I was told that Kumazasa (Sasa veitchii) is a specialty of Hokkaido, where it is naturally grown. The kanji characters 熊笹 literally mean ‘bear’s bamboo leaves’ and no surprise it is a favourite among bears before they head into hibernation.
The leaves are also known for its anti-bacterial properties, hence why they are commonly used in wrapping food such as chimaki and dango.
The tea, or more accurately tisane, itself is sold in a wide variety of forms from loose leaf to granulated extract. During my trip to Hokkaido earlier this year, I noticed kumazasa canned drinks and teabags.
I bought the latter form in Shiraoi, a small town on the southern coast, a little more than an hour from Sapporo by rail.
The package I bought was actually produced by a local bakery shop called Nanakamado, which is popular for its pastries. The tea is roasted on-site at their facility and is part of their series of herbal teas made from wild plants.
Each teabag contains 3.5 g of kumazasa leaves. I took a sniff at a teabag and found that it had a pleasant, almost woody aroma.
I just had to remove the leaves from the teabag for a closer look, but kind of regretted doing that when I read the instructions on the packaging.
The recommended method of brewing kumazasa tea is to boil it in water. The packaging stated to use one litre of water for one teabag. I had no choice but to put the tea leaves into a Daiso-bought tea filter bag.
However, the instructions did not state how long was I supposed to boil the leaves for but I assumed until the liquid turned into the colour of the tea. I had to search online to make sure I got the look of the tea right. Even then I couldn’t be too sure and just went with the flow of things.
It took about four minutes to get a golden liquor, just like how hojicha would look like. I guess kumazasa tea is similar, since it underwent roasting in its making.
The resulting brew was lightly fragrant, retaining that slight woody aroma that was not overpowering. The taste was a little herbaceous and a little savory at the same time.
It was unlike any tea or tisane I had tried, although my mom said it reminded her of a type of Chinese medicinal tea to alleviate flu symptoms. Well, I wouldn’t know as I seldom drink those kind of stuff.
As it has no caffeine, it can be enjoyed the whole day, which we did.
The used tea leaves looked a little gross though. It was just a clump of blackish stuff that did not look anything like its dried form.
It is claimed that kumazasa tea is effective against hypertension and even arteriosclerosis, as well as good for improving bowel movement. One would probably have to drink it for long term to see any health benefit, but I am drinking it for its taste only.