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 23: (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

This small shed has been used by generations.

This tea farm had been cultivated by a veteran farmer until some years ago, and now is not cultivated due to a few conditions (ex. Too narrow area, Pickup truck can’t go alongside, The small stream blocks farmer working efficiently.)

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 16: (Why is Shincha So Refreshing?)







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.

Around June 9: (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.


Tea leaves emerging from the 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.

Whole image of the fire pit


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 June 2: (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.


The harvest of tea leaves for Gyokuro and Matcha started around May 18. As with the Sencha harvest, this year's Gyokuro and Matcha harvest is 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 26: (Aracha Processing)


Tea sprouts just after harvested

Steaming process. Tea leaves just steamed come out.

Monitoring each process setting

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


"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 19: (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.


These organic compost proof that this organic tea farm is carefully and well managed.


Frogs eat harmful insects in organic tea farm.
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 10: (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




Cooling kettle of tea in a nearby brook

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



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 5: (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 May 3 for hand picked

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

Tea sprouts as of May 3 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)
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 17th, 25th, 26th, 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 8 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.

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 2017 Shincha teas, and we started accepting pre-orders. Would you check them once.

Around April 28: (Organic Tea Farm)


Organic tea tree sprouts in late afternoon at April 27. They have been growing more slowly than conventional grown tea sprouts.

Organic grown tea trees as of April 27. The brown portions of tea leaves have been eaten by bugs in last summer and autumn.

Conventional grown tea tree sprouts as of April 27

Organic fertilizer put among tea trees

Ant consumes nectar from flower at 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 2017 Shincha teas, and will start accepting pre-orders very soon. Would you check once?

Around April 21:


Tea sprouts shine in the breeze.

Branches of tea tree for hand-picked, too shake with the wind.

It a little rained in this morning. It was blessed rain. (as of April 19)

Can you hear babbling of a brook? Petals of cherry blossom are on the water.

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.

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 20
Over the last seven days (April 15 to 21) 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 2 weeks or more on May 7 or 9 which is the usual time of year or perhaps a few days later than usual.

Around April 14:


Obuku area, in the mountain ravines, the the cherry blossoms are now their best as of April 12. This is nera by the birth palce of Sohen Nagatani, where is near by Obuku area.

It is a week or more later than last year and some days later than usual.

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.

Tea leaves in "HONZU" TANA canopy as of April 12

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 12.
Over the last week (April 7 to 13) the maximum temperature each day was about 13C (55F) to 21C (70F), and the minimum temperature each day was about 3C (37F) to 10C (50F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. And it rained about 3 or 4 days in the past two weeks. These are ideal conditions 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 or four weeks until the Shincha (Sencha) harvest!

Around April 7:


Cherry blossoms will start to bloom very soon in Ujitawara. This is as of April 6.

Cherry blossoms will start to bloom today's afternoon or tomorrow. This is as of April 6.

Cherry blossoms as of April 1, 2016


Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold.

Tea sprouts as of April 6
The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara will be at their best in a few or some days. It is a week later than last year and a few days later than usual.
At the birthplace of Uji tea, the Obuku area nestled in mountain ravines, the cherry blossoms will be at their peak next week. 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 1C (34F) to 12C (54F) and the highest temperature was 17C (63F) to 22C (72F). During the previous week, the lowest temperature was 0C (33F) 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 7st or 10th which is a few days later than usual. It depends on the weather from now on.

Around March 31:


Cherry blossoms wil start to bloom in Ujitawara in few days. This is as of March 31.

Babbling of a brook melts your heart.


Insects come out of hiding and start to become active.

Tea sprouts as of March 29

SUISEN narcissus blossoms late winter to early spring. Full-fledged spring is coming.
Cherry blossom season is starting soon in Kyoto. The beautiful pink blossoms will be able to 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 will start to bloom in just a few days. 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 be in full bloom next week.

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.

Then at the end of March, 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 five weeks or more until the Shincha harvest.

Around March 24:



Cherry blossom buds on March 23

Piled up organic fertilizer

Proof of tea tree absorbing enough nutrients

Tea sprouts as of March 23

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, and the babbling of a brook melts your heart. 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 10 days 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 six weeks or more until the start of the Shincha harvest.

Around March 17:


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

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

Pine cones fallen in last autumn. And wild flowers start their springtime growth.  

UME Plum is now full bloom here in Ujitawara. (Above is red plum as of March 10)

Cherry blossom buds on March 16

Tea sprouts on March 17. 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.

The first half of this winter was quite mild. Then, in January, the weather was cold as usual and there was some snowfall. Though the amount of precipitation was somewhat less this winter than usual, the number of sunny days was also less than usual. So, the moisture content of the tea farm soil, which is one of the important factors farmers use to predict if this year's harvest will be abundant, is fortunately at an ideal level now.

This is the time of year when UME Japanese plum typically is in full bloom here in Ujitawara, and this year, UME is blooming right on schedule. UME blooms 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.

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 6 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).

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] Farmers' Shincha (160g/5.64oz): US$26.00 (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$23.00 (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$26.00 (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$83.00 (Now Available)
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...

Regular Sencha items with especially enjoyable Shincha flavor

We recommed three regular items especially recommended to enjoy Shincha's remarkable refreshing aroma and fresh and smooth flavor!...

[Shincha!] Sencha Pinnacle (40g/1.41oz): US$28.00 (Now Available)
Sencha Pinnacle, which is the highest quality Sencha produced in Japan, is the same type of tea which has been presented to the Japanese emperor for many years. This tea is grown at the same tea farm with tea that had been presented to the Japanese Emperor, and harvested in the same way, picked by skilled hands...
[Shincha!] Sencha Super Premium (40g/1.41oz): US$21.00 (Now Available)
This tea is grown at the same tea farm with tea that had been presented to the Japanese Emperor for many hundreds of years, and harvested in the same way, picked by skilled hands. With this special tea, you can enjoy the same Shincha flavor enjoyed by Japanese Emperors...

[Shincha!] Organic Sencha Premium (100g/3.53oz): US$24.00 (Now Available)
Organic Sencha's harvest generally starts 7 to 10 days later than conventional grown Sencha. The feature of the flavor is very simple and traditional. We imagine that the Shincha flavor enjoyed hundreds of years ago in historical Japan was just like this. Would you enjoy the simple Shincha flavor that was enjoyed long, long ago?...

Replacement Status of Regular Teas

Replacement status of regular Sencha items by 2017 new crop

Replacement status of regular Gyokuro items by 2017 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.