First brought over to Japan by monks who has been abroad in China, tea has been woven into Japanese culture for centuries. Made from the leaves of an evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis, there are several basic types of tea and thousands of varieties that have been perfected.
Kukicha tea, which originated in Japan, is a blend with a unique composition, aroma, and taste. Originally classified as an unoxidized green tea variety, other more oxidized Kukicha teas have since been developed. While most teas are produced by steeping tea leaves and buds, this green tea is brewed with other parts of the tea tree.
Although the exact date of when this green tea was first introduced is unknown, it is believed to exist largely because of imperial families. After all the tea leaves were used to brew the tea for those in power, all that remained were stems, twigs, and possibly a few broken leaves. Not wanting to waste this plant material that had been discarded, it was used to brew tea for poor people.
Being known as the “tea of the poor” long ago, it has since become desired and sought after in select parts of Japan today.
The plant material used to brew Kukicha tea is several years old. Harvesting alone takes place over four different seasons. The first harvest takes place in October on three-year-old tea trees. During this harvest, the bottom layers of tea leaves are plucked for the stems.
The second harvest, which takes place in the winter, is done once the tea tree reaches ten years old. Subsequently, the third and fourth harvests take place annually during the months of March and June. During this harvest, younger and more delicate plant parts are gathered.
Before the Kukicha tea is ready to be brewed, however, the stems, stalks, and twigs are dried for one year. Once completely dried, they are finally roasted and prepared for consumption.
A Unique Composition
Also referred to as “twig tea” or bōcha, this green tea variety is not made up of leaves like other teas. Rather, the material used to brew this type of tea consists of the stems, stalks, and twigs that result when producing sencha and matcha teas.
Brewing Kukicha Tea
In order to achieve the most flovorful brew, it is suggested that people use loose Kukicha tea as opposed to tea bags. Where tea bags do not allow the full flavor to develop because the dried tea is packed tightly into a small space, loose tea has more room to expand while steeping. This extra room, in return, allows more flavor and potential benefits to be released from the tea into the hot water.
To make the tastiest Kukicha tea, it is suggested that you use a Japanese teapot (Kyusu). Along with this, you will need a pot or kettle to boil water and tea cups to enjoy the brew out of.
- On a stove, or with an electric kettle, bring some water to a boil. (For best-tasting results, spring water is recommended.) Once the water is boiling, fill the tea cups with the hot water and discard any remaining water. This will allow the water to cool to the correct temperature, approximately 176°F.
- In your Kyusu, add 4 teaspoons of loose Kukicha for every cup of tea you are making. (If you have four tea cups pre-heating, you should add 16 teaspoons of loose Kukicha to your Kyusu.)
- Once the water in the tea cups has cooled to the correct temperature, pour all of it into the Japanese teapot. With the lid on, allow the tea to steep for 1 minute.
- Once the tea has steeped, pour a small amount of tea into the first cup, then pour the same amount into every other cup that you are making. Fill the cups, a little at a time, keeping the same amount of tea in each cup. This will ensure that the flavor in each tea cup is consistent. Continue pouring tea into the tea cups in small, equal increments until the teapot is empty. Then, enjoy your fresh cup of tea! (Be sure to save the Kukicha material, as it can be used for three more brews.)
Appearance, Aroma, & Flavor
After it is brewed, Kukicha tea can have a yellow to light green color (depending on the variety) and is often described as having a woody and slightly sweet smell. It is also known for having a strong flavor with subtle sweet and nutty undertones.
Nutrition, Caffeine, & Potential Benefits
In one 8 fl oz serving, this green tea contains zero calories, carbs, proteins, and fats. Considered to have a low nutritional value, Kukicha tea also has low levels of caffeine, measured somewhere around 25 mg per serving. (This makes Kukicha a great beverage choice any time of day and for those with sensitivities to high amounts of caffeine.
Considered to be a healthy beverage, this tea contains vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Although it is not proven, many drink this green tea to help with fatigue, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and to maintain healthy digestion.
The Famous “Twig Tea”
Tea has been integrated and celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries. With this popularity, many varieties of tea have been created. Kukicha tea, also referred to as “twig tea” is just one of these varieties.
Made from stems, stalks, and twigs gathered over multiple harvests, Kukicha tea was once considered to be the “tea of the poor.” Today, however, it is sipped on and enjoyed in many different regions of Japan.
Available mainly loose, the process of brewing Kukicha tea is relatively simple. Another added bonus is the plant material can be used for a total of four different brews. Not only does this light green-colored tea offer a deliciously strong flavor, but it also emits a woody aroma, pleasing all the senses.