Kukicha (茎茶) is a green tea from Japan similar in flavor to a Sencha, but lighter and with a bit more sweetness in the infusion. It is crafted as a blend from the green stems and leaves of the same tea plants used to make Sencha and Gyokuro. Due to its stem content, this tea is sometimes called “twig tea”, which causes it to often be mistaken for Hojicha. Unlike the soothing rich and dark roasted twigs of Hojicha, Kukicha is light and quite green.
While Hojicha can be infused at quite a high temperature and will almost never become bitter, Kukicha has much more in common with its Sencha cousins. We feel that it is best brewed at around 70°C (158°F) for less than one minute for its first infusion. Subsequent steepings are better with even less time, as is typical of Japanese tea. A good rule of thumb (for any tea) is that if the flavor is bitter, try again with less time, lower temperature water, or fewer leaves. Green tea particularly should never have a bitter taste.
A little bit should be said about tea from Japan and why we recommend brewing it so carefully.
Since Japanese tea is usually machine-harvested, it tends to arrive in more broken pieces than similar quality Chinese teas. In a Chinese tea this would be a sign of a low quality, but Japan makes up for this harvesting style by employing some of the most impressive sorting and processing techniques in the world. The gentle and very refined steaming process for Japanese green tea preserves a freshness and sweetness not found in any other tea.
These smaller, steamed leaves require a bit more care than pan-toasted Chinese green tea to recover the stored flavors intact. It’s important to filter these teas well when separating the leaves from the water. In Japan and in our tearoom, mesh strainers are used when pouring the water through these fine leaves. Remember that if too many leaves end up in your teacup, they will keep steeping.
It’s very important not to pour boiling water over most Japanese tea or to steep it for more than a minute. You will end up with a bitter, grassy cup of green soup.
These guidelines are a little more tricky than those for other tea. The technique, however, is not complex. A simple kitchen thermometer can guarantee your water temperature and the clock on the wall can provide guidance for your time.
If you’d like to try some beautiful Kukicha or any other Japanese green tea (and especially if you think of Green tea as bitter soup), please come visit our knowledgable Tea Devotees who can craft you a cup with a depth of flavor you may never have experienced before.