Among the tea leaves produced the leaves which come in first (the new sprouts), and the green tea brewed from these leaves are known as Shincha. Tea leaves are harvested several times throughout the year, but Shincha is the highest quality, and many people wait for it excitedly around this time every year. These tea leaves have all of the nutrition the plant has accumulated over the winter, and they’re rich in nutrition that helps to keep the body healthy, which is why it has long been said that “drinking Shincha will keep you healthy through the whole year.”
The Season for Shincha
The picking of tea leaves is so ingrained in Japanese culture that there is even even a children’s song known across the entire country which is said to be based on the tea picking songs of the Uji Tawara district of Kyoto. For 88 days from the first day of spring in the traditional calendar (around February 4th) sometime around May 2nd is usually the 88th night. While this is the traditional picking time, the actual harvest will be moved slightly earlier or later depending on the climate of the area, and how quickly the leaves are maturing. In warm climates such as outlying islands, the harvest of Shincha can begin as early as late March. If the timing of the harvest is even slightly off, the quality of the leaves will fall, which is why the farmers producing this crop visit their plants frequently to watch carefully for the timing of their harvest.
The Tea Harvesting Cycle
Depending on the area, tea leaves will harvested anywhere from two to four times in a year. Typically tea leaves harvested around the end of April will be known as Shincha or Ichibancha, and those harvested roughly 45 days later are Nibancha (second harvest) and Sanbancha (third harvest). During the harvest, farmers work hard to ensure the leaves are in the best possible shape, trimming branches, and adding fertilizer. At the end of the harvesting season in October, after the Akibancha (fall harvest) has finished, farmers will begin working to prepare the plants for their winter rest. Until March, when they will be woken again from their slumber, spread out new buds, and grow steadily again in preparation for the Shincha harvesting season.
Differences in Quality Depending on the Harvest Season
The flavor and fragrance of tea differs depending on when the tea leaves used were harvested. Among these, Ichibancha has the most amino acids such as Theanine, which add depth of flavor, and the amount of these amino acids grows smaller as the tea moves to Nibancha and Sanbancha. On top of this. Nibancha receives the most strong summer sun of any of the teas, and its leaves have most Catechin, which lends a bright bitter edge. Sanbancha just never has quite the flavor of the other harvests, so it’s rather rare to see for sale. However, it’s recently been shown that tea leaves harvested as Sanbancha, and in later harvests at the beginning of fall have a blood sugar lowering affect, and they are receiving renewed interest.
Among the many different types of tea leaves, Shincha is seen as the highest quality, and it has been known as lucky since long ago. Depending on the year when it was harvested, the depth and bitterness of a tea will change, and it could be quite an interesting experiment to try drinking your favorite brand of tea year after year to experience this. While Nibancha and Sanbancha may be inferior in taste, there is no doubt they still contain elements beneficial to the body, and depending on the occasion I would still recommend choosing them.