What is the tea? - Hibiki-an’s Limited Tea

What is the tea? - Hibiki-an’s Limited Tea


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.

What is Tencha?

Tencha is the name for tea leaves used for Matcha, before the leaves are ground into fine powder. The Tencha flavor, brewed by same way with Gyokuro, is quite unique, pure, noble, and elegant. The tea color is pale green, the taste is deep and mellow, and the subtle noble aroma lingers in the mouth for a while. It is different both from Gyokuro and Matcha.

Tea leaves for Tencha are grown in the same way as Gyokuro, but processed differently than Gyokuro. Tea leaves for Tencha and Gyokuro are grown in the shade for 20 or 30 days before harvest, so that both contain much Theanine, which is the source of its smooth and mellow taste. Harvested fresh tea leaves are first steamed. Then in the case of Gyokuro, the steamed tea leaves are dried and kneaded by crumpling. In contrast to Gyokuro, the steamed tea leaves for Tencha are dried but not kneaded. Then to make Matcha, Tencha is ground into fine powder.

Tencha is not kneaded, in contrast to Gyokuro or Sencha. The cell walls of the tea leaves are broken down by the kneading process, so that all elements of Gyokuro and Sencha can easily be infused into water. Only the elements of pure elegant flavor are infused. And unlike Gyokuro or Sencha, it is not easy to extract the flavor from Tencha during the brewing process. Only high grade or highest grade Tencha can brew flavorfully in water.

The special growing and processing of Tencha creates its unique and pure elegant flavor.

  • Shaded from sunlight in "Tana" canopy

  • Drying process for Tencha

  • Kneading process for Gyokuro or Sencha

  • Tencha tea leaves

  • Gyokuro tea leaves

  • Tencha flavor is uniquely pure and elegant

What is Kuradashi Tea?

Do you know Kuradashi Tea? In contrast to Sencha, which is enjoyed for its refreshing aroma immediately after harvest, Gyokuro and Matcha gain an enriched flavor and deep noble aroma and sweetness over time, and therefore are best some months after harvest. A long time ago, people celebrated aged Gyokuro and Matcha in autumn, just as Shincha is celebrated in spring. This special autumn tea was called Kuradashi Tea, meaning tea taken out from the granary. Our Kuradashi Tea is aged in the granary for more than 1.5 years.

Today's Japanese tea lovers favor both fresh Gyokuro and Matcha, and enriched Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha. It just depends on each person's individual taste and preference to know which kind will be their favorite. However, it is more and more difficult to find real enriched Kuradashi Tea even in Japan. It is not easy to enrich and sweeten Gyokuro and Matcha. If one doesn't keep a close watch over their Kuradashi Tea, it will easily deteriorate. Like a fine wine, aged tea can easily pass from a state of being deliciously enriched to a state of being deteriorated.
Besides, all Gyokuro and Matcha do not gain an enriched flavor but only specific kinds of Gyokuro and Matcha. It depends on some factors, such as the breed of tea leaves, how the sunlight is shaded, management of fertilizer and nutrients, the processing procedure, and so on.
Therefore many wholesalers and retailers these days are not willing to accept risks in order to create Kuradashi Tea.
Since we at Hibiki-an, understand the traditional way of aging Kuradashi Tea properly, we are happy to be able to provide you with Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha. We would like Japanese tea lovers around the world to be able to experience the remarkable and noble enriched and sweetened flavor and aroma of true Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha.

Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha, which are aged in the granary for more than 1.5 years, are different from ordinary Gyokuro and Matcha in aroma and flavor, so it may be enjoyable for you to compare this tea with regular Gyokuro and Matcha. The superb enriched and sweetened flavor and aroma of this special tea lingers in the mouth for a while. The aroma is full, but not too strong. The flavor is richer and subtle. The taste is both mellow and enhanced.

Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha can best be described in the same way a fine wine is described and enjoyed by connoisseurs. Like Pinot Noir red wine, Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha are amazingly full flavored with hints of woody spices, sweet fruits, and nuts, as well as oak, earth, leaves, and grass. It is difficult to describe this remarkably delicious tea and just must be experienced firsthand!

Harvest in May
Enriched by the traditional way

What is Competition Grade Tea?

Competition Grade Tea and Belended Sencha are now available. They are all limited edition only available this winter season.

The National Tea Competition is held several times a year in Japan. Sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and attended by executives of the Japanese tea industry, the event provides a venue for tea farmers and producers to receive feedback in order to improve Japanese tea agricultural and manufacturing techniques, and to congratulate and encourage those that have produced outstanding tea.

Teas contributed to the National Tea Competition usually have a full and generous flavor that is smooth, mellow, and deep, along with the fresh aroma of young sprouts. Gyokuro and Matcha have an especially noble aroma created by shading the tea plants from sunlight for more than 20 days before harvest. The feature of the flavor and aroma is unique only to teas contributed to the exclusive competition and quite different from usual tea. Competition grade teas outshine even the highest grade teas found in tea shops in Japan.

Competition Grade Tea is available only at the National Tea Fair of Japan, attended by those within the Japanese green tea industry. Even in Japan it is almost impossible to find tea of this quality - this is one of the very best available anywhere. This is quite a unique opportunity to try the deep mellow taste, fresh aroma of young tea sprouts, and noble flavor found only at Japan's National Tea Competition.

  • Competition grade Matcha is a bright green color.

  • Tea leaves of competition grade Gyokuro and Sencha are quite short and fine, like tiny green needles.

  • Evaluating water color and flavor. The flavor is quite different from usual tea.

What is Blended Sencha?

Competition Grade Tea and Belended Sencha are now available. They are all limited edition only available this winter season.

With a single cup of Blended Sencha, one can concurrently enjoy two different characteristics: the aroma of Sencha and the taste of Gyokuro. Blended Sencha is more sweet and mellow than basic Sencha, characteristic of Gyokuro. But, it has a more refreshing aroma than Gyokuro, characteristic of Sencha.

The aroma of Sencha and the taste of Gyokuro are created by a labor-intensive blending technique similar to that of Blended Sencha Premium or Super Premium.

Arcanum is a great secret of nature, a natural mystery or special blend of natural ingredients, known only to a small group of specialists, such as alchemists. We call this tea "Arcanum" because it is a special blend of Sencha which provides a dramatically intense and balanced flavor.

What is Houjicha?

Houjicha is smooth and mellow roasted nut flavor, which lingers nicely for a while. We would like you to rediscover the value of our Houjicha items for monthly recommendation.

The first three processing steps of Houjicha tea leaves are the same as for Sencha: 1) Steaming, 2) Drying and Crumpling, and 3) Shaping. But to make Houjicha, the tea goes through one special additional step: 4) Roasting. The smooth and mellow roasted aroma of Houjicha is created by roasted.
Like Sencha, tea leaves for Houjicha are grown with fully-flooded sunlight, so that Houjicha contains beneficial Catechin. And since Houjicha is pan-roasted, it is very low in caffeine. In Japan, Houjicha is commonly given to babies and people who are sick because it is both nourishing and low in caffeine. Besides, Houjicha is perfect for iced tea. It will cool you on a sizzling hot day.

Hibiki-an uses only the highest grade (first harvested, or pruned after harvesting Shincha) tea leaves to make all of our Houjicha items. The finished product is a fresh roasted chestnut-brown color. The leaves are only lightly roasted to maximize the essential flavor of the tea leaves. The flavor is very smooth and the aroma lingers nicely for a while.

Unfortunately many tea companies use low grade tea leaves (second harvested, third harvested, pruned in autumn, etc.) to make their Houjicha. Other Houjicha (not ours!) is roasted too strongly and becomes a dark brown color, so the flavor is smoky and not smooth at all.

Also Houjicha items are all good affordable everyday tea and are favorite beverage of tea farmers all over Japan. Like "fresh roasted" coffee, Houjicha is also most flavorful just after roasting. Needless to say, all of our Houjicha items at Hibiki-an are fresh roasted, packaged just after roasting.

  • Tea Color of Houjicha

  • Tea leaves of Houjicha

  • Tea leaves of Houjicha Karigane

  • Roasting facility

  • Tea leaves conveyed to the roasting machine

  • Houjicha tea leaves just completed roasting

What is Karigane?

We would like you to rediscover the value of our Karigane teas for monthly recommendation.

Karigane is made from the stems of Gyokuro and high grade Sencha. Tea leaves, stems, and powder are sorted during the finishing process. The stems are called Karigane, and only account for about 5 to 10% of all tea leaves. The stems of middle or low grade Sencha are not called Karigane.

Karigane stems are rich in Teanin. Teanin is a kind of amino acid found in green tea that builds protein. The molecular structure (base arrangement) of Teanin is similar to Glutamic Acid which is known for having a sweet and flavorful taste and working to relax the brain and body.

Karigane is less expensive than tea leaves because it is a by-product. It is sorted from high grade tea leaves, and therefore has a better flavor than tea leaves of a similarly low price. In Japan some Gyokuro lovers tend to search for Gyokuro Karigane sorted from much higher grade Gyokuro. Karigane lovers are usually repeat customers - once they try Karigane they want to drink it all the time because it has such a great flavor and is an excellent value.

Karigane is sometimes difficult to find. This is because it's only made from top quality tea leaves. Since Karigane only makes up 10% of these top grade leaves, there is only a tiny amount of Karigane produced each year. So many green tea lovers in Japan search far and wide for Karigane. Fortunately Hibiki-an is able to have a steady supply of Karigane because we grow and sell only the highest grade tea leaves.

  • Karigane is made from the stems of Gyokuro and high grade Sencha

  • Processing Scene

  • Tea color of each Karigane item

  • Tea leaves of Gyokuro Karigane

  • Tea leaves of Sencha Karigane

  • Tea leaves of Houjicha Karigane

What is Konacha?

Konacha is made from the specks and tiny tea leaves of Gyokuro or Sencha tea leaves. Konacha is less expensive than tea leaves because Konacha is a natural byproduct of traditional tea processing, like Karigane. Especially Konacha, sorted from high grade tea leaves, has a better flavor than tea leaves of a similarly low price.

Our Konacha is made from specks and tiny tea leaves of high grade Gyokuro or Sencha, because specks sorted from middle or low grade tea leaves have an undesirable flavor.

In Japan, tea connoisseurs search for high quality Konacha. High quality Konacha is sometimes difficult to find. Konacha accounts for only 10% of all tea leaves. Besides, top quality tea leaves are grown in limited quantity. Hibiki-an is able to have a steady supply of Konacha because we grow and sell only high grade tea leaves.

  • The brewed infusion color is deeper than regular Gyokuro due to the very fine dusting of tea leaf, one characteristic of Konacha.

  • Konacha is sorted specks and tiny tea leaves from high grade Gyokuro or Sencha.

  • Left side is Gyokuro Konacha tea leaves and right side is regular Gyokuro. You can see that Konacha is a very fine dusting of tea leaf.

  • Specks or tiny tea leaves for Konacha are sorted at several steps of the finishing process. This step is first sorting Aracha unprocessed tea leaves.

  • This step is second sorting Aracha unprocessed tea leaves.

  • At this step, tea leaves are divided into specks and Mecha sprout tea leaves.