Imagine a pure ocean wave washing over freshly cut grass. Now take a sip. To me, that is what defines my experience with shincha green tea. Shincha, which translates to “new tea,” is a Japanese green tea made from the year’s first plucking of the tender leaves in the sencha tea fields from April through May. This first flush of freshly harvested sprouted leaves that is just barely processed and immediately shipped direct from the farm, is a coveted sip only available for purchase from mid-May through the end of June (sometimes into early July). One can only imagine that the seasonal clamor for shincha is rooted in the passing of winter doldrums for a chance to taste a glimmer of spring freshness. A true ritual, tea enthusiasts patiently wait with bated breath each year and often pre-order shincha as a sign of hope for spring’s arrival. Although an annual harvest, the return to shincha offers excitement for the unknown as the nuances of the tea leaves are slightly altered thanks to mother nature’s TLC.
As I opened the airtight tin of Ippodo shincha from the Uji region of Japan, I removed the white bag covered in Japanese characters and made a careful cut with scissors as to not harm any precious tea leaves tucked inside. Instantly the aroma blossomed from within and sent my senses into a happy haze of spring fever. While spooning the delicate needle-shaped leaves into my Kyusu tea pot, I noticed the sheen of the leaves’ dark forest green hue. As the water (cooled far from a boil) hit the leaves I was enamored by the aroma of seaweed tangled with cooked spinach. I strained the leaves from the liquor to reveal a steeped tea with a golden green hue that should be served in glass or white teaware to let the vivid color shine.
Raising the cup to my lips, I made a point to take a deep breath before my first sip of shincha. Immediately my taste buds were washed with an oceanic note of slightly salty seaweed and grassy notes with nuances of freshly cooked spring vegetables. The savory umami tastes (that verge on slightly buttery) were balanced by the astringency that pleasantly dries your tastes buds. The sip was rounded out with a subtle sweetness that lingers (think of the last chew of a piece of fresh sugar cane). Full bodied yet delicate, it carried me through a balance between crisp and luscious. I felt as though I was sitting on park bench soaking in the early days of spring, while elsewhere my feet were brushing against sand on the first day of summer. This steep truly lingers between two seasons (fresh vegetal notes and summer oceanic sips). While shincha’s taste of intense freshness is commonality year after year, the changing terroir will offer unique subtleties to tempt us with tastes unique only to that year. Note that in addition to annual changes, shincha green tea varies by regions in Japan that can also alter the final flavor profile.