Many of you might not have heard this word before. Or you might have heard it and might have found it confusing. Completely normal if you ask me since shincha and sencha sound very similar. However they are different things. The biggest difference between shincha (not to be mistaken with Shinchan) and sencha is the fact that shincha is finished to be shipped straight away, whereas sencha can remain in its aracha (荒茶) form until is sold at the auction or to the tea dealers and often times are finished by the dealer or the retailers themselves if not sold as aracha which might also be the case.
While sencha is a word used to describe a specific type of Japanese tea, shincha is the word used to refer to all the new tea of the season. As you can see sencha (煎茶) and shincha (新茶) use different kanji in the first part of their names, both use the kanji of tea/cha (茶) in the last part. The first kanji in sencha (煎) can mean broil, parch or roast, whereas the first kanji in shincha (新) means new. Sencha can be also shincha, meaning is the very first new sencha of the season.
Under the broad term of shincha, we can find shincha (sencha new tea), kabuse shincha (shaded new tea), fukamushi shincha (deep steamed new tea)... Unfortunately, I haven't been able to source fukamushi shincha this time. I expect to be able to do so in the future. I thought it would be interesting to mention this before talking a bit more about shincha since it makes it easier to understand the differences between both terms. And we can also see the logic behind both as well.
So what is shincha? As already mentioned, is the term used to refer to all the new tea in Japan. It is the first tea of the season after a long winter, the very first flush or ichibancha (番茶) and the opposite to kocha (古茶) or last year's tea. Not to be confused with koucha (紅茶) or black tea (if we add 和 at the beginning, we obtain wakoucha or black Japanese tea.) I hope you don't mind me including the kanji of the Japanese terms used here. I studied Japanese language for over four years and I really enjoy knowing how the words are formed and written along with their meaning. You can call me the nerdy Japanese tea girl if you like.
Before I continue, let me mention something related to this topic that really caught my attention yesterday evening. It might be a bit controversial, this is just my humble opinion and of course anyone can disagree. I was reading the tea newsletter's I am subscribed to when something in one of them made me cringe . A tea vendor which shall not be named was announcing to great fanfare that 2019 shincha was now back in stock. Say what? Shincha being the new tea, super fresh and with minimal processing is supposed to be consumed within three weeks after opening the pouch otherwise it loses its freshness. Obviously, if you get some shincha and don't drink as much tea as I do, it might take you a month to finish the whole pouch of tea. Which is ok, the tea will still taste good if you have preserved it tightly closed in the fridge. As a tea vendor myself, I understand that unsold tea means loses in a way. We can always drink it ourselves but we make zero money out of it and we don't recover our investment. However, shincha from 2019 (or any previous years for that matter) was new tea back in the day. After more than a year is not longer shincha no matter what is written in the package since it is a year old shincha so it definitely should be referred to as kocha instead. Why does it matter? Many tea vendors offer old shincha at a full price after a year on display which I don't think is the right thing to do. And they don't inform the consumers about it neither. There is nothing wrong with the shincha tea itself after a year or more. It can be safely consumed and it won't make you ill. This is not the point I wanted to make here. However, it is highly likely that most of its original freshness has gone or is well faded. And it defeats the purpose of shincha altogether if you ask me. It is more about the tea vendor's ethic than anything else. And I am talking about my own perspective of a very small tea vendor. So next time you are looking to buy some shincha make sure that is from that very same year's harvest and ask for a discount if you still want to buy it if the shincha is from a previous harvest. Personally, I have ordered minimal shincha 2020 stock for the shop since this is my first year in the business and I cannot be sure how well it will sell. I much rather it runs out quickly instead holding a large amount of shincha for long time.
Now that I have put all this off my chest, I will continue talking about the nicest and one of the most sought after Japanese tea treats of the year. When is shincha harvested?
Shincha is spring tea so it is harvested at the very beginning of the spring season. Japan is a long country and its climate varies substantially from one part to another, this is the reason why Kagoshima shincha is almost always ready first and way before the hachi juu hachi ya period. In 2020, Kagoshima farmers started to harvest their shincha in April, well before the May 2nd mark, when hachi juu hachi ya period usually begins. Why is shincha so special?
Being it a seasonal product that can only be harvested once a year makes shincha quite the treat. As with the tea harvested during hachijuu hachiya (which could also be called shincha) many people who don't usually buy tea in Japan are excited to get some of that year's shincha as soon as possible. Many attribute to this tea plenty of health benefits that other Japanese teas might also have but to a lesser extend. This is one of the reasons shincha is so popular and it is usually pretty much sold out straight away in Japan. Nowadays, some shincha teas hit the shelves of tea vendors around the world during the spring time, still there is only a small percentage of it if we compare to the imports of other types of teas.
The truth is shincha leaves are really young and tender which are regarded as the very best tea leaves of all. Fully packed with nutrients and amino acids slowly built up during the winter period that are released in higher quantities when the first tea leaves start to sprout. But not only that, shincha has a sweeter taste and a lower level of astringency than other Japanese teas do. In addition, shincha is packed and distributed immediately, so it doesn't stay stored in cool chambers for long. This type of tea is produced specifically to be consumed as fresh as possible in order to enjoy its grassy and aromatic scent to the fullest. Ok, so I would like to get some shincha, how is it brewed? The first time I tried shincha, I did not think it was something so special. Later on I discovered that shincha has to be brewed slightly different than other Japanese greens in order to yield some flavour. The brewing process is similar to the one used to brew fukamushicha in fact. So it was my fault that the shincha brew did barely taste to anything since I brewed it at 45 degrees Celsius, like I brew gyokuro. Once I adjusted the parameters I obtained a very beautiful and delicate umami rich brew.
Generally speaking these are the parameters to be followed when brewing shincha. First brew
65 degrees Celsius water
3 grams of leaves
60 ml water
70 degrees Celsius water
3 grams of leaves
60 ml water
It is worth noting that shincha can become bitter really easily so make sure that it is not steeped for too long or that the water is extremely hot. It also depends about the type of shincha to be brewed so make sure that the brewing parameters are adjusted accordingly. I hope this article helps you to understand shincha slightly better, don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or make a comment below and I will answer to you as soon as possible.
Thanks a lot for reading me, please hit like and consider subscribing to the blog if you like my articles so you don't miss any of them in the future. And remember, if you subscribe to the newsletter you will get 10% OFF from your first order. Enjoy your Japanese shincha, the sipping treat of the year!!! And if you haven't tasted it yet, head to the shop and get a pouch of two before it runs out! Until next week, take care everyone!