Depending upon the tea harvest time, tea leaves are called Ichibancha or Shincha (first picked tea), Nibancha (second picked tea), Sanbancha (third picked tea) and Yonbancha or autumn/winter picked tea (fourth picked tea).
Generally, the earlier the tea is picked, the higher the quality and the more delicious the tea is.
In this article, I’m going to introduce the characteristics of tea picked in each season.
*The taste and season are slightly different depending upon the cultivar and environment, so I will explain the typical taste and season.
What is "Shincha"?
Shincha (first picked tea) and Ichibancha are the same tea though they are called differently.
Generally, Shincha is picked on Hachiju-Hachiya (the 88th day), counting from Risshun (the first day of spring). It is the tea of the best quality and is traded at the highest price.
You can enjoy its fresh fragrance and taste like fresh green leaves.
Shincha is also popular as a gift because it is a lucky charm that is said “Drinking new tea will keep you healthy for a year”.
What are “Ichibancha” and "Nibancha” ?
It depends upon the growing area and cultivar, but Japanese tea leaves are basically picked 4 times in a year.
- Ichibancha (first picked tea) - from late April to the end of May
- Nibancha (second picked tea) - from mid June to early July
- Sanbancha (third picked tea) - from late July to early August
- Yonbancha or Autumn/winter Bancha (fourth picked tea) - from late September to Early October
The tea picked at a different time from those 4 times is called Bancha.
Characteristics of "Ichibancha"
As I mentioned earlier, Ichibancha (Shincha) is the highest quality tea in a year and it is traded at the highest price.
Ichibancha contains less catechin which causes astringency, and a lot of amino acid which causes sweetness and umami, so it has less astringency, and you can clearly feel the sweetness and umami of tea.
In addition, you can enjoy fresh and refreshing fragrance like sprouts.
The reason why Ichibancha is said to be the most delicious is related to the growing speed.
Other teas grow and are picked about a month after they sprout, but Ichibancha slowly grows by storing plenty of nutrients for about six months after the last plucking in the previous year. Because of that, it is packed with umami and fragrance.
By the way, as for the distinction between “Ichibancha” and “Shincha”, “Ichibancha” is used to distinguish tea picked in other seasons such as Nibancha (second picked tea) and Sanbancha (third picked tea) as described in this article, and “Shincha” is often used to mean tea picked for the first time of the year.
Characteristics of "Nibancha"
Nibancha is picked about 40 days after Ichibancha is picked.
It grows during long hours of sunlight, so it contains a lot of catechin produced by the action of light. For this reason,some people find Nibancha more bitter than Ichibancha, but it is said that Nibancha is good for antibacterial and prevention of lifestyle-related disease.
Characteristics of "Sanbancha" and "Yonbancha"
The taste and nutrition of Sanbancha and Yonbancha are lower compared to Ichibancha because it is picked without taking long time to grow.
Like Nibancha, Sanbancha and Yonbancha grow during long hours of sunlight, so they contain a lot of catechin and have a bitter taste.
Some farms leave Sanbancha grown and pick it at the time of Yonbancha or pick Sanbancha and do not pick Yonbancha.
After Sanbancha, it is often used as raw materials for processing such as PET bottle processing and Hojicha (roasted green tea).
Characteristics of autumn-winter Bancha
Autumn-winter Bancha is grown carefully without picking Sanbancha and picked from autumn to winter.
This tea has a refreshing taste and contains less caffeine, so it is recommended for those who do not want to take caffeine often.
Characteristics of Bancha
Bancha is coarse tea made from old or hard leaves picked at a late time, and it means the tea of inferior quality.
Bancha includes leaves that have grown too long and become hard, leaves that have been picked later than the normal harvest time and left over, leaves that have been picked in the next harvest time, leaves that have been selected because they were too big in the finishing process of Sencha (steeped green tea), and stems and leaves that have been cut for training.
Bancha is a green tea that is often used as a raw material because it is refreshing, has little bitterness, and has a high degree of transparency in its leached color. It is also often used as a raw material in PET bottles.