Last week, I wrote about shaded (Kabuse) green teas and I said that I would talk about unshaded (Roji) teas this week. However, I realized that it actually might be more useful to talk about harvesting seasons and why they are important, purely because most plants around the world are left unshaded in order to receive optimal sunlight.
When it comes to tea, harvesting refers to when tea leaves are picked for tea processing. In Japan, that normally falls into three seasons: spring, summer, and autumn. As the year progresses, the leaves become coarser and darker.
Spring (Ichibancha) is the first and most sought after harvest. Since the plant was dormant during the winter months, it means that there will be a build-up of nutrients. The new leaves will not have had enough time to use the stored nutrients, therefore, teas made from these fresh leaves will result in favourable tea. These teas are also sometimes called Shincha, which directly translates to ‘new tea.’
In Japan, spring falls between the middle of April to the middle of May. However, depending on the location, that could be as early as late March. This is when teas like Sencha or Gyokuro are harvested, followed by Bancha (which uses the lower leaves).
The second harvest, Nibancha, starts around the end June to July. Shaded Drinking Grade Matcha will be picked closer to the start of the harvest, whereas Shaded Cooking Grade will fall later in the season.
The last and final harvest, Autumn (Sanbancha), will start in the middle of Septeber and, depending on the year, continue to the beginning of November. Cooking Grade Matcha can also be picked during this season, as well as tea used for PET-bottles. Additionally, there is normally a 40 day period between each harvest to allow the tea plant to recuperate.
To follow along with the harvest seasons, Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms offers 3 Senchas from different seasons, so, therefore, I thought that it would be interesting to put these teas side-by-side. Like last week’s post, I brewed each tea 3 times at around 90, 60, and 30 seconds using 5 grams of leaves to 3 oz of water. I started with 50 to 60 Celsius degree temperature water, then 70 to 80 degrees, and finally 90 to 95 degrees.
Let’s go! Enjoy!
Sencha of the Spring Sun
Description: “A Sencha of the highest quality, Spring Sun is comprised of lovely dark green needles that create a sun-lit golden liquor. Medium-bodied with a long presence, it offers bright-tasting grassy notes with a delightful astringency.”
Notes: This is a May harvest tea of the Yabukita cultivar. The leaves are lightly steamed, dried and then rolled into a long needle shape. The leaves are a dark forest green, almost resembling black, with some lighter leaves. The dry leaves have a deep earthy grassy aroma and smelled like fresh grass.
After steeping, the leaves were more of a dark olive colour with a sweet fruity aroma. The liquor was yellow with an orange undertone and carried a faint grassy aroma.
Steep 1: The liquor had a grassy and seaweed taste. It was sweet with a hint of astringency, which left the mouth feeling a bit dry.
Steep 2: Colour-wise, the liquor is much more saturated with yellow in comparison to the yellow-orange mix during the first infusion. The astringency stayed the same, but there are less grassy notes in comparison to the first infusion.
Steep 3: The liquor is a pale yellow colour with nice grassy notes and mild astringency. The sip ends off sweet.
Sencha of the Summer Sun
Description: “Medium-light in body, Summer Sun has a light astringency with gentle kiwi undertones. The liquor is a bold brass yellow with an aroma of moist timber.”
Notes: As mentioned, the leaves become coarser as the year passes. Therefore, there is a noticeable difference between the spring and summer harvest, despite both being senchas. This tea was picked in July.
The dry leaves are much larger and have a dark olive colour. The aroma is sweeter and hay-like with underlying grassy notes.
Steep 1: After infusion, the leaves unfurl, but not completely so, and give off an earthy aroma. The liquor is a yellow colour with a hint of tan. It has a strong floral taste with some grassy and vegetal notes. There is astringency, however, it is a slow build and the sip ends off sweet.
Steep 2: The colour of the liquor is much more yellow and the taste is much more grassy. Since the temperature is higher, there is more bitterness in the infused liquor.
Steep 3: The sip starts off sweet with some underlying bitterness and vegetal taste.
Sencha of the Autumn Moon
Description: “Made from mature Yabukita leaves, Autumn Moon is light-bodied and smooth. Its moon-like yellow liquor is accompanied by a warm cedar aroma.”
Notes: Of all the Senchas I have seen, this one had the most unique look. I am used to Senchas that look like straight needles, but this one is made of large leaves with a good mixture of fanning. There was a nice contrast between the yellow-green leaves and the dust.
The aroma was like Sencha of the Summer Sun, but much more earthy than hay-like. The wet leaves became a bit of a pile compared to the discernable tea leaves. Again, there was more of a wood-like aroma than grassy.
Steep 1: The first flavour was grassy with some mild bitterness that didn’t leave the mouth feeling dry. The infused liquor was rather cloudy, but I can see why they call it Autumn Moon because it was a bright yellow colour.
Steep 2: The taste was grassy and the liquor wasn’t as cloudy as the first infusion.
Steep 3: The bitterness has mostly gone down and the liquor is much more clear at this point. The taste is vegetal with some seaweed.
Overall, I find it very interesting how the different seasons affected the tea leaves! I had always read about how tea was affected by harvest, but until now, I never had a chance to try a single-origin tea that came from the same farm but was harvested during different seasons.
Which is your favourite harvest season?
Written by Obubu intern Connie, who also has her own tea blog teainspoons.com