Don’t drink shincha

Well, I didn’t say that. Longtime readers may know that I am generally not a drinker of green teas, and especially Japanese greens, which tend to make me dizzy or feeling uncomfortable. The idea that shincha shouldn’t be drunk, though, isn’t coming from me. It’s from a man called Kaibara Ekken, an authority on Japanese herbs who lived during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In his work Yojokun (Instructions on Nourishing Life) he said a few things about tea drinking (translation mine).

There are many people now who drink a lot of tea from dawn to dusk…drinking a little tea after a meal helps digestion and quenches thirst. Salt must not be added as it’s bad for the kidney. One must not drink tea with an empty stomach as it damages the spleen and the stomach. One must not drink too much of koicha, as it damages the qi generation of a person… People with weak constitution must not drink that year’s shincha at all. It will cause eye problems, anemia, and diarrhea. You should only drink shincha after the first month. For people with good constitution, drinking it after the ninth or tenth month should not be harmful.

In case the time here is confusing, the months referred to here are the lunar calendar dates. So for normal shincha harvesting would happen in the second month, which is around April. When he says one shouldn’t drink it until the first month, that means the lunar new year of the following year – that’s about a 10-11 months wait before drinking the tea. Ninth or tenth month would translate to about November or December.

The idea that green teas in general are cooling and isn’t a great thing to drink is not new, and many traditional Chinese medicine practitioners can tell you that excessive drinking of green tea is damaging to health. Kaibara is not alone in claiming this, but it’s interesting to see how emphatic he is with the idea that drinking shincha is pretty much a bad idea all around. Contrast that with the current obsession with drinking shincha as soon as possible, and the difference cannot be more obvious.

So by today’s standard, someone like him was probably drinking slightly stale green teas all the time. Interestingly enough, sencha, at least the ones I’ve had, actually do fine when aged a bit in an air tight container. I just had a little the other day – a can of a couple years old sencha that I opened but never finished. The tea brews a bright yellow, rather than the normal green, but it tasted very smooth and was actually quite decent. It also didn’t make me dizzy. I think these guys have a point.


Comments

Don’t drink shincha — 29 Comments

  1. I’ve heard of some folks deliberately “resting” their green tea for this reason. I can’t say that stale green tea in my own pantry is the product of carefully planned aging, but do find myself drinking it more frequently now that it’s older. You’re right — the stale stuff is really easy to drink and gets a nice cereal grain sort of character that the super-bright and fresh stuff doesn’t have.

  2. Interesting. This is good to contemplate as I often question whether or not I should buy more green tea, as I don’t usually drink it often enough at all to not have even small quantities of it around for a year or longer, and have been under the impression that the results of long storage of green tea are not so great. I actually have some sencha I’ve debated drinking at all since I’ve had it for almost two years. Lately though, lighter teas have been growing on me more anyway…

  3. My experience with aging shincha (or rather forgetting to drink it all only to rediscover it in a relatively airtight box a year or so later) has been pretty disappointing. It’s still very drinkable, but I find it fairly dull when a few months (3+) has passed since it’s first opening. (I’ll still drink it though, as I’d feel too guilty to throw away tea unless we’re talking about something full of pesticides.) Maybe if stored under different conditions the result would be better.

    I’m the kind of person that can have problems with very young puer and nuclear green oolongs, but for some reason shincha has never troubled me. No noticable stomach discomfort, no jitteryness or dizzyness. Must be a YMMV thing. Still, I generally prefer sencha to shincha.

    Thanks for sharing the excerpt from Kaibara Ekken.

  4. Actually the idea of giving green tea time “to settle down” can even be found in Japanese tea ceremony. The annual cycle starts in November, when the tencha harvested in May had 6 months time to rest before being ground to matcha powder.
    This year in May when visiting Japanese tea producers, I was invited to a blind tasting. One of the teas was very fragrant and lively but somehow thin, while another one was very full bodied and sweet but lacking in the nose. The first was a shincha and the latter a kuradashicha – tea taken from last year’s storage. The art of blending sencha often involves finding the right balance between fragrance and body, so pure shincha is not the ultimate peak of tea delights. My best buy in Japan was a kuradashicha – though I don’t agree with Kaibara Ekken completely (I do enjoy shincha from time to time), my advice is to give his words kind consideration. Keep your eyes open for “kuradashicha” (“tea from storage”)

    • Yes, but shincha is not just any green tea, shincha is fresh green tea immediately after processing. My grandfather often drank green tea that isn’t so fresh anymore. Besides, everyone’s body is different in traditional medicine theories.

  5. Great information! Too bad you aren’t in for a cup of green. Maybe some aged Shincha may please you? I am currently writing a blog on aged tea or Kuradashi-cha.
    For this, your translation of Kaibara’s clause on Shincha seems very useful. I am thinking of quoting a part of it and will leave credits to this blog.

  6. i agree with your last paragraph in this blog entry,
    i too have a few packs of sencha and something “in between gyokuro and sencha” that i got from japan at least a year ago, and it tasted very nice and elegant. it also was able to give me more brews that when i first opened it. and because of that, im in no rush to finish it all off whenever i get to buy new packs of japanese green tea.

  7. Actually I have found that all teas, properly stored, tend to get sweeter and more balanced as they age. I first discovered this when our store bought some baozhong 5 years ago. It did not taste good, didn’t sell, so I took the 5 pound bag home to drink in the summer as an iced tea while I work in the yard. I was surprised to find that after a couple of years It tasted really quite good. So after 3 years I tested it against a quite good fresh baozhong with a group of 11 people I taste tea with regularly. All except one person liked the aged baozhong better than the fresh baozhong. And since I have tested a number of teas that have grown older. They all taste excellent. I would love to hear someone explain the chemistry of that. Incidentally, there are a number of shincha experts who say it is better after “resting” for 6 months. I personally don’t like shincha until it is around 9 months old.

    • There are some teas, like longjing, that don’t age well in storage. They often get more bitter and less good. Baozhongs are definitely age-worthy as long as the storage is careful (so they don’t turn sour). The obsession with drinking shincha as soon as they’re available is more of a marketing thing than anything, I believe (much like Beaujoulais nouveaux)

  8. Pingback: Pu’erh, The Body, and Are You Confused Yet!? | TeaDB

  9. I am so glad to have found your site here. I became violently ill drinking Sencha teas and I paid a lot of money for them. My friend said it sounded like a body cleansing. No, it was not a cleansing, I had horrible reactions like having the flu daily. When I stopped drinking Sencha the symptoms disappeared. I add a very small amount of other green or oolong teas to my herbal tea concoctions with no symptoms or reactions like I had with Sencha. Thank you for sharing this. So very interesting and your research is much appreciated. Namaste!

  10. I’m not sure I agree fully with this blog post, although it is interesting and there are some valid points. I know from speaking to various Chinese and Japanese master herbalists and my own expierence drinking green tea for 30 years, that you should never drink green tea (Japanese or Chinese) on am empty stomach, that i agree on. But that is the case with other plants and herbs made into tea.

    I only drink green tea after a morning or afternoon meal. Never on an empty stomach which is why most people feel dizzy or lightheaded. The tannins in green tea increase your stomach acid which can cause that feeling of nausea on an empty stomach. Especially if you brew your tea western style for longer periods of time (3-5 minutes) with boiling water which will release more tannins and oxalates in your brew. Instead you should brew the green tea Gong Fu Style (eastern style), which has you steep for shorter times (20-30 seconds in each infusion) with the right temperature of water so less tannins and oxalates are released when brewing.

    Any time I have green tea on an empty stomach, I get light headed, dizzy and too jittery. I would get the same type of lightheaded dizzy feeling from drinking strong coffee or espresso shots on an empty stomach. But when I have green tea after a meal, especially Japanese green tea that has higher L-Theanine content, i feel great. I get a great energy with an alert calming feeling that lasts all day. My pain threshold is higher and my chronic pain goes away for the entire day, making it so i dont need any of my prescription pain meds. I’m also able to digest my food better and feel a sense of well being and happiness.

    So there are a lot of factors that go into why people get lightheaded and dizzy when drinking green tea an empty stomach. But to say you shouldn’t drink it, i would disagree because most tea drinker dont know about the high tannins and oxalates in tea (camellia sinensis).

    But thank you for this great article to make people aware of not drinking tea on an empty stomach. 🙂

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