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 April 20:

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 baby spider on the tip of the new sprout gazes at us.

It rained last night. It was blessed rain. (as of April 18)

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 19
Over the last seven days (April 13 to 19) the minimum temperature each day was about 4C (39F) to 13C (56F) 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 less on April 29 or May 3 which is the usual time of year or perhaps a few days earlier than usual.

Around April 13:

TANA canopy built with modern materials

Tea leaves in TANA canopy as of April 10.

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

additional covering of "HONZU" TANA canopy over the top to create more shade. It enables us to adjust the level of shade and sunlight.

Fertilizer gives much nutrients to tea trees. Fertilizer in Gyokuro / Matcha tea trees is used three times or more than used in Sencha tea trees.

Tea leaves for Sencha(Shincha) as of April 12.
Over the last week (April 6 to 12) the maximum temperature each day was about 13C (55F) to 25C (77F), and the minimum temperature each day was about 2C (36F) to 13C (55F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. And it rained about 2 or 3 days in the past two weeks. These are good conditions for tea sprouts at the early stage of growth.
The exceptions were April 8th, 9th, and 10th, which had spring frost in the morning and a minimum temperature of 2C (36F), 1C(34F), and 3C(38F) each day. 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 left and 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 until the Shincha (Sencha) harvest!

Around April 6:

Cherry blossoms around the mountain ravines in Ujitawara are in full bloom. This is as of April 4.

Color contrast between petals of cherry blossoms and that of camellia is quite beautiful.

Entrance gate of The birth house of Sohen Nagatani. Those three pictures ware taken around his house.

Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold.

Electric fans are strategically placed around the tea trees to stir the air during the month of April to avoid spring frost.

Tea sprouts as of April 5
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 the night of April 4th, it rained for the first time in the last 2 weeks. Almost all of cherry blossoms in Kyoto city fell due to this rain. It will also rain this evening (April 6th), and it will scatter cherry blossoms falling in Ujitawara area. However, both of them are the blessed rains for tea trees.

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.

We think that this year's harvest will start May 2nd or 6th which is a few days earlier than usual. It depends on the weather from now on.

Around March 30:

Cherry blossoms just started to bloom in Ujitawara. This is as of March 29.

Cherry blossoms just start to bloom today's afternoon. This is as of 15:30 PM at March 29.

Cherry blossoms as of April 10, 2017

Proof of tea tree absorbing enough nutrients

Compost made in the foil bag

Tea sprouts as of March 28
Cherry blossom season started in Kyoto. The beautiful pink blossoms are 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 started to bloom just a few or some days ago. It is a few or some days earlier than usual and a week or more earlier than last year.
We took photos of the cherry trees at our tea farm. The cherry blossoms at our farm in the lush valley surrounded by mountains just started to bloom yesterday's afternoon or today and will be in full bloom next week. This year, once started to bloom, it takes just a few days to be full bloom because we don't quite rarely have cold days nor rainy days past 7 days, and we won't next week too. It is usually said that "HARU ni MIKKA no HARE nashi" which means there are not three consecutive sunny days in spring.

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.

Past the equinox (March 21st), the weather in Kyoto quite rapidly turned warm this year. During that time, the lowest temperature of each day was -1C (30F) to 9C (48F) and the highest temperature was 13C (55F) to 26C (79F). Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, this year's harvest will likely come a few or some days earlier than 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 23:

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

Charcoals. Farmers or destructive animal hunters had a bonfire for warmth in severe cold days.

Wild flowers start their springtime growth. SUISEN Narcissus buds, which will blossom in a couple of weeks.  

UME Plum is now full bloom here in Ujitawara. (Above is red plum as of March 18)

Cherry blossom buds on March 22

Tea sprouts on March 22. 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.

This year winter was severe cold, and the average lowest temperature of each day was lower than usual. Rainfall amount has relatively been lower than usual since last autumn. As the result withered tea leaves are dotted on many tea farms in Uji region, Kyoto. Some tea leaves were died due to exposed to strong cold window and dried. Though the withered tea leaves are shown little more than usual year, fortunately those are not severe at all. They will just resurge by shooting new sprouts in sprig. Now's condition of tea trees and farms are not basically so bad but a bit preferable.

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 21st). 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.

Status of Shincha Teas

Shincha (the first tea of the year) is harvested starting at the beginning of May in Kyoto. We are planning to sell some limited edition Shincha items only available this Shincha harvest season. 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! Please wait and see!