Shincha is a most fleeting experience in the world of Japanese green tea. Waiting a full circle to once again get the first sip of the first tea harvest of the year is something many seasoned tea drinkers around the world practice yearly. At Path Of Cha, we are no exception. We take the year communicating with the tea farmers, awaiting the news of this year’s harvest season.
Each year is so inherently unique. Different weather patterns clearly have their toll on each year’s first green tea harvest. You will notice how every year the taste of shincha differs so slightly, even if you stick to the same farmer.
Not to mention, shincha never lasts long. Since it is an incredibly fresh tea, most consumers finish their stock within a few months. We don’t recommend saving your fresh tea leaves a year just to compare with next year’s harvest. Of course, by the time the year passes, the taste of shincha will have already become less fresh than it used to be right after harvest. Instead, we recommend keeping a tea journal and writing down your tasting notes and impressions of each year’s shincha tea harvest. You will have a great memoir with years, and you can watch as it transformed throughout the years.
What Is Shincha?
Shin means new, and cha means tea. Thus we get new tea. Indeed, in Japan, shincha is the very first tea harvest of the year. Shincha is harvested from the same tea bushes that produce sencha green tea. After the first flush (shincha) tea leaves are harvested, the subsequent harvests will be used to produce different varieties of sencha green tea.
Shincha is prized by tea enthusiasts both in Japan and abroad and thus gets sold out quickly. Japanese green tea connoisseurs wait patiently for their favorite tea farmers to release shincha pre-order forms each year. Often, it is sold out before the first harvest. Once sold out, shincha is not available until a year later.
Shincha harvest lasts no more than three days. Otherwise, the tea leaves will mature and not be suitable to count as shincha tea. After harvest, the tea leaves must be processed quickly, within the same day.
In southern prefectures of Japan, like Kagoshima, shincha harvest starts as early as mid-April. Moving north throughout Japan, the harvest may vary by a week or two.
Is Shincha Tea The Best Tea?
As the saying goes, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. While surely all teas have their levels of excellence, if a particular tea was produced with quality and care (and not for the mass tea bag market), it will have its own depth. Everyone has their own favorites when it comes to tea.
That being said, shincha is not necessarily considered “the best” tea in Japan. Some teas offer more profound flavor profiles and depth than shincha. Shincha, however, is a celebration. It is the celebration of the coming of spring. It is a time stamp honoring the seasons and the weather.
Japanese tea connoisseurs have a deep appreciation of shincha. And why wouldn’t they? After all, this fresh new green tea can only be harvested for a mere two weeks each year, and then it’s gone till the following year. When sipping your first brew of shincha, you may want to examine it in terms of freshness and appreciation rather than comparing it to other Japanese tea varieties.
What makes shincha particularly special is a type of natural alcohol, the leaf alcohol (C6H12O), that is only found in fresh Japanese green teas. This gives teas, particularly shincha, its iconic fresh and grassy aroma.
The alcohol is created by a fatty acid (linolenic acid) which is stored in concentrated amounts in first-flush green teas. Subsequent harvests also have this component but in far less concentrated quantities. The leaf alcohol evaporates quickly (within 3 months after harvest, even under the most strict storage conditions), which is why shincha should always be consumed fresh.
Appreciate the first flush Japanese green tea in the moment and do not hold on to it.
How To Brew Shincha Japanese Green Tea
It is said that water of a slightly higher temperature will extract the tea alcohols of shincha best. The tea alcohol will produce a refreshing scent, like a forest at the first signs of spring. The scent is known to relieve stress and calm the mind. Try brewing with a water temperature of 175℉ / 80℃ to extract these qualities, noticing the fresh aroma.
On the other hand, if you wish to taste the sweetest notes of shincha, brew with a slightly lower water temperature of about 165℉ / 75℃. Compare these brews side by side. Shincha is known for its undeniably sweet taste. Since the tea is made of the very top tea leaves, they usually have the most sugars stored up after the long and cold winter.
Read our full post on Shincha: ALL ABOUT SHINCHA: THE FIRST JAPANESE GREEN TEA HARVEST.