Nibancha and Sanbancha
How are these tea different from a Shincha or a Ichibancha?
This article was last modified November 24th, 2021. by Yuki
What is a Nibancha or a Sanbancha? What does it mean if the tea isn't a Ichibancha, or a first flush tea leaf?
We'll go over some of the differences of the quality when it comes to Nibancha and Sanbancha.
What is a Nibancha and a Sanbancha?
Firstly, let's go over the definition. These two terms are actually very different tea.
The term "Niban" means second, and the term "Sanban" means third in Japanese. They translate to saying "Second tea" and "Third tea".
The Nibancha and Sanbancha:
Tea leaves taken from the second and third harvesting sessions of the year, respectively. They use the second and third flush leaves of the tea teas.
The 2nd harvesting season for Japanese tea usually starts from early June, depending on the geograhical location and climate. The 3rd harvesting season starts from early July, again depending on the geographical location and climate.
You can see the relationships and differences between some of the other teas in the table below.
Lower in Taste and Nutrients
Tea plantations for Japanese tea start their year in the Spring when they harvest the new leaves emerging from the trees.
The tea leaves taken from this first harvesting session are called Shincha or Ichibancha, and are considered high quality tea as they are loaded with much higher levels of nutrients. Of course - if they have more nutrients – it means it will have more health benefits, and will be tastier as well!
The levels of nutrients for Nibancha drops significantly from the first harvesting session. The nutrients of Sanbancha would be even lower than Nibancha. They are both considered a lower grade of tea compared to the first.
Sencha, for example, would generally use tea leaves coming from the first or sometimes the second round of harvesting. It generally wouldn’t use Sanbancha leaves. Tea leaves taken as Sanbancha and later would generally be used for making lower-grade teas such as Bancha, Houjicha, Genmaicha, or taken to produce bottled green tea beverages.
Higher Chance of Using Pesticides
When growing a tea plant, avoiding bugs is one of the biggest challenges. Pesticides are commonly used when making tea plants.
While this is true, actually the tea plants harvested during the first harvesting season is mostly free of pesticides. This is because the bugs only come out after the first harvesting season. It's only after the spring harvest that the farms will start to use pesticides.
While there are organic tea farms in Japan, the number is still relatively small. Any tea that is made from Nibancha or Sanbancha (or basically any tea that is not a first flush) would expect pesticides to be used to a certain degree.
Obviously it would be healthier if the pesticides can be avoided as much as possible. In that case, it's good to stick to the first flush tea leaves, also called the Ichibancha or the Shincha.
One thing to note, that the pesticides do break down in the process of roasting. Therefore, while tea such as Houjicha or Iribancha (like a Kyobancha) would commonly use tea of Nibancha or later, there won't be as much pesticides left to worry about.
We at Tealife are strong advocates of the first flush tea leaves. While there are some exceptions (like for its efficacy in controlling blood glucose levels), this is the tea that provides you the best tea experience and the most health benefits.
However, the first flush production in Japan has been dropping at an alarming rate. We hope we can play a role in trying to preserve this in the future by helping to promote the tea outside of Japan.
I don't see Nibancha too often in tea shops. Where do they sell them?
Since tea shops carry high quality tea, you generally wouldn't see too much "Nibancha" lined up in the cabinets.
Even if there do have loose leaf Nibancha in the tea shop, they wouldn't really mention it. They would only label the first flush leaves.
In Japan, the majority of the Nibancha tea leaves are used in bottled drinks. There is a huge demand for green tea based drinks in Japan, and Nibancha helps supply for that market.
Is Nibancha ever used in high-quality tea?
Not too often, but it occasionally gets included into some blended tea.
Manufacturers of tea procure tea from different farms to blend the tea to reach the taste of tea they like. (Also obviously while considering the cost as well)
This is one of the most important job as a tea master. Producing the taste of tea most suited for the customers.
In this process of creating the blend, even for high quality tea, sometimes you'll find Nibancha leaves mixed in with Ichibancha leaves.
It adds a freshness to the taste, and sometimes balances out with the rich umami of the first flush leaves.
Are there Nibancha for shaded tea types such as Matcha, Gyokuro, or Kabuse-cha?
Technically it's possible, so I wouldn't rule out the possibility. However, most likely there wouldn't.
The per kg prices of the Nibancha tea leaves become significantly lower than that of the Ichibancha/Shincha leaves. They would be priced roughly a third of the price. (The price fluctuates quite significantly year-on-year) As a tea farm, it wouldn' t make financial sense to produce tea that require a whole lot of effort for Nibancha.
Therefore, most likely the shaded types of Japanese tea would usually be based on the first flush tea leaves.
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.