What is Shincha?
Shincha (also shincha, 新茶, “new tea”) refers to the very first harvest of Japanese green tea, some of which is immediately packaged and sold instead of being tossed into cold storage for later sales. Shincha is highly desired for its freshness and flavor, as well as novelty of being the first batch of the harvesting year. Shincha is popular for its sweet, grassy flavor and low bitterness when brewed properly.
Shincha harvest start in early spring in Japan, usually in early-to-mid April, and into early May. The flavor is considered the most delicate and delicious of green tea. While it’s popular to sell some of the stock right away, some of the shincha is also stored for later use to be made into gyokuro and matcha once the leaves have aged slightly.
These are usually sold in the fall and are also limited in availability. It’s considered bad taste to try and market gyokuro or matcha made from shincha tea, since the tea must age first, but some retailers do so to increase the appeal of their products.
Is Shincha different from Sencha?
Yes! Sencha is a general term used for the most popular grade of Japanese green tea (but differs from gyokuro and bancha) where shincha specifically refers to the first harvest.
Why is the first harvest important?
The first harvest of the year, also known as the first flush in some regions, is highly desired because the tea plants have been storing nutrients all winter while in “hibernation mode”. Because of this, the first tender leaves picked are nutrient rich, sweet, and have a great “umami” (Japanese term for flavorful, or deliciousness). Subsequent harvests, while still good, will have a different mix of nutrients since there is less time between harvests, and thus the flavor changes.
Where can I buy shincha?
Japan is not a huge exporter of tea – as such, shincha and other high-quality teas are a little tougher to find outside of the country. It’s also pretty pricey but many tea enthusiasts say the flavor is well worth the extra expense.
Your best bet is to try well known online retailers. I did a little digging and found that the following online stores are reputable for their Japanese greens and ship internationally:
O-Cha | Sugimoto America | Den’s Tea | Maiko | Zencha | Thés du Japan
Shincha is certainly not for everyone – the flavor is mild and grassy and some fans of bolder flavors prefer sencha. But it’s the sort of thing that’s recommended all tea lovers try at least once in their life – who knows, you may end up hooked for this seasonal treat!