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It’s Shincha time…and WOW do I have a secret for you!
Before I reveal the secret, let’s dive into what exactly shincha means. This little word confused me for years. I always assumed it was just another name for the first harvest; but no, there is a big difference.
While Shincha is “ichibancha” (first harvest) it goes much beyond that. Shincha is the first batch of the first harvest where the fresh new growth is selected – and why it is so celebrated throughout Japan. This new harvest tea sets the stage for the “personality” of the annual crop. While it has the same shelf life—usually a year—it by no means stays around that long because folks can’t wait to try it!
Consumers always know when the harvest has started because retailers from the top of Japan to the bottom fly bright pink flags featuring vivid green cups of tea or tea leaves. Making its debut around the first few weeks in May, Japan springs to life after the much adored sakura viewing in April. Retailers clamor to promote Shincha as the next show ready to dazzle and delight, hence the pink on the flags. This means ‘get it and drink it and don’t wait around.’ The limited supply demands full attention when it hits the shelves – you simply don’t want to miss it!
Dry Hotaru leaves
Steeped Hotaru leaves
Over the winter, the leaves have been busy preparing to unveil the most nutritionally rich of all of the harvests. With this honor come bragging rights: Shincha is the freshest and the best of the annual harvest!
So what is my big secret?!
Thanks to our wonderful relationship with Master Kumagai, he often lets Chiki Tea in on a secret stash of his prized tea and this year we have scored BIG!
Enter Shiracha or rare white Shincha tea! The leaves look yellowish in hue but they are white in comparison to green tea and why this tea is known as ‘white tea.’
We named it Hotaru, meaning firefly in Japanese, because it is so rare that you are lucky just to get a glimpse of it – like the fireflies in Yame which light up for just a few days in June. In fact, this Shiracha is so unusual that most people in Japan don’t even know it exists!
The tea leaves are cultivated in a small plot in the famous Yame district and then processed very similarly to Chinese Baihao Yinzhen (white hair silver needle) using just the precious buds. A sensitive light steaming is carried out to capture the full essence of Shiracha’s fragrant first leaves. Think “Asamushicha” (opposed to a fukamushi tea, like our Fushigi) which means the fresh new leaves almost glow in your teapot.
Because the aroma is akin to cut grass, you might think it’s overly grassy in taste; but it’s far from it. You will take a journey through a farmer’s garden plot and then onto the picnic table as you taste buttered corn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes…none of the vegetal notes like asparagus or spinach. What’s so special is the roller coaster ride it gives your palate. The refreshing, ever-so-slightly bitter welcome yields to a subtle sweetness that continues to amplify long after your last sip.
Steeped Hotaru tea
As with most Shincha, it is wise to err on the side of caution regarding water temperature. Think Gyokuro, with much cooler water, so you don’t scorch the delicate leaves. I recommend trying the first pot using 60°C/140°F temperature, steeping for 60 to 90 seconds.
Gyokuro leaves are delicate but harder than the Hotaru leaves. This means that you don’t need to steep Hotaru for as long as a Gyokuro. Play around with your steeping times and temperatures to see what works best for your palate. And of course, you can cold brew it which is one of my favorite methods during the summer months.
Very shortly, our small supply of this rare white tea is being sent by Master Kumagai to the Chiki Tea Halls of Fulfillment in Japan. This is a one-chance wonder…a treat from Master Kumagai who graciously allowed us to offer it to you.
If you want to try Hotaru rare white tea, get on the list by emailing me directly: [email protected] and mention that you come from T Ching. There are no guarantees we will have enough for everyone, but I will try for you!
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