Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha
Tea leaves harvested in autumn with some special nutritional characteristics.
This article was last modified November 7th, 2021. by Yuki
If you're very picky about the definitions, then Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha are two slightly different types of tea as they have slight differences in the harvesting periods.
However, in this article we'll consider them together. From a harvesting perspective, the the two teas are basically the same.
Here, we'll dive deep into Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha.
What is Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha?
In Japanese, the words "Akibancha" and "Shuto Bancha" are written as below.
This wouldn't be too helpful if you don't recognize Chinese articles, but Akibancha directly translates to "Autumn Bancha", and Shuto-Bancha directly translates to "Autumn-Winter Bancha".
Their names come from the timing that these tea are harvested. The "Autumn-Winter" for Shuto-Bancha implies the late fall, early winter period.
Let's dive into what this means in relation to the other harvesting periods.
In general, Japanese tea is harvested four times throughout the year.
It starts with the first flush harvesting in Spring. This is tea is called the Ichibancha or the Shincha and produces tea such as high grade Sencha or Gyokuro.
Early summer, the second harvesting will take place. This is called the Nibancha.
The third and fourth harvesting will ensue late summer to autumn. These are called the Sanbancha and Yonbancha respectively.
The Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha is when the third harvesting season is skipped, and is collected together at the timing of the 4th harvesting season. This would generally be between late September to mid-October. (Reference: Tokyo Tea Cooperation Website)
|Harvest Session||Name of tea||Start of Harvest|
Ichibancha or Shincha
From early April
From early June
From early July
From Late September
3rd Harvest, but conducted late Autumn
Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha
From late September
*The timing of harvest varies depending on the area.
The taste of a Akibancha or Shuto-bancha is very different from say, a quality Sencha.
It will not have the umami and thick taste of a high-end tea. Instead it will be lighter to the mouth with a fresh taste, and a defined astringency due to the high levels of catechin (which I will get into later).
The grade of the tea for Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha.
The grade of the tea for Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha are considered low.
For Japanese tea, the grade is highest for the first flush leaves, and then the grade drops after each harvest.
This is because the Japanese value the "umami" of the tea the most. This is highest at the beginning and reduces as the year goes on.
As a matter of fact, a lot of the Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha won't be used for consumption. They'll be taken and used as fertilizer for the tea farms.
One of the main objectives of harvesting tea in this period is actually not for the tea itself. It's actually in preparation for the following year's Ichibancha.
The idea is to trim and organize the branches of the tea tree so it would maximize the quantity of buds of the first flush leaves for the ensuing year. (Reference: Mie Prefecture Government Website)
If they find that the tea can profit calculations work, they will process the tea and market the tea as Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha. If not, they will return it to the fields as fertilizer.
Yes, so Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha are merely bi-products of the preparation for next year's tea.
A bit deeper into the timings of the harvest
As a tea farm, the timing of this "trimming" in preparation for the following year is absolutely crucial.
The tea tree will start it's preparation for the following year's first flush leaves right after this trim. It will develop and grow its buds during winter and collect the nutrients that make the first flush leaves so delicious.
Therefore, if the trimming is conducted too late, the quality of next year's tea will reduce. It doesn't have enough time to build the winter buds.
However, if the trimming is conducted too early, a portion of the winter buds may sprout. This will reduce the quantity and quality of tea for next season.
The farmers take into consideration the average temperature and make a decision on when to conduct the trimming.
If the farm is to market their Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha, the tea is more marketable if it is harvested earlier rather than later.
In this case, some farms will split the Autumn harvest into two sessions.
First they will conduct the harvesting for the marketable Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha roughly two weeks earlier than the normal Autumn harvest, while keeping the trim "shallow".
Subsequently, when the usual Autumn harvest timing arrives, they will conduct another round of trimming to prepare the tea for next year.
This way the farmers can maintain the quality of the Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha, while also maximizing the quality of the first flush leaves for next year.
Special nutritional characteristics of Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha
Interestingly, not all aspects of the Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha are inferior to the Ichibancha or Nibancha. There are actually three notable advantages to this tea.
As a matter of fact, this tea has re-gained popularity in Japan quite recently in discovery of its potential in preventing diabetes.
High in Polysaccharides
The research that shed new light to the Akibancha and Shuto-Bancha market was one that was done by professor Shimizu in Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University in Japan.
"Hypoglycemic activity of several kinds of Japanese tea was examined and bancha was found to have potential hypoglycemic activity in streptozotocin-induced hyperglycemic and normal rats."
According to the research team, the polysaccharide extracted from the tea leaves helps the management of blood glucose levels.
She observed tangible results through the experiments of rats, and the effect was especially strong in the Bancha produced in Autumn. This means the Akibancha or the Shuto-Bancha.
One thing to note is that polysaccharides are easily broken down by heat.
Therefore, if you're looking for tea as a way to manage your blood sugar levels, it's better to cold brew the tea.
Low in Caffeine
Being low overall low in nutrients means that it's also low in caffeine.
The amount of caffeine that can be extracted from an Akibancha or a Shuto-bancha is generally about half of a Sencha.
This is low enough that you can enjoy before you sleep as well.
High in Catechin and Vitamins
Unlike the fresh buds of quality Sencha or the shaded leaves of the Gyokuro, the Akibancha and Shuto-bancha absorbs a ton of sunlight before being harvested.
This results in high level of Catechin and Vitamins as compared to other forms of Japanese tea.
Catechin is the health agent of the tea, deriving most of the health benefits tea is known for.
Is Akibancha and Shuto-bancha high in pesticides?
Although this will dependent on the practices of each farm, the general answer will be a yes.
Tea farms operate under zero or very low levels of pesticide until summer, which is when the insects become uncontrollable.
Therefore the first flush leaves are always a safe bet when it comes to low levels of pesticide use.
On the other hand, the tea harvested in Autumn will be after the use of pesticides.
Of course this will not apply for organic tea farms, and the levels of pesticides will differ depending on the practices of the non-organic tea farms as well.
However It's important to note this, and is one of the reasons Tealife doesn't carry this tea at the moment. (We're looking for ones with less pesticide use)
Yuki is the Editor-in-Chief AND Community Manager at Tealife. He bleeds Japanese Tea and loves being a part of the Japanese Tea journey of others. Writes, does events, conducts tasting sessions, drinks, drinks and drinks tea! Easily accessible - hit him up on whatsapp (+65) 85882980.