What is Kuding Tea?

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Herbal tea has been a staple in Chinese culture for centuries. With the first accounts of herbal tea dating back to 2737 BC, it was most often used in connection with medicine in traditional China. Made by steeping edible plant parts with hot water, there are numerous varieties available today.

Common herbal tea ingredients include herbs, spices, fresh or dried flowers, seeds, stems, fruit, bark, and roots. One particular herbal infusion, or tisane, that has been used for thousands of years and is still recommended in traditional Chinese medicine today is kuding tea. Also known as kuzding or ‘bitter nail tea,’ this herb offers a distinct flavor and a host of potential benefits. The green leaves that are brewed to make this tisane also have a unique look to them. 

Plant Specifics

Kuding tea is made from a combination of plant leaves. The most common types of plants used for producing this tisane are Ligustrum robustum, a species of wax tree, and Ilex kaushue, a species of holly tree. 

The species of wax tree that is used is found in southwest Asia and can grow up to 30 feet tall. The species of holly tree that is utilized is commonly grown throughout China and northern Vietnam and can grow to be 26 feet tall.

Harvesting & Leaf Preparation

The best quality of kuding tea available is plucked and prepared in the southeast Chinese province of Sichuan. Harvested in the spring and summer months, the large leaves are rolled, pan-fried, and dried before packaging. Since the leaves are large, they look like long nails after they have been rolled and fully processed. Small-leaf varieties are also available, but they are not as popular as large-leaf kuding tea.

Brewing Kuding Tea

Each supplier should come with its own preparation methods and recommended ratios for leaves to water. For this recipe, it is suggested that one or two sticks (tightly rolled leaves) be used for every 150 ml of water. For the best results, you will need a pot or kettle to boil some water, a teapot to steep the leaves, a strainer to remove the leaves, and a cup to drink out of.

  1. Bring some water to a boil. Spring water is suggested for the best-tasting results.
  2. While the water is coming up to temperature, rinse out the teapot and cup with hot water. This allows them to preheat.
  3. When the water boils, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to somewhere between 176°F to 194°F. While the water is cooling down, place one or two sticks into the teapot.
  4. Once the water has reached the correct temperature, pour the hot water into the teapot. Place the lid on the pot and allow the leaves to steep for one minute.
  5. Using the strainer, remove the leaves and pour the tea into the cups. Don’t discard the leaves, as they can be used for at least one more infusion.

Tea Bags

Although it is popular to purchase this herbal tea loose, it can be selectively purchased in tea bags as well. When brewing the tea bags, it is recommended to use one sachet for every cup. Simply place the tea bag into your mug, boil some water, and pour it into the mug. Allow the tea bag to steep for approximately five minutes and then remove it. Don’t throw it away, however, as it can be used more than once.


If desired, sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, sugar, or stevia can be added to a fresh cup of kuding tea. Other additives like ginger, turmeric, and peppermint leaves can be added to enhance the flavor or help cut down on any bitterness that you may find offensive.

Appearance, Aroma, & Flavor

The long, stick-like leaves produce a tisane that is clear and light green in color. This bitter herbal tea has been described as having a refreshing smell, which is quite the opposite of its taste. The bitterness is said to be followed by a subtly sweet aftertaste. Many people, however, struggle to get past the pungent flavor and often rely on additives to cut down its strength.

Nutrition & Caffeine

One serving of kuding tea has zero calories, carbs, proteins, and fats. Unlike other herbal teas, it does contain some caffeine. Depending on how it is brewed and the variety purchased, it can have minimal amounts of caffeine. People with sensitivities to caffeine should be cautious. Although it contains less caffeine than traditional teas, it is considered to be slightly caffeinated.

Potential Benefits

Although it has not been researched thoroughly, herbalists regard this bitter tisane to be a beneficial home remedy for many ailments. Being high in vitamin C and containing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is believed by some to help with:

  • Skin care
  • Blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Maintaining gut and liver health
  • Bad breath
  • Detoxing

Kuding Tea

This bitter tisane is regarded as more of a traditional health drink than just your run-of-the-mill tasty treat. Not only is it used today for its potential benefits, but it has been utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2000 years. In order to combat the flavor of kuding tea, it is often mixed with other ingredients such as peppermint leaves, ginger, and turmeric. Others cut the bitterness by adding sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.

Some of the large leaves used to make this herbal tea do contain caffeine. Although this beverage does not contain as much caffeine as a cup of traditional tea, small amounts are present depending on the variety. On top of the distinct flavor, the dried and rolled leaves are large and twisty, making them easily identifiable. Often compared to a nail or a stick, they are potent enough to brew multiple infusions.

If you are an herbal tea enthusiast who loves bitter flavors, or you are curious about the potential benefits, kuding tea should be on your list to explore.