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 17: (Productivity of Traditional vs. Modern Tea Processing Methods)


Aracha processing by hand

Sorting by hand

Tea farm work in ancient time

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 4 to 6kg (8.82 to 13.23lb) of Aracha per day. In contrast, the average farmer’s factory today can process 200 to 300kg (441 to 662lb) 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.

Around June 10: (Efforts to Keep Tea Leaves in Good Condition)


Packaging in 20kg vacuum sealed bags

Cold storage chamber

Kept at about 0.5C (32.9F)

Inside of the cold storage chamber

Vacuumed package stored in the cold storage chamber


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 0C (32F) 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 3: (Tencha / Matcha Processing)


Tea sprouts just after hand-picked


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 four level fire pit, heated from underneath by a burner.

Whole image of the fire pit

Tea leaves emerging from the first fire pit

Tea leaves emerging from the last fire pit


The temperature inside the fire pit is carefully controlled.

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 27: (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

Skilled tea harvester can hand pick just up to 12 to 18kg of fresh tea leaves all through the day. (In contrast to Matcha or Gyokuro, in the case of hand pick harvest for Sencha, just 6 or 8kg of tea leaves can be picked each harvester in a day.)

Picked sprouts are weighed soon. Wage is calculate based on the weight or working hours.

Break time. Idle banter is one of pleasant times for hand-picking ladies.

A bee takes a break too?


Picked tea sprouts are immediately forwarded to the Gyokuro processing factory.

One of most traditional mode Gyokuro processing factories, which is rare even in Kyoto.

Processing factory is located in famer's home property where is adjoining to tea farms.
The harvest of tea leaves for Gyokuro and Matcha started around May 14. As with the Sencha harvest, this year's Gyokuro and Matcha harvest is some days or a week earlier 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.

Around May 20: (Aracha Processing)


Tea sprouts just after harvested

Steaming process. Tea leaves just steamed come out.


Crumpling process

At this process, called JHUNEN, water is squeezed from inside of tea leaves, and tea leaves are colored brighter.

Shaping machine

Drying machine

Water vapor coming out from steaming machine

"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 13: (Organic Shincha Harvest)



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

Carefully trimmed in order to be neither too deep nor thin.

If trimmed too deep, the quality would not be good. If trimmed too thin, the yield would not be good.



Break in the breezy shade

It is hard work to carry harvested tea sprouts. Throwing is not relatively so hard.
It is important to place harvested tea sprouts in the shade in order to protect fresh tea sprouts from heat.



FUJI Japanese wisteria around our tea farm. They are now blossoming a little late because our tea farm is located in the mountain area.

Above pictures are machine-trimmed harvest scene.

Organic Shincha Harvest:
The Shincha harvest of conventionally grown teas began about 10 days or 2 weeks ago. On the other hand, the Shincha harvest of organic tea began some 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 6: (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 will be picked very soon

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


Idle banter 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 April 29: (Birthplace of Uji Tea)


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

Pure, calm and clear brooks run in and around our tea farms at Obuku area. UGUISU Japanese bush warbler singings and murmur of brooks calm your heart.


Tea sprouts as of April 28 for hand picked

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

Tea sprouts as of April 28 for trimmed by machine

The harvest for the tribute tea to the TAISHO emperor. This picture was taken in May 1915.
Today our tea farm is quite the same as the picture on the left side. Our Sencha Pinnacle and Super Premium are grown at this tea farm.

Zoom of the left picture. The tea sprouts seem to have been picked by 33 to 37 persons at that time, judging from the picture.

The TAISHO emperor (1879 to 1926)
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.

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.

Above monochrome pictures were the hand-picking harvest scene taken at our tea farm located in the Obuku area. The letters on the left side of the picture state that this is the harvest for the tribute tea to the TAISHO emperor (1879 to 1926), and this picture was taken in May 1915. The tea farm is quite the same as our tea farm where our Sencha Pinnacle and Super Premium are grown today. It is said that "The harvest for the tribute tea to the TAISHO emperor" was written on the flags on the center of the pictures, though it is illegible on the picture.
The letters on the right side of the picture means that the tea grown at Obuku area, where soil and climate are suitable for growing tea and where tea was first planted, is quite excellent in the color, aroma and taste. The tea grown at the Obuku area is the top quality in Japan, which has been established by expertise since ancient times.

We have been arranging to add Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium to our line of 2015 Shincha teas, and we started accepting pre-orders. Would you check them once.

Around April 26: (Organic Tea Farm)


Organic tea tree sprouts in late afternoon at April 25. They have been growing more slowly than conventional grown tea sprouts.

Organic grown tea trees as of April 25. The brown portions of tea leaves have been eaten by bugs in last summer and autumn.

Conventional grown tea tree sprouts as of April 25

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.

One of beneficial insects being on organic tea tree.

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 2015 Shincha teas, and started accepting pre-orders. Would you check once?

Around April 22:


Tea sprouts shine in the breeze.

TANA canopies, too shake with the wind.

Most of the insects appearing at this time are very quick in movement and cautious. It is not easy to take photos of the insects at this time of year.

A bee consumes nectar from flower


Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 22
Over the last seven days (April 16 to 22) the minimum temperature each day was about 4C (39F) to 15C (59F) 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.

Over the past several days, insects have come out of hiding. Most of the insects appearing at this time are likely from last summer; surviving both enemy and cold weather, they passed the winter. So, they are much quicker in movement and more cautious than insects appearing in the TSUYU rainy season in June. Most insects hatching spring or summer will appear in early summer, and will succumb to enemy or weather soon. Only quite small number of them will survive and passed the winter. It is not easy to take photos of the insects at this time of year.

This year's harvest will probably start in 10 days or 2 weeks on May 4 or 7 which is the usual time of year or perhaps a few days eariler than usual.

Around April 15:


TANA canopy built with modern materials

"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 12

Material storage, too is waiting for harvest season.

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 15. It rained in this morning for the first time in ten days.
Over the last week (April 9 to 15) the maximum temperature each day was about 13C (55F) to 22C (72F) except for April 12th, and the minimum temperature each day was about 4C (39F) to 10C (50F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. And it rained about 3 or 4 days in the past two weeks. These are good conditions for tea sprouts at the early stage of growth. The exception was April 12th, which had spring frost in the morning and a minimum temperature of OC (32F). Fortunately, the tea sprouts were at a relatively early stage, so the damage was not serious. Though late spring frost can possibly ruin tea sprouts fully, a gentle spring frost like this one can enrich tea sprouts because a gentle spring frost moderates the rapid growth of the tea leaves. It has also been said that a year having late spring frost can produce abundant crops.

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 8:


Obuku area, in the mountain ravines, the the cherry blossoms are now their best. This is at the birth palce of Sohen Nagatani where is near by Obuku area.

At ROJI garden of birthplace of Sohen Nagatani, as of April 6



Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold.

Tea sprouts as of April 8
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. Small tea sprouts not yet open can't easily be damaged by spring frost but tea sprouts fully opened can be damaged completely. It can frost on a dry fine morning after a clear and sunny day due to radiative cooling. If there is a frost after the tea sprouts grow and fully open, the damage would be immense. Such immense damage by late spring frost happens once every few decades.

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 became rapidly warm in the past 7 days. During that time, the lowest temperature of each day was 8C (47F) to 13C (55F) and the highest temperature was 18C (64F) to 22C (72F). During the previous week, the lowest temperature was 1C (34F) to 5C (41F) and the highest temperature was 8C (46F) to 13C (55F). Cold in early spring like the previous period is called HANA BINE in Japan, which means chill in cherry-blossom time.
We think that this year's harvest will start May 1st or 5th which is almost same with last year and a few or some days earlier than usual. It depends on the weather from now on.

Around April 1:


Cherry blossoms started to bloom in Ujitawara. This is as of March 31


Cherry blossom buds at our tea farm in the lush valley surrounded by mountains as of March 31

Babbling of a brook melts your heart

Water skipper at backwater of brook. The number of water skippers will increase more and more when it gets warm.

Tea sprouts as of March 31
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 some 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.

This year's full bloom of cherry blossoms is some days earlier than usual. Similarly, our tea sprout growth is quicker than usual this year. We, tea farmers worry about late spring frost which can ruin tea sprouts. Small tea sprouts not yet open can't easily be damaged by spring frost but tea sprouts fully opened can be damaged completely. It can frost on a dry fine morning after a clear and sunny day due to radiative cooling. If there is a frost after the tea sprouts grow and fully open, the damage would be immense. So, tea farmers worry more about late spring frost in a year when cherry blossoms bloom earlier than usual.

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.

This year's early spring over the past 7 to 10 days was relatively cold, especially in the morning, so that the growth of cherry blossom buds and tea sprouts has been moderate compared to our earlier expectations. Though UME plum bloom and TSUBAKI camellia fell 10 to 14 days earlier than usual, the cherry trees bloomed just a few or some days earlier. We think that this year's harvest will start around May 1st to May 5th, which is about 5 days earlier than usual. Tea sprout growth often mirrors the blooming of the cherry trees.

Around March 25:


Cherry blossom buds as of 24 March, 2016

Cherry blossom buds as of 26 March, 2015

Proof of tea tree absorbing enough nutrients

Piled up organic fertilizer

Tea sprouts as of March 25. We had heavy frost a few days ago. Tea sprouts are still quite small, so that fortunately not damaged at all. If it frosted when tea sprouts reach maturity, the sprouts would be damaged awfully.

SUISEN narcissus blossoms late winter to early spring. 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.

The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara will start to bloom next week, which is some days or a week earlier than last year. Camellia flowers usually fall in this area of Ujitawara at the end of March. Occasionally the camellia flowers remain until the beginning of April. This year the camellia flowers have already completely fallen before March 15 or 20.

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 mild. And 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 a little more than one month until the Shincha harvest.

Around March 18:


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

Winter scenery of wild flowers will fully change to spring very soon.

Wild flowers start their springtime growth.  

UME Plum was full bloom last week here in Ujitawara. (Above is red plum as of March 15)

Cherry blossom buds on March 17

Tea sprouts on March 18. They have just begun to grow.
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.

It was the first time in many years that winter was mild and gentle for plants, insects, birds, and humans in Japan. The UME plum trees blossomed a week or more earlier in Kyoto this year, and the harvest of Shincha, the first tea of the year, may start earlier than usual.

UME Japanese plum was in full bloom around the early part of of March here in Ujitawara as it is a week or more earlier than usual. 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 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 2016 new crop

Replacement status of regular Gyokuro items by 2016 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.