Shincha | Welcoming Spring

Posted by Zach Mangan on

While Japan is a small country, roughly twenty-two of its forty-seven prefectures produce tea of some kind. Japan is home to a variety of microclimates and soil types. That in combination with the country’s many unique regional production methodologies means Japan produces teas with distinct regional characteristics. Unlike Indian teas, which are harvested in multiple seasons, Japanese tea is mainly harvested in the spring. Although the work of harvesting is compressed into one quarter of the calendar year, growing tea is a yearlong pursuit— and during the harvest season, many important choices have to be made weekly, daily, and sometimes by the hour. 

Shincha: A NEW SEASON 

Japan’s tea-growing season officially begins when the tea plants awaken from their winter dormancy in mid-to-late February. The plants grow slowly through the cold temperatures of February and March, and the new spring tea buds begin to appear in early April. Tea harvesting begins at that time in the south of Japan and steadily moves northward with most of the first harvest taking place by mid-May. The exception is at higher elevations, where the cooler weather means a later harvest around late May or early June, depending on the season’s weather. The first harvest and release of the year is referred to as shincha (shin means new, cha means tea). Shincha is an indicator of the arrival of spring and this young, fresh green tea is sold for only a small window of time—roughly a month. This new release can be likened to Beaujolais nouveau wine—a celebration of the arrival of spring and a look at what is coming for the year ahead. 


Growing tea is an art. And the best producers view it as a cherished opportunity. Think of it this way: a farmer who works for fifty years will only get a chance to create fifty harvests of tea. Imagine a baker who must perfect a loaf of sourdough in just fifty tries! So, each year farmers must use all of their past experiences to shape their current crop of tea. There are countless things to consider. For example, a farmer must know what cultivars will do well in her field. The Saemidori cultivar flourishes in the hot spring months of Kyushu in the south of Japan but is too sensitive to frost exposure to be grown in Saitama in the north. Conversely, the hearty Yamakai cultivar is at home in the cool mountains of Shizuoka but would wither in the heat of Nagasaki. If this reminds you of wine, you’re on the right track. Tea cultivars are in many ways analogous to the grape varietals used in winemaking. And as with wine, the land on which the tea is grown can have a momentous impact on flavor and aroma. The combination of microclimate and soil composition, the way the field is managed, and other choices by the farmer create the terroir of each tea—the “taste of the place.” Choices made on the smallest scale have a big impact: Should the grower wait to harvest on Wednesday when it will rain but the leaves will be at their prime, or harvest two days before when the weather is more pleasant? How much of a difference will that two-day window make? Is there a right answer? Many such questions and their answers inform the almost mystical nature of tea cultivation. 


The harvest season begins in the south of Japan and slowly moves northward spanning the period from early April in the southern islands up through mid-to-late May for the northern areas of Japan and those places at higher elevation. The tea bush is a perennial evergreen, Camellia sinensis, and each year small spring buds appear on the top of the bush. These young, tender leaves are what is used for the highest-quality teas. Depending on the farm, the tea leaves can be either hand-picked or machine-harvested. The most delicate teas are hand-harvested in a process called tezumi, in which a skilled tea picker will navigate the tea fields with a collection basket and quickly pick the young fresh leaves, known as shinme. Less than 5 percent of tea in Japan is hand-harvested. The stamina, visual acuity, and nimble fingers involved in hand harvesting make it very difficult and specialized work. Most often, women over the age of seventy are employed in tezumi, and the same group of ladies will work year after year for a farmer or group of farmers with whom they form lasting friendships. 

A Look ahead to 2024 

We are as excited as ever to get back to origin and source our new collection of Shincha this year. Minami and I leave for Japan mid-April and will be on the hunt some new offerings as well as check-ins with our current suppliers. We are looking forward to exploring several new origins producing some fantastic teas (we will be introducing these spots in our upcoming travelogue). We anticipate the first Shincha from Kagoshima landing stateside around the 20th of April. You can keep track of releases by visiting and signing up for our email newsletter. We are so excited to share the hard work and incredible talent of our network of growers this spring season—you are all in for some truly special teas.

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