Shincha – 1st Flush Sencha

Shincha -- a first flush sencha.

First Flush Shincha

Within the world of Japanese teas, sencha and shincha are two terms that can easily be confused, especially by English speakers. But while sencha is a broad category of popular Japanese green tea, shincha refers to a specific harvest of sencha that is highly prized among tea connoisseurs.

Sencha, with its vast array of varieties, has long held sway over the Japanese tea market, accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s overall tea consumption. Production styles vary tremendously depending on region and desired quality. Highest-graded sencha is typically harvested and processed from late April to mid-May. Like all Japanese teas, sencha is steamed shortly after picking to dehydrate the leaves and forestall oxidation, giving it a characteristic vegetal and grassy freshness.

When cultivating sencha, Japanese tea growers divide the growing year into four harvests – referred to in the industry as flushes – named for their order in the year: ichibancha, nibancha, sanbancha, and yonbancha. The first flush, ichibancha, is what produces shincha. Delicate buds and top leaves, harvested by hand and briefly steamed, are plucked when they are still small. By plucking these leaves early, growers capture the intense expression of the all the rich nutrients and flavors that have been cultivating in the soil during the plant’s winter dormancy.

Bright green infused liquor from shincha.

Shincha Fresh from a Kyusu

Shincha leaves are small, tender, and vibrant, with a scent that is both freshly herbaceous and faintly mineral in character. When infused, shincha leaf steeps into a smooth paste yielding a bright green-gold liquor. The flavor, as compared to standard sencha, is notably bolder, livelier, and complex. A strong oceanic minerality overlays undernotes of fresh vegetation, with a faintly bitter finish that gradually gives way to a lingering stonefruit sweetness. The mouthfeel is full and sharp, slightly less astringent than sencha but still decidedly pronounced.

Like other Japanese green teas, shincha is perfect for brewing in traditional kyusu, but is just as delightful steeped in a pot or an infuser. Steep three grams of tea at a low temperature, between 160°-185° Fahrenheit, for two to three minutes. Shincha can also be enjoyed for multiple short steepings.

By Jennifer Coate

 

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Gaiwans: A Tool for True Tea Appreciation

Many a loose leaf tea drinker will admit to having a cupboard full of strainers, tea pots and various mugs that assist them in consuming tea. In China, that cupboard would be full of gaiwans. This simple lidded bowl lends itself to truly appreciating the tea in many ways that a teapot just cannot accomplish.

A gaiwan can be used to drink just about any tea you would like. However, traditionally it is reserved for white, green and lighter oolong teas. There are some teas we would not dream of drinking in anything other than a gaiwan, like Bai Hao Silver Needle. This is due to how the gaiwan amplifies smell and mouthfeel when following the traditional Chinese method of using a gaiwan.

The first step of using a gaiwan is to warm it with hot water and to discard that water. This seems like a silly step. However, it gives you an opportunity to smell the dry leaves even better. If you put the tea in just after this, the warm ceramic allows the smell of the dry leaves to become stronger. It is expected in China that the drinker will take the time to bring the gaiwan to just under their nose to inhale this fragrance before adding water to the leave. This allows the drinker to better appreciate what they are about to consume.

While drinking the tea, it is expected that the drinker will stop before putting the tea in their mouth and smell the brew. The bowl shape of the gaiwan makes it easy to smell before drinking. There should be no expectation that the dry leaf and the brew will smell the same. Often they do, but in some cases they absolutely do not. There is a green tea in China called Mo Li Xiang, where the dry leaves smell like duck/chicken poop but the brewed tea has a sweet dry grass aroma.

So to appreciate tea the Chinese way, stop and smell both the tea leaves and the tea before you drink. These simple steps lead to a better appreciation of your tea.

Fascinated by the gaiwan, read about how to use it and its history in this blog post.

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Playing with Water Temperature: 3 Black Teas to Brew Below a Boil

Water temperature is a critical component to a good cup of tea. Brew tea too hot and you can burn it, leaving it tasting bitter. Brew tea too cold, and you don’t get any flavor. So playing with water temperature can get you very different cups of tea all from the same tea leaf. This holds true not just for green and oolongs, but for black teas as well. Here are 3 of our favorite black teas to brew at water temperatures well below a boil. We are still steeping the teas for 5 minutes, we are just using water at 190° F.

  • Darjeeling – This champagne of teas is traditionally brewed at a boil. Those complex fruity, floral and honey flavors that are common for this tea remain at colder temperatures. However, those floral notes become stronger and the astringent (drying) finish becomes much softer. The difference is most dramatic in a 1st flush, but is still noticeable in a 2nd Flush Darjeeling.
  • Yunnan Sunrise – This partially oxidized black tea from China is malty at a boil. Dropping the water temperature, even as far as 175° F, brings forward more honey and floral aromas.
  • Ceylon – Sri Lankan tea is often overlooked as an everyday tea. It is woody in flavor and has an astringent finish. However, this beautifully complex black tea becomes herbal in flavor at lower temperatures.

So play with your water temperatures and enjoy a whole new cup of tea. Share your experiences with us, we would love to hear about them.

Note: To drop water temperatures, pour that boiling water into a cold ceramic mug and wait. Water will lose approximately 5 degrees per minute, so 3 minutes after pouring you at a great temperature for what we recommended above.

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3 Fun Ways to Enjoy Blooming Teas

Flowering Tea in Glass Pot

Lychee Flavored Osmanthus Blooming Tea

Blooming teas are hand tied balls of tea and flower petals that open up into flower designs when steeped in hot water. These fun teas are not just about the tea, but about appreciating the floral creations. Here are 3 suggestions on how to enjoy these pieces of art.

  • Share the blooming tea with friends. Designed for large glass tea pots that serve at least 2 to 6 people, these pieces of artwork are perfect for entertaining guests. The blooming teas use green tea as leaves, so they brew lighter in both color and flavor. This makes them an easy accompaniment to just about any treat you may wish to serve with the tea.
  • Enjoy these teas out in nature. The Chinese believe tea is best enjoyed outside in a natural setting. This allows the drinker of the tea time to relax and enjoy the benefits of being outside. The mind is given time to calm and clear with exposure to trees, birds, sunshine and water. A picnic in China is incomplete without tea. So join the Chinese in enjoying tea outdoors and bring along a blooming tea to your next picnic. Better yet, enjoy your tea in your own backyard during a beautiful spring day.
  • Enjoy blooming teas as center pieces. The Chinese will often preserve the bloom after drinking the tea by placing it in a vase large enough for the bloom to be completely open. They fill the vase with cold water and 2 Tbsp of white vinegar and then submerge the open bloom. The bloom will continue to impart color to the water, so you may need to change it every couple of days. However, the bloom itself typically will last for a couple of weeks a beautiful centerpiece.

This is a fun type of tea to explore and share with friends. Let us know how you enjoy blooming teas.

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Entertaining Guests: Brewing Tea for a Large Crowd

Large batch of ice tea.The holidays bring people together over food and drinks like no other time of year. So when faced with entertaining a large crowd, how do you keep the tea flowing? Preparing fresh brewed iced tea for a large crowd is really quite simple. Note the required equipment. You can do this with what you generally have at home. However, if you are a routine entertainer, we’ve provided some pointers on what to pick up at restaurant supply stores or online that will make your life easier.

The instructions below are for preparation of fresh brewed loose leaf iced tea that is stored at room temperature in a pitcher or large container, ready to pour for guests over ice. You can also make cold brewed iced tea for guests

Equipment for fresh brewed iced tea:

  • You need a pitcher that you are fine with sitting out on the counter all day. A pitcher with a lid is best, but you can do this with an open pitcher. Generally you will find half gallon pitchers at most stores. You will find gallon pitchers at restaurant stores, which come in very handy when your guest count goes over 15 people.
  • You need a large pot to boil water in, it should hold at least 4 quarts.
  • A thermometer to measure water temperature if you plan on brewing anything other than black or tisane tea.
  • Wire Mesh Strainer (the finer the mesh the better).

Instructions for brewing:

  • Add 8 1/4 cups of water, a little over 1/2 gallon of water, to your pot and turn the burner on to high.
  • Allow the water to come to a boil and then add 1 cup of loose leaf tea. Turn the burner off.
  • If brewing a white, green or oolong tea, turn off the burner and remove the pot from the burner. Allow to cool for about 3 minutes and then put in your thermometer, you are looking for 190 degrees before adding the tea. If using voluminous white tea make this 1 1/3 to 2 cups.
  • For black or tisane tea, allow to steep for 5 minutes. For an oolong tea, allow to steep for 4 minutes. For a green or white tea, allow to steep for 3 minutes.
  • Pour the tea through the strainer into your pitcher and leave on the counter.
  • Serve the tea directly over ice. Since the tea is at room temperature and concentrated, a good amount of ice is expected to melt.
  • Since the tea will have sat out all day, you should discard any unused tea at the end of the day, especially if it was in an open pitcher. Feel free to water your plants with it. As long as there is no sugar in it, they will love you for it.
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