1. What is kukicha?

Kukicha(茎茶) is a by-product in the process of making final sencha, tamaryokucha, or gyokuro tea products.

To make final tea products, crude tea is dried further to reduce moisture.
Then tea stalk separator separates stems and small particle leaves from leaves.  In Japanese, we call them demono(出物).
Examples of demono are kukicha(茎茶), mecha(芽茶), and konacha(粉茶).

For kukicha, In general, karigane(雁が音) and shiraore(白折) are called high-grade stem tea separated from high-grade gyokuro and sencha products.
Meanwhile, we learned at the Japanese Tea Marathon that people call stem tea differently by region.
For example, one Yame farmer calls gyokuro stem tea ‘kukicha’, while one Kagoshima farmer calls high-grade gyokuro stem tea ‘karigane’.

All names below are used to call stem tea (twig tea).

Karigane(雁が音)
Shiraore(白折)
Kukicha(茎茶)
Bō cha(棒茶)

 

2. How is stem different from leaf?

Stems are located between root and leaf.
Theanine, umami component is composed in root and delivered to leaf.
Once the theanine is carried to the leaf, sunlight decomposes theanine into ethylamine and glutamic acid.
Ethylamine is decomposed into other chemical components and used to create catechins.

Theanine is converted to catechin on leaf with sunshine

The stem is less exposed to sunlight and preserves theanine and creates fewer catechines than the leaf.

The following picture is the comparison of chemical components(content %) by leaf position and stem.
1 tip 2 leaves(一芯二葉) is regarded as high-quality Japanese tea material.

Chemical Components by Leaf Position and Stem - 1st Harvest
Chemical Components by Leaf Position and Stem – 1st Harvest

The stem has more than 2 times theanine component than the highest quality 1 tip 1 leaf.
Stem tea has more umami than leaf tea!
And it has less than half of caffeine and catechines as 1 tip 1 leaf.
This means it tastes less bitter and less astringent.
And the liquid color is lighter.

If you like the balance of umami, sweetness, bitterness, and astringency, then leaf teas are recommended.
If you want to fully enjoy the umami taste, kukicha is a good option to try.

Check Kukicha products