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 March 24:

This is as of 10:00 AM March 24. Cherry blossoms seems to start blooming before dawn today in Ujitawara. It got warm up to 25C (77F) on Mach 22. Cherry blossom buds grew rapidly after that.

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.
Soil, fed abundant fertilizer since last summer, among tea trees. Healthy soil is airy because of minute creatures' activities.

Tea sprouts as of March 24

Camellia and plum have been falling. Full-fledged spring is coming.
Cherry blossom season was starting in Kyoto just a few or some days ago. 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 be full 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 just started to bloom today. It is some days or a week earlier than usual and some days earlier than last year. It is also the secondly earliest on record.

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, though we have had a few cold days. During that time, the lowest temperature of each day was -1C (30F) to 12C (54F) and the highest temperature was 9C (48F) to 25C (77F). 25C (77F) is same temperature with the middle of May in usual year. 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 or six weeks until the Shincha harvest.

Around March 17:

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

UME plum prove.

UME flower is quite cue and beautiful. Can you feel balmy aroma?

Wild flowers start their springtime growth.

TSUBAKI camellia. Now is just last season for this year's TSUBAKI.
Most flower petals were fallen due to last night's rain.

Tea sprouts on March 15. 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 weather this winter in Ujitawara, Kyoto was average, though there were a few days that were the coldest in the past 10 years. The lowest temperature was -8C (18F) in January. The rainfall amount this winter was roughly 50 to 70 percent for an average year. However, we had more rainfall last autumn, so that intake of water was beneficial for the tea trees. The tea trees are now healthy and in good condition.
It rapidly got warm in the beginning of March, and there were warm days, which felt like April or May, from the beginning of March to March 12th. The weather forecast predicts warmer than average temperatures in the last half of March, too. We, tea farmers worry about the possibility of a late spring frost, which can damage tea sprouts. When the tea sprouts start to grow earlier in the season, they can be damaged by a spring frost, which can occur as late as April.

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!