I first tried chai made with kukicha (roasted twig tea) when I was interning at Three Stone Hearth. For one of our mid-morning tea breaks, the kitchen manager made a big pot of kukicha chai for us to share. I particularly liked how she pronounced the name, as if it were all one word: ku-kee-CHA-chai. Try it, it’s fun to say.
Loose kukicha tea
This is a creamy and warmly spiced brew that won’t keep you up all night, thanks to low-caffeine kukicha (it has only one-tenth the caffeine content of green tea). Kukicha is made from the twigs, stems, and coarse summer leaves of the tea bush, which are steamed, dried, aged for 2 to 3 years, and then cut and roasted. George Ohsawa, the grand poobah of macrobiotics, considered kukicha to be the most balanced beverage, due to its alkalinizing effects and low caffeine content. It is also high in antioxidants.
With a nutty, earthy, slightly smoky flavor and a less tannic character than green or black tea, kukicha makes a mellow brew — nice on its own and a versatile accompaniment to many foods. It also makes a delicious chai, simmered with a blend of warming spices including cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
Spices for chai (clockwise from upper left): cinnamon, fresh ginger, fennel seed, black peppercorns, green cardamom pods, and cloves (in the center)
makes about 3-1/2 cups of tea
5 pieces cinnamon (or 2 cinnamon sticks)
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced (no need to peel it)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
10 green cardamom pods
3 Tbsp loose kukicha tea (or 3 tea bags)
3 cups water
1/2 cup organic whole milk
honey, to taste
Combine all the spices and the water in a medium saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the kukicha tea and simmer for 5 minutes more. Then add the milk and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Taste the tea; if the spice level is to your liking it’s time to strain – if not, simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Strain into mugs and add honey to taste.