The Matcha Journey, Part 4: Harvest
When shading ends, the much awaited harvest begins. Read part 1 of this series here
This series will take you on an in-depth journey of how a satisfying bowl of matcha came to be - story of how tea is grown, cultivated, processed to become the relaxing drink you have everyday.
A celebrated first harvest
‘Ichibancha’, as the spring harvest is called, is the first harvest (‘flush’ in tea jargon) of the year. It is picked on the 88th day of the traditional Japanese calendar which falls around the 1st or 2nd of May.
For several hundred years, it has been considered the best day to start the spring harvest and a lot of it has to do with superstition. In Japanese culture, the number 8 is a lucky number, the 88 a very lucky one. Tea picked on this day is said to give the drinker a long life.
Ichibancha is the most anticipated, most expensive, and most flavorful harvest. It is the season of excitement in Japan, along with the first flush of tea, the blooming of cherry blossoms decorate Japan, and the string of festivities for Golden Week is in full swing.
The tea bushes stop its growth to direct its efforts to prepare for the coming of winter. To withstand the frost, it stores nutrition from the soil in the roots starting in October, when the winter chill approaches, up until February, when spring announces itself. Gently, the warmth of spring wakes the tea bush from hibernation. Nutrition from the roots moves to the young, sprouting buds and new leaves, filling these with concentrated flavor compound and makes your bowl of matcha thick, luscious and powerful.
After ichibancha undergoes processing and has become tea that can actually be sold and drank in celebration of the first harvest, it is now called ‘shincha’, If the ichibancha is processed to create matcha, it’s called shincha matcha. As it is considered the best tea harvest of the year, demand for shincha is high.
If you ever looked at tea farms’ blogs, they keep their customers informed of the years’ shincha and the prices are no joke. Tea shops, restaurants, coffee shops from culinary centers of the world like New York keep a lookout for shincha. Competition is fierce because they’re also competing with tea aficionados both in and out of Japan, and they’re clamoring for tea that is very limited in supply.
Shincha is off of store shelves by July and won’t be available ‘till next year. Considering its scarcity, demand and quality, the steep price it demands is a no-brainer. A pound of the finest spring harvest tea can easily be snapped up, even at prices going up to the thousands.
There are other harvest seasons later in the year.
When the hot and humid summer rolls in, the time for the Nibancha harvest comes, the second one of the year. Sanbancha, the third harvest is less flavorful. Yonbancha is the last harvest, but is largely dependent on climate.
Keep yourself posted for the next update by joining the Matcha Organics Club where you’ll receive the latest info, upcoming sale and the matcha insider secrets!