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The Shincha (or Ichibancha) of Japanese Tea

Why is it so important to look for "Shincha" or "Ichibancha" leaves? Learn all about it here!

This article was last modified November 28th, 2021. by Yuki

Tea leaves and package of a shincha

When you were looking for your Japanese tea, have you ever seen a label mentioning that your Sencha is an “Ichiban-cha” or a "shincha" ?

The "Shincha" or the "Ichibancha" label is quite common if you go to Japanese tea shops. Here we'll talk about why it's so important to look out for these labels, but first let's get to the definition.

What is Shincha / Ichiban-cha?

Leaves taken from the first harvesting period of the year. They are the first flush of tea leaves.

The term "Shin" is a Japanese term for "New". Therefore "Shincha" means "new tea", implying that it is the first flush of tea leaves. The term "Ichiban" means "first". It's essentially the same meaning as "Shincha", and can be used interchangeably.

Shincha and ichibancha written in Japanese

The fact that it comes from the first flush makes the tea a much higher quality tea as compared to teas picked in later harvesting seasons.

These tea are referred to as Nibancha or Sanbancha depending on which harvesting season they are picked at.

The table below illustrates how the tea is called differently depending on when they are harvested.

Harvest Session Name of tea Start of Harvest

1st Harvest

Ichibancha or Shincha

From early April

2nd Harvest

Nibancha

From early June

3rd Harvest

Sanbancha

From early July

4th Harvest

Yonbancha

From Late September

3rd Harvest, but conducted late Autumn

Akibancha or Shuto-Bancha

From late September

Next let's look at the key differences.


Ichibancha or Shincha Sencha leaves

Loaded with Nutrients

The biggest difference lies in the amount of nutrients in the leaves.

The nutrients in the tea leaves taken from the first round of harvesting is actually significantly higher than the tea leaves taken from the second round.

This causes the taste of tea to be much greater with much higher levels of umami. It’s not just a subtle difference – even the most novice of Japanese tea drinkers will be able to immediately tell the difference. It’s a HUGE difference!

This is because the tea trees build and accumulate all their nutrients during the cold winter. As Winter comes to an end and Spring comes along, that is when they had stockpiled the most nutrients. As the new leaves come out, those first leaves will be the ones benefiting the most, and will be rich in nutrients.

This also means that the health benefits will be much higher than the tea that are not Shincha.

What makes it great?

It has by far the highest amount of nutrients. Which means, it's not only that much tasty, but also healthy as well!

The timing of harvesting will depend on the area in Japan. It may be a little earlier in the southern parts of Japan, but predominantly the first round of harvesting will be taking place around May. The second and third harvesting will follow, and the intervals between the harvesting sessions may be as short as a month.

If you have heard of the tea named "Hachijyu-hachiya" (or the “Eighty-Eighth Night” tea), it is actually a name for a Shincha. 88 nights after the first day of spring is said to be the optimal timing of harvesting.


Japanese Tea Harvesting

Very Little use of Pesticides

Another benefit of the tea being a Shincha/Ichibancha is the less use of pesticides.

When growing a tea plant, avoiding bugs is one of the biggest challenges. Pesticides are commonly used when making tea plants.

However, 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.

Obviously it would be healthier if the pesticides can be avoided as much as possible. This is a huge advantage of drinking a Shincha or an Ichibancha over others.


What type of tea would have Shincha/Ichiban-cha?

Shincha and Ichiban-cha can apply for any types of Japanese green tea. So it really depends.

High grade teas will mostly be a Shincha or Ichibancha. A Matcha or a Gyokuro, for example, I'd say most of the times they would be a first flush.

A high-grade Sencha, or perhaps a Karigane tea may indicate that they are Shincha.

While tea such as Houjicha, and Genmaicha are usually made with leaves of lower quality, the high quality products such as Kaga-Boucha will be using Shincha leaves as well.


Summary

We at Tealife are very strong advocates of the Shincha or Ichibancha. This is one of the most important quality factors of Japanese Tea if you're truly looking into enjoying and appreciating the taste.

However, the production levels of the first flush Japanese tea leaves has been reducing.

Tealife hopes to play a part in promoting and preserving these precious products by promoting Japanese tea in different countries.


FAQ

Are all Matcha and Gyokuro made from Shincha?

While it is possible to make Matcha or Gyokuro with a non-Shincha, it would be very rare for them to be used for shaded tea such as the ones mentioned.

The market prices for Shincha and non-Shincha are significantly different. Once the Shincha finishes, the value decreases a huge amount.

Therefore as a teafarm, it really doesn't make economical sense to try and grow shaded tea for the second harvesting season and later. The effort required is huge, you can't produce quantity (as the shading hinders the growth of the leaves), and even after all of that the price will still remain low.

I would conclude that that you won't really find quality tea such as Matcha or Gyokuro using these.

There are however, tea that are labeled as "Matcha" or "Gyokuo" but do not go by the true definition of these tea. They may not be shaded in the proper method and duration, so while they claim to be "Matcha" or "Gyokuro", they actually are not.

For these products, I would say that there is a chance that they can be made from non-Shincha leaves.

It's always good to buy quality tea such as Matcha or Gyokuro from a tea source you can trust!

I bought a Shincha tea but was still very astringent. Why is this?

Firstly, the astringency of the tea is not entirely bad. A hint of astringency adds a body to the tea and gives it a punch. It's a part of the taste of a tea you should enjoy as well.

Now, that being said, if it is too astringent, you may want to think of a way to better control it.

Even the first flush leaves natrually have a degree of astringency. Controlling the water temperature is a big part of containing this side of the taste and making the tea that much enjoyable.

Make sure you follow the brewing instructions and lower the temperature before brewing the tea. For a high-grade Sencha, it would be around 70 degrees Celsius. For a Gyokuro, it would be 50 to 60. This makes a HUGE difference in the atringency of the tea.

The other thing to note is that the picking method is a huge factor as well. If only the young leaves are picked for the tea, then it has less astringency. If older leaves are picked together, it will have higher.

This method is directly reflected to the price of the tea.


Author Yuki

Yuki

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.