Shincha News Flash

Shincha News Flash

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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 May 24: (Shincha Harvest of Gyokuro and Matcha)
  • Hand picking harvest under "Tana" canopy.

  • Inside "Tana" canopy. "Tana" brings a feeling of peaceful tranquility and comfort.

  • Tea sprouts just before picked.

  • Recently it is not easy to recruit for hand picking.

  • The bag is filled with fresh tea leaves. It is very heavy.

  • Only young sprouts are picked by skilled hands.

  • Tea leaves picked and placed in a bamboo basket.

  • Tea leaves are replaced to large bag.

  • Carrying the bag filled with tea leaves just after picked.

  • Various insects are also active at this time of year.

  • Break time. Idle banter is one of pleasant times for hand-picking ladies.

  • Warm and soft slit light between "Tana" canopy is reflected on young sprouts.

  • Under "Tana" canopy, tea leaves turn darker green.

  • Skilled tea harvester can hand pick just up to 12 to 18kg of fresh tea leaves throughout the day.

  • Tea trees after harvest.

The harvest of tea leaves for Gyokuro and Matcha started around May 15. As with the Sencha harvest, this year's Gyokuro and Matcha harvest is later than usual.

Gyokuro and Matcha are grown in the shade for 20 to 30 days before harvest. High grade Gyokuro and Matcha are shaded from sunlight by a structure called "Tana" as in the above picture. It is reasonably dark and amazingly cool and quiet in the "Tana" structure. Most of all, the air in the "Tana" is filled with the fresh green scent of tea leaves, so brisk and invigorating. While the tea trees are covered by the "Tana" for 20 to 30 days to shade sunlight, if you walk beneath the canopy, among the green tea trees, you feel that the tea trees surely must breathe and effuse elements which are healing and comforting, though it has not been proven by science. Under the "Tana" canopy, the air feels thick with these healthful and comforting elements.
Anyone who walks under the "Tana" is aware of an immense feeling of serenity and tranquility. Indeed, the women who pick Gyokuro and Matcha under the "Tana" say that in contrast to the Sencha harvest in full sunlight, which brings joy from the bright sunlight, hearing birdcalls and murmur of a brook, the Gyokuro and Matcha harvest under the "Tana" brings a feeling of peaceful tranquility and comfort because of the cool shade, quiet calm, and the heavy scent of the green tea trees.

To harvest tea from a farm that is 1,000 square meters (1,308 sq yards) in size, it takes 2 days with about 25 people picking the tea leaves by hand. In contrast, it takes only a half-day with 2 or 3 persons to trim the same amount of tea leaves by machine. A tea farm of this size usually produces approximately 100 to 120kg (220 to 265lb) of Aracha tea leaves (unfinished / including stems, veins, and powders, etc.) for Gyokuro or Matcha.

Gyokuro and Matcha gain an enriched flavor over time, and are traditionally enjoyed some months after harvest. In fact, a very special type of Gyokuro called "Kuradashi Gyokuro" and "Kuradashi Matcha" are aged for a few years, like a fine red wine. However, today's tea connoisseurs favor both fresh Gyokuro and Matcha and enriched Kuradashi Gyokuro and Matcha. With fresh Gyokuro and Matcha, you can enjoy not only the smooth and mellow taste, but also a unique fresh aroma characteristic of Shincha. This unique freshness cannot be found in typical enriched Gyokuro or Matcha.

We are now currently offering Shincha Gyokuro and Shincha Matcha, which are both limited edition teas only available this harvest season. If you love Gyokuro or Matcha, you are sure to enjoy the unique freshness of these two very special limited-edition teas.

Around May 17: (Aracha Processing)
  • After harvesting, tea leaves are carried immediately.

  • Tea sprouts are being harvested.

  • Steaming process.

  • Tea leaves after steaming.

  • The heat from the furnace makes the factory hot.

  • Kneading process.

  • At this process, called JHUNEN, water is squeezed from inside of tea leaves.

  • The color of the tea leaves become brighter.

  • Shaping machine.

  • Tea leaves are twisted into thin strips.

  • Drying machine.

  • This tea leaves are called "Aracha".

  • Processing machines are cleaned daily.

  • All machines are used long and carefully.

"Aracha" Processing steps:
Now is the time for the Shincha (Sencha) harvest that we have all been waiting for! From the time the sprouts grow enough to the time the leaves become too large to harvest is just a few days. So tea leaves for Shincha (Sencha) must be harvested as quickly as possible in one long stretch. Many tea processing facilities will work non-stop, holding an all-night vigil for the Shincha.

After being picked or trimmed, fresh tea leaves are processed the same day. Processing steps are 1) Steaming, 2) Drying and Crumpling, and 3) Shaping. It is said that the Steaming step is the most difficult and requires skill and experience, even though the steaming time is just 30 to 60 seconds. If tea leaves are steamed heavier, the astringency and refreshing aroma that characterizes Sencha is destroyed. On the contrary, if tea leaves are not steamed enough, the taste will not be good at all. Farmers arrange the steaming temperature and steaming time, considering the conditions of picked fresh tea leaves (thickness of tea leaves, how soft, and so on).

During the Drying and Crumpling step, the cell walls of the tea leaves break down, so that the tea flavor and constituents can easily be extracted into water. Just for reference, Tencha, the material tea leaves used to make Matcha, is not crumpled or kneaded, and the Matcha is ground into fine powder using the stone mill.

It takes approximately 4 hours to finish all the "Aracha" Processing steps. "Aracha" tea leaves (unfinished / containing stems, veins, and powders, etc.) weight becomes only one-fifth that of fresh tea leaves just after the harvest. The water content of "Aracha" is usually just 2% or 3%.

Aracha is green tea that has been processed by the farmer, but is not finally finished. It is unique simple flavor, so that it has been enjoying for centuries. Our litmited edition Farmers' Shincha is "Aracha" Shincha. You can enjoy the natural taste and refreshing aroma of this "Aracha" Shincha at an affordable price.)


The Kyoto Tea Trade Show:
Aracha is green tea that has been processed by the farmer, but is not finally finished. It is either sold directly to the wholesale house or bid on at the Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association (Kyoto Prefecture Headquarters of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations).

At the Kyoto Japan Agricultural Corporative Association, over half of the tea at the show is grown in Uji. These events are held three times every week throughout the harvest season at the Kyoto Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association. At the peak, over one hundred tons of tea leaves are collected and dealt on one day. Buyers consider the breed, location of the tea farm, farm or family name, tea quantity, and so on. They also thoroughly test the quality of the tea when they tender a bid. To appreciate the quality of the tea, they carefully check the water color and clarity as well as the brightness of the appearance of the tea leaves. They will not accept defective leaves which do not have enough brilliance or cloudy water color. To judge them, unfailing discriminating technique is required.

Around May 15: (Organic Shincha Harvest)
  • Tea sprouts just before harvest.

  • It is the perfect time for harvest.

  • Carefully trimmed in order to be neither too deep nor thin.

  • Tea leaves are harvested in turn.

  • If trimmed too deep, the quality would not be good.

  • If trimmed too thin, the yield would not be good.

  • After being trimmed, the tea trees take on a well-defined shape.

  • It is hard work to carry harvested tea sprouts.

  • It is important to place harvested tea sprouts in the shade in order to protect fresh tea sprouts from heat.

  • From a distance, the tea leaves have a dark green color after trimming.

  • Short break. Tiredness makes it amazingly tasty.

Above pictures are machine-trimmed harvest scene.

Organic Shincha Harvest:
The Shincha harvest of conventionally grown teas began about 10 days or 2 weeks ago. On the other hand, the Shincha harvest of organic tea began some days ago. Our organic teas are grown with only natural organic fertilizers, which work slowly. Therefore organic Shincha tea is generally harvested 7 to 10 days later than conventionally grown teas.
For excellent harmony of refreshing aroma and smooth taste of Shincha (Sencha), it is important to harvest tea sprouts at the perfect time. If too early, the yield amount would be too small. If too late, the flavor would be dull. Tea sprouts grow very quickly after the middle of May, so that the best harvest timing for Shincha (Sencha) spans just a few days. The harvest season is the busiest time of the year for farmers. Therefore, it is not so easy to harvest Shincha at precisely the right time.
Organic Sencha Premium will be available soon.

Rain in the Harvest Season:
In May, throughout the Shincha Harvest season, it often rains in Kyoto. During this time, the flavor an aroma of the tea leaves is deepened by the rain. Indeed, tea leaves harvested on the day after a rain are frequently deeper in flavor and aroma.
However, if tea leaves are harvested covered in rain drops, it ruins the quality of the tea. This low quality tea is called TSUYU-ME, meaning sprouts with rain drops. Besides, tea leaves grow quickly after the rain and easily grow too large to harvest. These are the reasons why rain in the harvest season bothers tea farmers.
And if it rains in the early stage of the harvest season, the tea leaves prices go up sharply. The amount of tea leaves harvested and placed on the market dramatically decreases because rain hampers the harvest.
Certainly, the rain in the harvest season is a great blessing and a hassle at the same time.

Around May 8: (Shincha Harvest at the Birthplace of Uji Tea)
  • Obuku, where is located in mountain ravines.

  • Obuku is the first place where tea trees were planted in Uji region of Japan.

  • Everyone is very happy, because we can savor the joy of the harvest.

  • Sencha grown in Obuku area was presented to the Japanese Emperors for many years.

  • Tea leaves are carefully picked one by one.

  • Handpicking is a scene that has remained unchanged for a long time.

  • Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium, which are grown at Obuku area and specially picked by skilled hands.

  • Shincha tea leaves are very soft

  • Hand picking ladies are very busy during harvesting season.

  • Resting in the shade of trees.

  • Idle banter is one of pleasant times for hand-picking ladies.

  • Chatting is part of the fun of break time.

  • Young tea sprouts are gathered into big bamboo cages.

  • Gathering tea leaves picked by each.

  • Tea leaves are loaded onto trucks for transport.

  • Tea sprouts, which will be picked very soon.

  • Obuku area is surrounded by rich nature, which is an ideal place for Japanese green tea to grow.

  • Various creatures become active during Shincha season.

Now is the time for the Shincha (Sencha) harvest that we have all been waiting for! Shincha harvest started in the Uji region some days ago.

Obuku, where is located in mountain ravines, is the first place where tea trees were planted in the Uji region of Japan. Sencha produced in the Obuku area was presented to the Japanese Emperors for many years.

Today most tea leaves are trimmed by machine and traditional hand picked Sencha is rarely grown and is therefore very precious. The flavor and aroma of hand picked Sencha is much more mellow and refreshing than tea trimmed by machine.

One of the difficult aspects of the hand pick harvest is to assemble the team who will pick the tea. The farmer must decide the harvest date a week before at least due to the issue. Rain dew can ruin the harvested tea sprouts, so tea harvests are unable to be done during and after rain. Besides, this season's weather is quite uncertain. And it is said that tea leaves grow one sprout every four days during this season, and the best harvest timing is when three or four new sprouts appear. If too early, the harvest yield would be low, and if too late, the tea quality would be low. The ideal hand pick Sencha harvest date is just a few days every year.
To decide the harvest date, the farmer carefully checks the growth of the tea sprouts, weather forecast, and the temperature changes from the past few years.

Even a skilled tea harvester can hand pick just up to 6 to 8kg of fresh tea leaves all through the day. The picked fresh tea leaves are processed and finished, at which point the total weight of the tea leaves is only about 18% of the fresh tea leaves. Even if about 20 skilled tea harvesters pick all through the day, we can only gather around 25 kg of finished precious hand picked Sencha. From the time the sprouts appear to the time the leaves become too large to harvest is just a few days. So tea leaves for Shincha (Sencha) must be harvested as quickly as possible in one long stretch. Therefore it is never easy to pick large amounts of tea leaves by skilled hands in just a few days.

Top grade tea, hand picked Sencha is grown only in quite a small amount, because there is only one small place in all of the world perfect for farming this special tea - a tiny area of land located right here in the Uji region of Japan. Therefore, hand picked Sencha is very precious.

At last, we can celebrate the first tea harvest of the year with Shincha and enjoy its wonderful fresh flavor!
(The tea leaves for our Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium are grown in the Obuku area, the birth place of Uji tea, and picked by skilled hands.)

Around May 3: (Birthplace of Uji Tea)
  • Tea farms at Ohbuku area where is surrounded by mountain ravines. And tiny streams running at Obuku area.

  • Pure, calm and clear brooks run in and around our tea farms at Obuku area. UGUISU Japanese bush warbler singings and murmur of brooks calm your heart.

  • Next to cherry blossoms, FUJI wisteria flowers. FUJI wisteria flowers are now at their best now.

  • Tea sprouts as of May 2 for hand picked.

  • Tea sprouts harvested by hand appear differently than those harvested by machine.

  • Tea sprouts as of May 2 for trimmed by machine.

  • The harvest for the tribute tea to the TAISHO emperor. This picture was taken in May 1915.
    Today our tea farm is quite the same as this picture. Our Sencha Pinnacle and Super Premium are grown at this tea farm.

  • Zoom of the left picture. The tea sprouts seem to have been picked by 33 to 37 persons at that time, judging from the picture.

  • The TAISHO emperor (1879 to 1926)

This year's harvest will probably start May 3 or 4 which is the usual time of year. Judging from the tea sprout growth and weather in the last few weeks, it is expected that this year's crops will have a more generous and excellent flavor than recent years.

Obuku is the first place where tea trees were planted in the Uji region of Japan. They were planted by Kohken, a Buddhist monk, around A.D.1271, after Eisai popularized the idea of tea drinking in Japan around A.D.1191. Obuku is a small area of land with a diameter of less than one mile (600 meters). Even today, Obuku is known for producing very rare, highest grade Sencha. In Japan, there are only a few places where top grade Sencha is produced, and the Obuku area in Ujitawara is one of them.
Obuku is located in mountain ravines, where tiny streams run, and the soil is full of minerals. The misty climate, sloping hills, warm days and cool nights provide a very ideal setting to grow the highest grade tea. Indeed, Sencha produced in the Obuku area was presented to the Japanese Emperors for many years. The tea leaves for our Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium are grown in the Obuku area, the birth place of Uji tea, and picked by skilled hands.

Tea trees harvested by hand grow differently than those harvested by machine. In the case of tea trees trimmed by machine, tea sprouts grow from the previously trimmed stubble. By contrast, in the case of tea trees picked by hand, tea sprouts shoot from the natural forks in the branches. The flavor and aroma of hand picked tea is much more mellow and smooth than tea trimmed by machine and the leaves are of higher quality. Tea leaves that are picked by hand can generally be harvested a few days earlier than tea leaves trimmed by machine.

Above monochrome pictures were the hand-picking harvest scene taken at our tea farm located in the Obuku area. The letters on the left side of the picture state that this is the harvest for the tribute tea to the TAISHO emperor (1879 to 1926), and this picture was taken in May 1915. The tea farm is quite the same as our tea farm where our Sencha Pinnacle and Super Premium are grown today. It is said that "The harvest for the tribute tea to the TAISHO emperor" was written on the flags on the center of the pictures, though it is illegible on the picture.
The letters on the right side of the picture means that the tea grown at Obuku area, where soil and climate are suitable for growing tea and where tea was first planted, is quite excellent in the color, aroma and taste. The tea grown at the Obuku area is the top quality in Japan, which has been established by expertise since ancient times.

We have been arranging to add Sencha Pinnacle and Sencha Super Premium to our line of 2024 Shincha teas, and we started accepting pre-orders. Would you check them once.

Around April 26: (Organic Tea Farm)
  • Organic tea tree sprouts in late moring at April 25. They have been growing more slowly than conventional grown tea sprouts.

  • Organic grown tea trees as of April 25. The brown portions of tea leaves have been eaten by bugs in last summer and autumn.

  • Conventional grown tea tree sprouts as of April 25.

  • Organic fertilizer put among tea trees.
    Organic fertilizer is also put aside tea trees

  • A couple of canards. What are they thinking about eating, love affair, or something else?

  • SAKURA cherry blossom petals are flowed. SAKURA cherry blossom season is fully ending even at this mountain area.

Organic tea has a simple and traditional flavor similar to teas grown many years ago in ancient Japan. With organic tea, you can taste the natural features of the type of tea, soil, climate, and efforts by the farmer. All of our organic teas are certified by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan. They are grown with only natural organic fertilizers and no agricultural chemicals or pesticides.

If you walk around at both an organic tea farm and a non-organic tea farm in the summer season, you will quickly understand that an organic tea farm lives together in the ecosystem and a non-organic tea farm tries to control the ecosystem. You can see a spider's web among the tea trees on the organic tea farm. Spiders, lizards, mantis, and ladybugs are natural enemies of harmful insects, and they carry out important duties on the organic tea farm.

Organic fertilizer works slowly. In contrast, chemical fertilizer works quickly and efficiently in about a month, while organic fertilizer works slowly for 3 to 9 months. Therefore organic Shincha tea is generally harvested 7 to 10 days later than conventionally grown teas.

The simple and traditional flavor of organic tea must be very close to the Shincha flavor which people enjoyed and celebrated a long time ago. We have been arranging to add Organic Sencha Premium to our line of 2024 Shincha teas. Would you check once?

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 Available

Shincha is Now Available

At last, the Shincha Harvest started here in the Uji region! Some of our Shincha items are now available.
We have arranged to add four limited edition Shincha items only available this Shincha harvest season, featuring some regular Sencha items with especially enjoyable Shincha flavor. And other Sencha regular items are planned to be replaced later by Shincha step by step.
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 Available)
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 Available)
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 Available)
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 Available)
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...

[Limited] Shincha Gyokuro (80g/2.82oz): US$23.00 (Now Available)
With our Shincha Gyokuro you can enjoy both the refreshing aroma of Shincha and the mellow smooth taste of Gyokuro in one cup of tea. In the tea industry, it is called "Kabuse Cha"...

Regular Sencha items with especially enjoyable Shincha flavor

We recommed 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 Available)
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 Available)
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?...

Replacement Status of Regular Teas