Kukicha is a unique looking tea in that it contains stems and stalks from the production of Sencha. This stem tea has a unique aroma, natural sweetness, and contains a high L-Theanine (amino acid) level which promotes calmness.
What is Kukicha?"Kuki" means stem, twig or stalk and "cha" is tea. After picking the leaves, the farmer makes a tea called Aracha. Aracha means rough tea. Aracha is made up of irregular shaped leaves, small broken leaves and stems. Aracha is not a finished tea nor is it worth selling to consumers. At a re-manufacturing factory like the one at Den's parent company, Shirakata-Denshiro Shoten, Aracha is processed into beautiful Sencha by sifting, dividing sizes, taking out stems and broken leaves, etc. So Kukicha can be considered as a secondary product of Sencha. (Other secondary products are Mecha and Konacha more about these later.) It was once traded very cheaply because the Japanese were mostly interested in Sencha and did not pay attention to Kukicha. However they discovered Kukicha's unique mellow and Umami flavor and it is now as valued as Sencha.
Which part of bush is used for Kukicha?The picture on the right shows which part of the plant can be used for Kukicha. When tea leaves are picked, stems are picked at the same time. While the good tea leaves are steamed, rolled, kneaded and dried, the stems and many torn or broken tea leaves are separated culled from the good tea.
Health benefits and Exceptional FlavorComparing the tea leaf and the stem, stems contain more amounts of "L-Theanine" (a factor of Umami), "Pyrazine" (an aromatic organic compound) and "geraniol linalool", (a flowery or sweet aroma. This is because, L-Theanine in the tea leaf turns to tannin (a factor of bitterness) through photosynthesis caused by sunshine. However photosynthesis does not happen to the stems even under sunshine, so L-Theanine remains in the stem resulting a pure Umami taste.
L-Theanine is known for its benefits as a relaxant. It generates alpha-waves in the brain. Alpha waves are emitted when the brain is in a relaxed state. Scientists are also examining L-Theanine’s ability to improve the brain’s memory capability. More about L-Theanine…
How Kuki (stems) are separated?There are two steps to take stems out of the Aracha:
No.1 Denbo - Statistic electricity drum machine Denbo means an electrical stick. The tea leaves pass through a rolling drum containing high voltage electricity. Since stems are drier, the drum can easily pick them up by static electricity. The tea leaves which contain more moisture, pass through since they don't stick to the drum.
No. 2 Shikibetsu - Color sort machine Shikibetsu means dividing by color. This machine has many slots that the tea passes through. At the bottom, a color sensor recognizes the color of the tea leaf. If the color is pale, the sensor blows a stream of air to hit the pale colored stems while the green tea passes through. Isn't it amazing?