K is for Kukicha

Kukicha (pronounced KU-key-cha) is a uniquely traditional, and distinctive looking Japanese green tea, from the Kagoshima Prefecture. The Kagoshima Prefecture is on the island of Kyushu, in Southern Japan, which has a chain of active and inactive volcanoes that add to the soil content.  Kagoshima is the second largest producer of green tea in Japan and tea there has been growing there since the 1300’s. It is made from the parts of the Camellia sinensis tea plant, which is also used to make black, oolong, white, yellow, and other dark teas. It is also called, Bōcha, due to its stick-like shape. In English, it is known as the “stem tea” or “twig tea.” 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.

 Kukicha is created by blending tender leaves, leafless stalks, twigs, and stem fibers called keba that are left behind after Sencha production.  The Japanese were the first to pioneer this style of non-leaf tea, which is now popular across the globe. Kukicha is a perfect example of the Japanese way of making tea, in which no part of the harvest is wasted. The tea stalks which might be discarded in other tea regions have been harnessed to make this tea. Since it is made from the stems and twigs of the tea plant there is less caffeine, amino acids, and antioxidants to give flavor and add benefits to the brew.  In fact, it has the lowest amount of caffeine (1/10 of the caffeine level in regular green tea) of all traditional teas.

Kukicha also has a sweeter aroma, which makes it a crowd-pleaser for tea drinkers of all ages. The naturally sweet flavor of kukicha comes from its high content of L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that acts as a caffeine – an absorption inhibitor, which means it slows the absorption of caffeine in the brain. Its high levels of L-theanine is because, L-theanine is produced in the roots then carried through the stem, before making its way to the leaf. Another thing that can increase L-theanine levels in kukicha is the type of leaves it is derived from. When caffeine is ingested with L-theanine, you experience the effects of caffeine over a longer arc of time rather than a sudden spike. Due to this and the already low caffeine content of kukicha, kukicha is an ideal tea for kids, seniors, and those who are caffeine sensitive.

How is Kukicha Made?

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 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. Kukicha is like Hojicha, yet not roasted, and yields a slightly vegetal brew with a light green color. Hojicha is a type of Japanese green tea, generally referring to tea made with roasted tea leaves. In general, hojicha leaves are obtained by roasting kukicha (twig tea) leaves and has a unique roasted aroma.

Next… Kukicha in my cup

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