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 3:

Contrary to last week's expectation, the cherry blossoms in Ujitawara have not be bloom yet due to recent cold weather.

The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara will be at their best this weekend. This is as of 11:00 AM on April 2. The temperature is 9C (48F) at that time.

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

Electric fans activate when the temperature gets too cold.

Tea sprouts as of April 2. This noon was caught cold shower.
The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara will be at their best this weekend. Contrary to last week's expectation, the cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara have not be at the peak yet due to recent cold weather. There were five or six rainy days in the past week. It was the blessed rain for tea trees.
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.

During the past 7 days, the lowest temperature of each day was 1C (34F) to 10C (50F) and the highest temperature was 12C (54F) to 18C (64F). During the previous week, the lowest temperature was -1C (30F) to 6C (43F) and the highest temperature was 11C (52F) to 20C (68F). 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 7th which is a few or some days earlier than usual. It depends on the weather from now on.

Around March 27:

Cherry blossoms will start to bloom today's afternoon or tomorrow in Ujitawara. This is as of 10:00 AM March 26. Today’s afternoon seem to get warm up to 20C (68F).

Many brooks run in and around our tea farms. All of them are pure, calm and clear. Babbling of a brook melts your heart.

SUISEN narcissus blossoms late winter to early spring. Full-fledged spring is coming.

Proof of tea tree absorbing enough nutrients

Piled up organic fertilizer

Tea sprouts as of March 26
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.

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 moderately turned warm this year. During that time, the lowest temperature of each day was -1C (30F) to 6C (43F) and the highest temperature was 11C (52F) to 20C (68F). 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 20:

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

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

Petals of TSUBAKI Japanese camellia as of March 11. It is just before falling and one or two weeks earlier than usual.

UME Plum has been full bloom here in Ujitawara since the week before last. (Above is white plum as of March 11)

Cherry blossom buds on March 19

Tea sprouts on March 20. 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 winter was the mildest we have had in recent years, though last year's winter was also rather milder than usual. Though the rainfall amount in January and February was a little lower than average, the amount is quite enough for tea trees. So, there was hardly any damage like freezing or drought. The summer and autumn rainfall last year was also just the right amount.
As a result, the current condition of tea trees and farms is almost ideal. If the April weather is fair, this year's harvest may start quite early. We, tea farmers, worry about the possibility of frost damage late in the season when tea trees experience early and ideal growth as they have this year.

UME Japanese plum trees typically bloom in mid-March in Ujitawara, but this year, the UME started blooming a week or two earlier than usual. UME bloom 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!