start to become active. 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 start to bloom in a week or a little later.

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.

Like the cherry trees, the tea sprouts have been steadily growing day by day. It is about five weeks or more until the start of the Shincha harvest.

Around March 21:


Sky starts changing to spring's light and clear blue.

As of March 17: Plum will in full bloom soon here in Ujitawara.

When taking pictures, a honey bee came to the UME blossom, attracted by the flower's scent. 

UME plum is an auspicious motif in Japan. In tea ceremony too, UME plum signals the arrival of spring.

Cherry blossom buds on March 21

Tea sprouts on March 21. They have just begun to grow.
It is said that this winter was the coldest weather and heaviest snow in the last 20 years. However, fortunately, the quantity and timing of the precipitation at our tea farm was moderate and periodical, so that our tea trees were hardly damaged by the snow. It seems that our tea trees and farm have withstood the harsh winter in good condition.

In the last half of February the sky starts changing from winter's heavy and dark gray to spring's light and clear blue, step by step here in Ujitawara. And in March the cold starts letting up slowly. It is called SAN KAN SHI ON, which means coming four warm days after three cold days. Then spring will be coming day by day.

UME Japanese plum is called the flower which signals the arrival of spring in Japan. UME plum is usually in full bloom around the middle of March here in Ujitawara. However, this March weather has been cold overall and only reluctantly getting warmer, so that the UME plum will bloom about a week later than usual this year.

On the other hand, the cherry tree buds have begun to swell. Tea sprouts too, usually start to appear around the week of the equinox (March 20th). The harvest of Shincha (the first tea of the year) usually starts around the beginning of May and continues for 4 weeks or more. Tea trees, tea farmers, and the whole tea industry eagerly wish for good weather in April and May which is a critical time to ensure a successful harvest and yield.

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.







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).

Replacement Status of Regular Teas

Replacement status of regular Sencha items by 2014 new crop

Replacement status of regular Gyokuro items by 2014 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.