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 19:

Tea sprouts shine in the breeze, and TANA canopies, too shake with the wind.

It is a clear and sunny day on April 17.
We have plenty amount of rain past some weeks, and it is getting warm favorably. It is ideal condition for tea trees.

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.

Late-blooming YAE no SAKURA. It rained last night. It was blessed rain. (as of April 17)

At this time of year, egrets are often seen coming to the rice paddies for insects.

Tea leaves for Sencha (Shincha) as of April 18
Over the last seven days (April12 to 18) the minimum temperature each day was about 2C (36F) to 12C (54F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. We worried spring frost on April 12th in the morning and a minimum temperature of 2C (36F). Fortunately, it had rained the day before and there was no frost.
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 April 30 or May 2 which is a few days earlier than usual year.

Around April 12:

SHISARE ZAKURA weeping cherry blossoms of late-blooming. This is at the birth house of Sohen Nagatani as of April 11.

Cherry blossoms around the mountain ravines in Ujitawara is now full bloom.

TANA canopy built with modern materials.

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

Tea leaves under TANA canopy as of April 11.

Tea leaves for Sencha (Shincha) as of April 11.
Over the last week (April 5 to 11) the maximum temperature each day was about 14C (57F) to 21C (70F), and the minimum temperature each day was about 2C (35F) to 10C (50F) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. These are good conditions for tea sprouts at the early stage of growth.
And it rained about 8 or 10 days in the past three 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 right 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 more until the Shincha (Sencha) harvest!

Around April 5:

The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara started blooming at the early half of this week. This is as of April 3.

They will be full bloom in a couple of days. It is almost same with usual year.

Can you hear UGUISU bush warbler's carol?
Our tea farm at the birthplace of Uji tea is also near the historical spot IEYASU IGAGOE no MICHI (the path of IEYASU went away through IGA in 1582).

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 4.
The cherry blossoms here in Ujitawara, which started blooming at the early half of this week, will be at their best in a couple of days. It is just same as usual and later than a week than the last year.
At the birthplace of Uji tea, the Obuku area nestled in mountain ravines, the cherry blossoms will be at their peak next weekend. 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 4C (39F) to 10C (50F) and the highest temperature was 15C (59F) to 22C (72F). 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 3rd or 8th which is almost same with usual. It depends on the weather from now on.

Around March 29:

As of March 28.
Cherry blossoms will start blooming in some days. We have cold rainy days this week. Weather forecast says it will get warm from this weekend. Highest temperature of each day will be 20C to 22C (68F to72F) and lowest temperature will be 7C to 10C (45F to 50F).

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

Field mustard planted around tea farm. 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 28.
Cherry blossom season is starting in Kyoto just in a couple days. 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 will start to bloom in some days. It is almost same with usual year and some days later than last year.

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.

There were many relatively warmer days than usual in the first ten days of this month, and many cold days called KAN no MODORI (returning cold days) after the middle of the month. Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, this year's harvest will occur at the usual time, 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 22:

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

UME plum flower is quite cue and beautiful. Can you feel balmy aroma? (as of Mar 14)

YUZU citrus fruits fell during the winter. They are coincidentally lined up close together.

Wild flowers start their springtime growth.

Cherry blossom buds around March 20.

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.

Last year, the amount of rainfall was 1,160ml/square meter annually in Kyoto, which was lower than the typical amount of 1,600ml/square meter annually in Kyoto. We also had less precipitation this past winter.
This past winter was extremely mild. In fact, it was record-setting in terms of mildness. So, farmers thought this year’s harvest would start much earlier than usual, which also happened last year. However, cold rainy days continued from the last week of February to the second week of March. As a result, the annual sprouting of the tea trees was thankfully moderated, and tea farms were blessed with rain.

This is the time of year when UME Japanese plum typically is in full bloom here in Ujitawara, and this year, the peak of UME blooming is a little earlier. UME blooms a few or more 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.

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 Pre-orders Taken

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!

Started the Pre-order Sale of Shincha Teas!

The harvest of Shincha (the first tea of the year) is just around the corner! We, at Hibiki-an, started to accept pre-orders of Shincha.
We have been arranging four limited edition Shincha items and three regular Sencha items with especially enjoyable Shincha flavor for pre-order sales as described below. We anticipate that each item will be shipped in order of precedence as soon as it is harvested. To pre-order, please go through the usual order process. 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] Shincha Traditional (80g/2.82oz): US$25.00 (Now Pre-orders Taken)
These tea leaves are finished in the traditional Uji/Kyoto style. Therefore the astringent refreshing aroma and mellow flavor are prominent, and the harmony is excellent...
[Limited] Shincha AOTE (80g/2.82oz): US$23.00 (Now Pre-orders Taken)
With Shincha AOTE, the astringent refreshing aroma and bitter taste is moderated, the tea color is greener, and the taste is mellower...
[Limited] Shincha Fukamushi (80g/2.82oz): US$21.00 (Now Pre-orders Taken)
Saemidori breed brings us pleasure in the springtime, to consider the unique flavor and early-ripening. Enjoy the sweet and smooth taste unique to this tea, as well as the fresh aroma...
[Limited] Farmers' Shincha (160g/5.64oz): US$25.00 (Now Pre-orders Taken)
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...

Regular Sencha items with especially enjoyable Shincha flavor

For pre-orders, we chose 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 Pre-orders Taken)
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 Pre-orders Taken)
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$25.00 (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?...