Both the blade and stem are processed to make refined tea, but through the refining process, they are usually separated. The refined blades are used to make high grade Japanese teas which is called Sencha, and the refined stems are used to make the tea called “Kukicha”. On the other hand, many of standard Japanese teas are made of a mixture of refined blades and stems.
Kukicha is also called “Bocha” because of the stick-like shape. In English, it is called “stem tea” or “twig tea”. When Kukicha is made of Gyokuro (the finest Japanese tea), it is called “Karigane” or “Shiraore”.
Kukicha is sometimes considered as the second grade tea because its form does not look like the generally known tea form. Therefore, in many cases, Kukicha is used only among family and not served for guests. However, in fact, Kukicha has a distinctive aroma and mild taste just like Sencha which is made of tea leaf blades. Furthermore, Kukicha tastes less bitter than Sencha and has a refreshing flavor, which makes a slight difference to Sencha. Because of these differences, Kukicha is preferred by some tea lovers.
Now let us explain how these differences are made? Naturally, both tea leaf blades and stems have a mild taste element called theanine. When the tea plant is exposed to the sun, this element changes into a bitterness element called catechin. However because the stem receives less sunlight than the blade does, the stem contains less catechin, namely less bitterness.
An interesting thing about the manufacturing of Kukicha is that Kukicha and Sencha go through common processes such as steaming, massaging (this process is also called “rolling”) and drying processes. But after being dried, these two types of tea are separated at the sorting process. In this process, Kukicha is separated from Sencha by its color as Kukicha is light green while Sencha is dark green. Nowadays, the sorting is carried out by the sorting machine.
When making tea, Kukicha slightly takes a longer time than Sencha to produce the distinctive aroma. Therefore when you make a good tea with Kukicha, please allow a little bit longer time than using Sencha. The suitable temperature for Kukicha is about 80℃. Pour boiling water into a tea cup to reduce the temperature and then pour the slightly cooled hot water of about 80℃ into the tea pot. Wait for a minute and the Kukicha will be ready to drink.