The temporal border of Shincha: From Yakushima to Shizuoka

While with some sorts of tea name, analysis can be quite confusing, in the case of Shincha it can be an exciting opportunity to look behind the scenes. The key of all considerations lies of course within the first syllable of Shincha, ’shin’, meaning simply ’new’. With Shincha it is, of course, all about the first fresh teas of the new harvest year. But when are they harvested in which region?

Two years ago we were lucky to experience a very early Shincha year. This was thanks to weather conditions and the fact that we were in the right place at the right time. Already in late March we could experience the Shincha harvest at Mankichi Watanabe’s tea garden in Yakushima Island, which is located 200km south from Kagoshima and thus even more south than Tanegashima Island. Both islands, Yakushima and Tanegashima, are part of the prefecture Kagoshima, even though the main part of this prefecture is located at the island Kyushu, far away from Yakushima.

While the Shincha harvest at Mankichi Watanabe’s tea garden in 2015 started as early as late March, the harvest in the Kirishima region took place approximately three weeks later. That sounds quite surprising given the fact that it’s still the same prefecture. Shutaro Hayashi harvested his first tea of the first harvest (Tennen Gyokuro) around the 20th April. However, in the nearby prefecture Miyazaki, the first harvest of the Morimoto Shincha at Haruyo and Shigeru Morimoto’s tea garden took place only shortly before that. This can be explained by the strong solar radiation in Miyazaki, for which it is well-known.

However, what really surprised us was the fact that in the last years a Shincha from Shizuoka came into the European market nearly at the same time as the sorts of Shincha from the southernmost end of Japan (that means Kyushu with the prefectures Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto among others). How is this possible? Since Shizuoka lies around 1000 km further in the North than Yakushima, just a bit south from Tokyo, shouldn’t the harvest have taken place at least four to six weeks later?

An explanation which made us smile came from Shutaro Hayashi, who has an exciting network within the Japanese insider tea scene, thanks to his studies in Kagoshima. These insider contacts often reveal surprising facts: A Shincha can certainly come into the market shortly after the harvest in Yakushima and Tanegashima, even if the harvest there did not even take place. Well, but how so?

There are at least two possible explanations: First, there are countless wholesalers and final producers of tea (’Tonya-san’ in Japanese), who purchase leaves from all over Japan and sell them with a ’fitting’ name. For them, the lable ’Shizuoka Shincha’ does not necessarily mean that the harvested leaves have to be from Shizuoka, but that only the final processing must have happened in Shizuoka. That’s an interesting way of interpretation, which doubtless has its justification, but does not really seem to fit with our own philosphy of tea.

The second possible explanation is quite surprising, too: You can of course also deep freeze the pre-processed tea leaves (Aracha) from the last harvest and then do the final processing just shortly before the upcoming harvest in other regions. So you are the first to bring Shincha into the market, whenever the new harvest takes place!

Frankly, our way of thinking is quite different. It is certainly nice to be able to enjoy a fresh Shincha at such an early time in the year. But isn’t the real charm of a Shincha about being harvested really fresh and not about just tasting fresh? And isn’t it also nice to know where the harvested Shincha leave material really comes from and to be able to witness how the Shincha is harvested at a certain tea garden whose character it will have?

Based on these thoughts this ’Shincha Blog 2017’ was born. Here we will post nearly every day about the latest news about the Shincha harvest, mostly events we experience together with our tea garden partners Mankichi Watanabe in Yakushima Island, Haruyo and Shigeru Morimoto in Miyazaki and Mr. Matsumoto in Kumamoto. In a few days there will be the first pictures from Yakushima!