Day 2. Seasons/Shincha.

Being that Spring is in full effect here in Japan, I thought I would write a little bit about Shincha (新茶), or “new tea”.

The seasons are incredibly important in Japan. Spring more than perhaps any other. Hanami, a party to view the Sakura (cherry blossom) remains one of the largest gatherings of the year for Japanese friends and family. The entire year is spent in anticipation of certain seasonal foods: fiddle head ferns and onions in the spring, river eel in the summer, mushrooms and chestnuts in the fall, and crab in the winter.

Shincha is the first picking of the year. It is to tea what Beaujolais Nouveau is to wine: a snap shot of what to expect for the year. Freshness is prized over complexity. Shincha tends to be bright, grassy with little of the deeper undercurrents sencha provides. The reason lies in its processing.

Shincha is picked and quickly processed with no stocks being made into aracha, or crude tea, for later sale. The tea is all made at one time for immediate sale. This allows for only a limited stock. Sale of shincha in Japan starts in mid to late April and is sold out by the first few weeks of June. This limited supply lies at the heart of an important tenant of Japanese culture: impermanence. If the tea were available all year, the thrill of procuring some every spring would be gone. 

 Ichabancha (first picked) sencha differers from shincha in that it undergoes a more intensive processing allowing for a deeper flavor profile. Sencha shows more the hand of the producer, while shincha highlights the seasons temperament. Shincha is a good indicator of what to expect from the years later teas. The amount of sweetness, grassiness and umami in shincha will in part reflect what is to come.

Kettl will be highlighting some of this years spring tea from Kagoshima, Yame and Uji. Please check back for more details on picking, production and how to buy this years Shincha.