Tea tasting: Kumazasa-cha

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Tea tasting: Kumazasa-cha

  1. Reblogged this on Stories from the Wood Wide Web and commented:
    Last May, I was hiking alone along a less touristy part of the Nakasendo trail in the Kiso valley in central-Japan, partly because I wanted to be alone and away from the city stress. At some point I was in a darker part of the forest. My ears got sharper, as I know in these parts can be bears and boars. Suddenly I heard some noise and it scared me. I thought I heard a bear or boar approaching me 😅. But to my surprise, it was the plant. It seems to whisper when the wind goes through it. That day in May was the first time I noticed this plant. I took some pictures, I remember, and tried to remember me to look up, but I always forgot for some reason. But I encountered these plants at other spots in Japan and feel more and more at ease. Sometimes I am at a space, and feel good energy, take a sit, and see the plant is also there.
    Since I am back in Japan in end of November, I was not sure which tea plants to study in Japan, of which I could make tea for forest therapy, a price I study with the ANFT (Association of Nature and Forest Therapy). During a first forest bath in Japan (early December° I offered hot chocolate to my participants, as I do not know the nature of Japan and did not feel ready to offer them tea from Japanese wild plants I saw there. But some days ago, I decided to go hiking a part of the Nakasendo trail again. In a first shop, I found a package full of tea bags that says these are the 7 ‘mountain tea herbs’ and it has drawings. I recognised this plant, and was very happy to know it is also a tea plant – and has probably healthy properties. My Japanese is terrible, but I recognised the kanji for mountain and healthy. I decided to study this plant more and see how to make tea from it. By coincidence, at the end of the hike, I went to a tea shop at a local trainstation and to my surprise I found ‘kumasasa green tea’ at the menu list. It was first time, I think, I heard about it, and I asked the teashop owner more information about it, but he could not explain it.
    I found this blog while looking for more information about the tea plant, its medicinal properties, folklore, musings and other things I could share with my participants. It is interesting to see that perhaps it is no surprise I thought on bears, when I ‘heard’ this plant, because it is ‘bear food’. And it is interesting to read this plant comes from Hokkaido. I visited Hokkaido with the same friend I shared a video that day in May to ask if he knows more, as his parents are agricultural scientists. For some reason, I had a feeling in the last weeks that this plant wants to be acknowledged by me. Like ‘pick me, study me’. Too much serendipity happens when I give attention to this plant :).

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