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SPRING IS THE SEASON FOR SHINCHA

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Spring is upon us, with thoughts turning to warm weather, buds in bloom and new greenery. In Japan this is the season of shincha, the year’s first harvest of green tea leaves. Like Japan’s sakura (cherry blossom) front where peak blooming period is determined by location, shincha is harvested in various parts of the country at different times. The earliest shoots can be gathered in Kagoshima on the southern island of Kyushu at the end of April. Next comes the famous tea-producing region of Shizuoka on Honshu, where shincha is harvested from mid to late April. Finally, shincha in the southern part of Kyoto called Uji is ready in early May. The famous Kyoto tea company Ippodo has a store in Midtown Manhattan, and its shincha is exclusively supplied from Uji. According to Ippodo Tea Consultant Riichiro Kato, what makes shincha special is its sweetness, umami and fragrance. There are variations based on the tea-producing region, but even shincha from the same region will never be the same from year to year, let alone from pour to pour. The way you prepare tea can help bring out its taste, so I set out to learn from the tea master how to maximize shincha’s potential. The drinking of shincha is an annual ritual that is said to ensure one’s health for the whole year, so it makes sense that it is prepared with the utmost care. Mr. Kato showed me how two heaping tablespoons of tea leaves (about 10 grams) should be added to the teapot, with water separately being brought to boil. Next the boiling water should be poured into three empty teacups, which allows the water temperature to drop by about 10°C. The water should then be transferred to the teapot, which will cool it even further to around 80°C, which is optimal for shincha. The leaves should steep for 40 seconds before being poured into the teacups a little at a time in turn, which went against my natural tendency to fill up one cup completely before moving onto another. Mr. Kato said that tea is literally good to the last drop, shaking the teapot evenly into all three cups until nothing was left. We compared the cups I had poured and those of Mr. Kato, and his were a lighter green. He explained that color, density and taste vary based on the pourer, and sure enough our respective teas were distinctly different but delicious in their own right.

—– Reported by Stacy Smith

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Ippodo Tea, New Yor
125 E. 39th St., New York, NY 10016 | TEL: 212-370-0609
www.ippodo-tea.co.jp/en/shop/ny.html

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The shincha preparation process begins by putting two heaping tablespoons of tea leaves (about 10 grams) into the teapot, while boiling water on the side.

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Next the boiling water is poured into the cups, which allows the water temperature to drop by about 10°C, and then transferred back to the teapot to cool further.

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Thanks to Mr. Kato, I was able to learn proper tea preparation. The trick is to pour a little into each cup in turn before filling them up.

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Ippodo sources its shincha exclusively from Uji, which harvests in early May. This year’s shincha will be available at the store by mid- May, and shincha workshops will be held.