There’s nothing like the smell of a wood-burning open fire in the dead of winter to make you feel warm and cozy. But if you don’t have a real fireplace, there’s another way to snuggle up!
A fairly unfamiliar Japanese tea called Kyobancha will fill your home and heart with a smoky, toasty fragrance that smells just like a log fire. The strong woody aroma gives way to a surprisingly mild yet edgy tea that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. It’s also proven–by sake-swigging salarymen–to be one of the best hangover helpers known to man!
Kyobancha is made with the larger leaves gathered from the deep pruning of the last harvest of the season in October or the first harvest in March. Many houses in the Japanese countryside have their own tea plants and will create a rough tea they call kansha from this harvest. What makes it a kyobancha is an entirely different thing.
Kyobancha reigns from Kyoto where tea masters first started smoking tea for this unique, addictive flavor. It’s rare because it isn’t popular or even really known outside of Japan.
It’s believed that Kyobancha morphed into Houjicha, the roasted–not smoked–tea that is a daily staple of all Kyotoites and a nightcap for most Japanese. Often Bancha is referred to as Kyobancha, meaning Kyoto Bancha, but it’s the sultry smokiness of authentic Kyobancha that makes this tea special and not to be confused with anything else. Kyobancha is also called akachan bancha or “baby’s bancha” because there is virtually no caffeine in it.
To produce Kyobancha, the leaves and stems are pruned, steamed, then sundried and packed in brown sacks for two to three years for aging. The main difference between this tea and a traditional houjicha is that the leaves are not rolled after steaming like they are in a roasted houjicha.
Once aged, the leaves are fired in an iron pan over a smoky flame to give it that alluring smoky finish. When you see this tea at first glance, you might think someone just went outside and swept up the autumnal foliage! With its huge open leaves and stems, it differs radically in appearance and taste from roasted Houjicha, which usually has smaller, almost curly brittle leaves and produces a toffee or fruity finish.
Kyobancha is a goof-proof tea usually made on the stovetop in large quantities by simmering it. Macrobiotic followers like to simmer it for at least 10 minutes but a more common method is using a two- or three-minute simmer. Both are delicious so give each one a try and let the warmth embrace you as the snow falls outside.
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