The NRDC claims that “up to 40 percent of the food in the United States is never eaten,” which is staggering, especially when you consider how many people worldwide, including in the U.S., don’t have enough to eat. We ought to emulate those cultures that avoid waste as much as possible, either by necessity—such as those located on islands with limited resources—or by choice.
So for those who prize frugalness, kukicha is a real winner in the tea category!
Shown here is Kukicha Extra, a premium kukicha (available from TeaHaus).
Composed of mostly twigs and leaf stems, kukicha is literally the undesirable stuff that is removed during the production of bancha, sencha, and high-end, pricy gyokuro and tencha (used to make matcha), although when made from the stems removed during gyokuro processing, it’s called karigane.
Although kukicha is now enjoyed by many, it had more humble beginnings.
With limited land and natural resources, Japanese farmers needed to maximize what they could get out of their crops. They found that after they harvested the tea leaves, they could make tea out of the twigs that were left behind. Selling the leaf tea, they consumed the twig tea themselves.
The kuki, or stalks, contain little caffeine themselves, and with very few tea leaves in the mix, the tea can be considered low caffeine. When the stalks are roasted (which removes even more caffeine), you have kuki hojicha (read more about hojicha). In this selection from TeaHaus, the toasted veins and stalks range from warm golds to tan to dark brown in color, and this “twig” or “stem tea” has an aroma that smells somewhat like toast or hay.
It brews into a dark red infusion, much like a black tea in appearance, with a toasty aroma and a light, toasty, nutty flavor.
Even with its chocolatey appearance, dark infusion, and unique liquor, kuki hojicha (or kuki houjicha) is still classified as a green tea. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post, just because it’s hojicha doesn’t mean it’s a low-quality tea.
In fact, it may be a very high-quality tea, like this Jyo Hojicha, or “superior” hojicha, from Shiga Prefecture.
Part of the difference is the higher leaf to stem ratio. You can see pieces of tea leaves, making the color lean more toward green with the mid- to dark green leaf pieces intermingled with light brown stems. Putting the two teas side by side really illustrates the difference:The aroma of the dry leaves is richer and more full bodied than the hojicha that consists primarily of stems. I am reminded of autumn, harvest time, walking into a barn stocked with hay and straw—that earthy–hay fragrance is so satisfying!
Its infusion is coppery or orange-tinged brown, with a toasty aroma.And its liquor? So very smooth! It’s toasty, but with vegetal notes—you can really taste that green tea base!
Both the toasty and the vegetal linger pleasantly, making this a lovely cup to enjoy any time of day or night.
So when you think of green teas, remember the roasted ones, those unique hojichas, with their mild and nutty flavors. And reach for these particularly when you really don’t want caffeine, but do want a great cup of tea!