Surely you've seen the term thrown around lately (in this Newsletter, for instance). Well, rightly so, since it's shincha season after all. But what does it mean and what's so special about it? The name shincha (from Japanese shin - "new" and cha - "tea"), contrary to what one might think, does not refer to a specific tea or even a given style of tea. Rather, it designates teas made from the year's first harvests. The shincha appellation itself isn't regulated and its exact meaning often varies from one producer to another. If sometimes strictly used to label the first picking of tea plants at the beginning of the season (between early March and late April, depending on the region), in some other cases, its use can extend to all teas produced during spring (harvests can stretch until the end of May). So in reality, and before anything else, shincha is a commercial label used to promote the freshness of spring teas in Japan.
So what makes the quality of shincha?
The label shincha itself doesn't really ensure the quality of a tea. However, if purchased in the spring, it does ensure that your tea is fresh. And freshness, when it comes to green tea, is the pinnacle of the experience. No matter how well you preserve it, tea will always be freshest right after harvest. Over time, and despite our best efforts (despite the vacuum seals and cold storage temperatures) tea leaves slowly oxidize and lose their aromatic compounds. Buying fresh means you get the most in terms of aromatic experience!
The central point of shincha however is not its seasonal appreciation, but rather the quality of its material. In the spring, newly budded tea leaves are at their finest, most delicate aromatic composition. When tea trees start flushing after the long months of winter dormancy, the young and tender shoots they produce offer very high aromatic qualities and very little bitterness or astringency. Almost everywhere around the world, spring harvests are celebrated as the highest quality for a reason. Shincha, in the world of Japanese green teas, is the most prized harvest of the year.
So what about those teas that aren't shincha? What about summer teas and last year's teas? While it is true that shincha often presents exceptional aromatic qualities, many tea enthusiasts still prefer the bolder, perhaps deeper teas produced during high season. Not before summer do we usually see the high-grade Temomicha (hand-made teas) and Gyokuro hitting the market. As for past harvests, when well-preserved, they can retain excellent profiles over a very long period of time. And after their color and aromas have lightly faded, there's still a certain beauty to be found in their subdued character. This elegant beauty is that of Nagori, or the nostalgic impression left by the change of season. In Japanese culture, many things are best appreciated in their Nagori. What's more, you can appreciate Nagori right now at discounted prices in our store.