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Kukicha: The Peasants Drink

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Japanese tea culture is renowned for their high quality green teas, including the ever-popular matcha and sencha, which have become household names all over the world. Kukicha tea, or “stem tea” on the other hand, is a lesser known variety that is still mostly known and consumed in Japan, but is starting to make waves internationally because of its proposed health benefits.

Kukicha tea, simply put, is a green tea initially produced in the region of Kyoto, that is made from the leftovers of the Camellia Sinensis tea plant; the twigs, stems and stalks, often blended with a small amount of tea leaves. After the tea is harvested, the twigs and stems are left to wither and dry for up to several years to give the infusion a nutty and creamy sweet flavor.

 Because the tea is made from the remains of what would go into a high quality tea for the more prominent members of society, in its early days Kukicha was thought of as a tea for the lower classes, hence the name “the peasants drink”. Quite the opposite is true, as we now know in modern times. Kukicha is generally placed into two categories depending on the source of the materials. Regular Kukicha is generally made from the leftovers of sencha or matcha. However, when the stems and twigs are taken from leaves meant for Gyokuro tea (one of the most expensive varieties of tea available in Japan) the tea is called Karigane. These days the term “Karigane” refers to all high quality varieties of Kukicha.

As for its nutritional merits, Kukicha contains very low levels of caffeine which makes the tea suitable to drink at any time of the day. Moreover, because the stems of a tea plant receive significantly less sunlight during its cultivation, it contains less theanine (and therefore fewer catechins), which keeps the tea from getting a bitter flavor. And without going into too minute scientific detail, Kukicha is also a highly alkalizing drink, which means it has a pH value of 7 or above, which in turn basically means that it is low in acidity, thereby improving things like proper digestion and enhanced vitamins. Finally, Kukicha contains higher levels of calcium, up to six times more than a glass of milk, making it a great drink to improve bone health. These are only a few of the reasons to try Kukicha out for yourself.    

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