Kukicha: The Japanese Tea Made From Stems and Twigs
It’s no secret that the world of tea is loaded with flavor. The more you learn about the tea, the more it seems like there are just endless types of teas. Within the categories of green teas, black teas, and herbal tisanes, there are obscure hidden gems that offer a new approach to classic flavor profiles. Kukicha is one of those hidden treasures. A Japanese tea made using stems and twigs instead of leaves, it’s a delightful green tea that you can learn more about right here.
What Is Kukicha?
Kukicha tea is a Japanese green tea made from the parts of the Camellia sinensis tea plant, which is also used to make black tea, oolong tea, white tea, and pu-erh tea. What makes kukicha unique is that the tea is made using the twigs and stems of the tea plant rather than the tea leaves.
The tea is also commonly called twig tea or bōcha and offers a lightly nutty flavor. The tea is characterized by a mild sweet flavor, a unique aroma, and a creamy body. The tea brews into a light yellow hue and is packed with nutrients including calcium, amino acids, tannins, and polyphenols. The chemical content of the plant offers several health benefits and the tea is widely used as part of a macrobiotic diet in Japan.
Kukicha tea began as a tea drink for poorer populations. The stems and stalks of the tea plant were usually discarded in the production of other teas so workers began to save the twigs to brew a cheaper version of green tea. The delicious flavor and unique aroma make it a popular tea today and one that is enjoyed across the globe.
Most of the stems used to produce Kukicha are several years old. As a result, this green tea has less caffeine than other green teas like matcha and sencha. The caffeine content of organic Kukicha tea is generally around three milligrams per fluid ounce. The low caffeine level makes it a great choice for drinking green tea before bed and for elderly individuals.
Types of Kukicha Tea
Kukicha is mainly made using sencha or matcha tea leaves. The highest quality Kukicha is made using first flush sencha leaves while second flush — or bancha — Kukicha is considered lower quality though more affordable.
Another type if Kukicha is known in Kyoto as Karigane or Shiraore, which is a Kukicha made using gyokuro tea leaves. Gyokuro leaves are shade-grown, increasing the presence of healthy nutrients and compounds in the leaves. The leaves are typically shade-grown for the final 21 days before harvesting.
How is Kukicha Made?
Kukicha traces its roots back to the birthplace of tea in Japan known as Uji. Kukicha stems are removed from the tea bushes during the first flush of the season in early spring. The tea is made using the stalks that are left over after one bud and three leaves are harvested to make other Japanese green teas. The stems and stalks from the tea plant are blended together and cut to exact lengths to create a uniform appearance.
The stems are then withered and dried to prevent oxidation. The tea stems are harvested by hand although farmers are increasingly using machines to produce this type of tea since the stems aren't as easily damaged as the tea leaves.
How to Brew Kukicha
To brew the tastiest Kukicha tea, it's a good idea to use loose tea rather than tea bags. We also recommend opting for an organic green tea blend featuring Kukicha stems. Organic teas are free from pesticides and chemicals that can alter the natural taste of good tea.
Kukicha twig tea is best brewed using a water temperature between 158 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Steep the stems in hot water in a teapot for one to three minutes. A longer steeping time typically leads to a stronger flavor. You can re-infuse the tea up to three times.