Posted by TOKYO MATCHA SELECTION - Chris Young (living in UK) on 12th May 2018
Shincha (新茶) means 'New tea'. The term refers to the first tea harvest of the season. So that consumers can enjoy the qualities of the young leaves, tea farmers process and package the first flush without storing or ageing. The resulting 'new tea' has a wonderfully fresh, grassy aroma, which some consider superior to that of tea made from subsequent crops.
When is Shincha Produced and Sold?
The spring tea harvest traditionally begins on the 88th day of spring according to the old lunar calendar. This auspicious day falls around mid-April. By this time, the tea bushes have awoken from their winter slumber and have begun using their stored nutrients to push out tender new leaves. The first flush of leaves must be picked very carefully to avoid breakage. Shincha only remains on sale until June or July, as connoisseurs tend to snap it up!
Shincha is not always picked in spring. The first flush of the autumn harvest season may also be called shincha and likewise remains on the market for a limited period.
Shincha and the Seasons
People often say that Japan's seasons are particularly distinct. Thanks to sharp changes in the weather, even Japanese city-dwellers feel a strong connection to the seasons. Could this also explain their attachment to seasonal 'firsts' such as the first sakura and the first tea harvest?
It is tempting to think that the excitement surrounding shincha is connected to nostalgia for an agricultural past, when the work calendar was dictated by the harvests. Today, however, it probably has more to do with connoisseurship and the value attached to limited editions. Japanese consumers, notoriously obsessed with quality, believe that there is an optimal moment to buy and consume each food.
How to Enjoy Shincha
Traditionally, drinking shincha in the spring is associated with good luck and health for the year to come. Whether or not you believe in luck, greeting the warmer weather with a lively and refreshing cup of shincha is a perennial pleasure.
Many tea lovers enjoy comparing shincha from one year to the next. You might also find it interesting to taste the difference between a fresh 'new tea' and a more mature, mellow sencha. Which do you prefer?