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The Story Of Barley Tea

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Barley (Hordeum Vulgare) is one of the most produced grains on earth. We primarily use it to make food for livestock and as one of the ingredients in beer. However, in East Asian countries like Korea and Japan it has been a popular tea infusion for hundreds of years. Since barley tea is still relatively unknown in the West, let’s dive into what barley tea actually is.  

Simply put, barley tea is a tea variety made by infusing roasted barley in hot or boiling water. It has a somewhat bitter and nutty taste, can be served both hot and cold, does not contain caffeine, is rich in antioxidants and antibacterials, and is linked to all kinds of health benefits ranging from treating acne, boosting fertility, improving digestion and preventing cancer. It is important to note here that these health claims need much more research and should be taken with a grain of salt. Even so, it is no surprise then that in countries like Japan and Korea it is consumed by both young and old, and often as a substitute for water both in restaurants and at home.

There are slight variations between the way barley tea is consumed in Asia, the two most prominent barley tea drinking nations being Korea and Japan. Barley tea, or ‘mugi-cha’ as it is called in Japan, has been a popular beverage amongst the Japanese aristocracy during the Heian Period (794-1185), and is said to have been a drink of choice for Samurai during the Sengoku Period (1467-1568), and later became available. Mugi-cha served cold is a staple as a refreshment during hot summer days. In Korea, barley tea is called ‘bori-cha’ and is more often consumed hot, alongside a meal.

Barley tea became available as a pre-packaged product in the 1980s in the form of ground barley in tea bags. These days, ready-to-drink bottled barley tea is also wildly popular and can be found in most convenience stores or vending machines around Korea and Japan. Barley tea is starting to make its way into the west but remains somewhat elusive outside an Asian specialty store. However, with new brands and vendors popping up online, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get hold of for anyone.

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