What is Shincha? (新茶)
There’s more to green tea than meets the eye. Green tea may have originated in China, with mentions of it dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and China may remain to be the primary producer of green tea in the world, but green tea tends to be more closely associated with Japan. It’s probably because green tea is the only kind of tea commercially produced in the country.
True enough, after Buddhist monks brought green tea seeds to Japan in the 9th century, it soon became an integral part of Japanese culture. Green tea itself developed its own subculture with distinctly Japanese systems for everything from classifying to producing to enjoying it, etc.
What Is Shincha?
There are numerous kinds of green tea. Besides the basic types, you have countless blends available on the market. There are even green tea blends with other elements like plum or cherry blossoms. True green tea connoisseurs would be familiar with the terminology and would be able to differentiate the different kinds. They would know the significance of each one and what makes it unique.
One of the varieties that garner a lot of fuss is Shincha. It is much celebrated in Japan, with shops boasting bright pink flags with green tea leaves or teacups when it becomes available. It’s part of the excitement of spring. First, there’s the sakura viewing to anticipate. This delightful event is followed by green tea retailers promoting the year’s Shincha.
“Shincha” literally means “new (shin) tea (cha).” Therefore, it refers to the first harvest of Sencha in the spring. Sencha is the green tea usually consumed in most Japanese homes daily. Shincha goes through the same cultivation process as Sencha, but it only pertains to the first flush or harvest, which consists of the finest leaves for that year.
Harvest starts at slightly varying times for different prefectures. For example, in Kagoshima in the south, spring harvest begins from mid to late April. However, go northwards to Shizuoka, and harvest doesn’t start until the end of April. Harvest time may also differ, depending on the cultivars planted. Nonetheless, Shincha refers to all leaves harvested during this season. Some companies even continue to sell Shincha until July, but the earlier the leaves are harvested, the better the quality and, consequently, the higher the price.
You may read otherwise online, but Shincha is generally not sold as “aracha” (raw or unfinished tea). It is steamed at the farms, and then tea makers typically separate the leaf fragments and stem before giving it a “hi-ire” or final roast to remove moisture for safe storage. It takes a tea master to do a correctly gentle hi-ire roasting to preserve the natural fresh tea flavor.
Depending on your source, Shincha and Ichibancha are the same, or they’re not. Some say that there’s a distinction to be made. While Shincha does mean and translate to “new tea,” it is supposedly different from what is marketed as Japanese new tea or “Ichibancha,” which translates to “the first tea of the year.”
Both Shincha and Ichibancha are first harvest tea, but Shincha has to be bought and consumed before the rainy season. The first harvest tea that lasts past the rainy season is no longer Shincha. Instead, it becomes Ichibancha, which still consists of leaves plucked and processed in the spring but is no longer freshly harvested. Nonetheless, this can be matured to a fuller-bodied tea if properly stored.
When it comes to “new tea,” the expectation is also that it’s the same blend per year, so the same aroma and flavor from previous years are maintained. Part of the reason it’s sold past the rainy season is that processing takes longer. For this reason, new tea usually becomes available in September and onward to November.
What makes Shincha so special that an entire nation of green tea drinkers eagerly awaits its annual release? Described as it is to be a blend of the most tender tea leaves immediately processed after harvest, the suggestion of higher quality is already present. The processing also involves a shorter duration at a lower temperature so that the tea maintains a freshness reminiscent of a lush, rain-soaked green forest.
What do all these indicate about Shincha’s quality?
- Since tea plants store nutrients in the winter and release them to their various parts as they start to bud, Shincha has more vitamins and minerals, including amino acids, giving it a fuller and sweeter flavor.
- The fast processing results in the leaves retaining many of their fresh attributes, signifying Shincha’s higher vitamin content.
- At the same time, it leads to a lower catechin and caffeine content, which also explains its less bitter and astringent taste.
- Besides Shincha’s sweeter, less bitter, and less astringent taste, it also has a fresh umami flavor that makes it even more distinct.
- Shincha is also known for its invigorating and refreshing aroma, which it loses in half a year’s time, compelling its timely consumption.
- Each Shincha harvest has a unique nuance to its essence, which is very exciting for tea connoisseurs to experience and analyze.
Of course, Shincha’s limited availability makes it even more desirable, increasing its demand.
Shincha’s Health Perks
Green tea is known for its myriad health benefits, and when people generally refer to green tea, they usually mean Sencha. True enough, Sencha possesses a high content of nutrients, including antioxidants and polyphenols, which are effective in neutralizing the harm to our body caused by free radicals. This is regular green tea. Imagine how much more effective Shincha is with its even higher nutritional content. Below are some of the positive health effects associated with green tea consumption. It helps in the following endeavors:
- Prevention of diseases like coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, and cancer.
- Control of blood sugar levels.
- Building up the immune system.
- Battling osteoporosis.
- Weight loss and burning of calories.
- Skin hydration and retention of its youthful qualities.
- Repair of damaged and inflamed skin.
- Prevention of tooth decay and bad breath.
- Relief against sore throat and cough.
In the time of COVID-19, some have taken up gargling with Shincha to fight the disease. Drinking it is also recommended as its known high anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties are said to help lower the risk of developing severe symptoms.
This is not just some health trend with no scientific backing. Some studies have found antiviral activity from green tea, particularly in its epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) blocking SARS-CoV-2 from binding to the body’s angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE2) receptors, which indicates prevention of lung cells infection.
You can read more articles about green tea and health here.
Better-tasting, more nutritious, and short-lived, Shincha is definitely worth the fuss. It’s also fun to get caught up in the excitement of catching the Shincha Season and partaking in that year’s batch of first flush green tea.
Here are some Shincha Tea tea we carry:
- ShizuokaTea.com – Excellent Shincha
- KagoshimaTea.com – Premium Deep Steamed Shincha Yutaka Midori
- ShizuokaTea.com – Gyokuro Hoshino – New Crop (Shincha)
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