Friday, July 8, 2011

Steep Thoughts: The Iced Barley Tea Edition

I've started to come to terms with the fact that I am prejudiced against anything that is called 'tea' but doesn't have any Camellia Sinensis leaves in it. I don't usually order a tisane when it's on a menu.  I usually roll my eyes when given the choice of chamomile or peppermint 'tea' to drink. I'm starting to keep an open mind to trying new and uncomfortable things. I must embrace all types of tea!

On a hot, sticky NYC day I met some friends for a Japanese street-food lunch at a little place called Otafuku. Blink while walking down the street, and you'd miss it. Trust me, the delicious food here is worth a visit. While waiting to order, I noticed a little sign that said 'barley tea $1.00'. It was humid, I was thirsty, so I placed an order. In the back of my mind I kept thinking 'this isn't tea, so why should I try it?'. But I threw caution to the wind, and took a sip.
The iced roasted barley tea (Mugicha in Japanese) was just the right thing to drink while waiting in the blazing sun for our food. The roasty, slightly bitter flavor kept my palate happy while I cooled down. It is a very nice afternoon, or even after dinner beverage, as it contains no caffiene, and no additives. Just pure hydration.

Mugicha is a traditional Japanese summer drink, renown for its refreshing properties. It is served hot in the winter, and cold in the summer. I've actually had this beverage hot in Korean restaurants, but I much prefer it cold. The bitterness holds up well to the ice. It has a similar taste to the roasted rice found in genmaicha, but there is no green tea to mellow out the bitterness.

I'm glad I suppressed my tisane prejudices enough to try this flavorful drink. True teas are still my beverage of choice, but I'm starting to broaden my horizons a little bit. If anyone has had other experiences with barley tea, let me know in the comments!


  1. Thanks for the hot tip. You know what I'll be washing down my octopus balls with now!

  2. I would encourage people to get rid of their prejudice against herbal teas...a while back I wrote about the question is herbal tea tea? and I cite figures on actual usage, including in scientific journals (which in my opinion, set a more reputable standard than most other circles).

    But anyway, back to this post, I love barley tea. But it's funny, I've never had it iced...only hot, usually in Korean restaurants. It's a wonderfully warming drink in the winter. A while back I did some research on barley tea for and I found that there are many different cultures which have independently come up with their own similar barley-based is very popular in Italy, and a few tea companies, including Lupicia, sell the Italian version of this herbal tea. I've always been curious to order some to see how it compares to the Korean or Japanese kinds...but it's one of the many things I have not yet gotten around to.

    I'd encourage you to try other herbal teas, or "teas" if you want me to be technical. Not only are they interesting and often delicious in their own right, but I find that they offer an interesting breadth of aromas which then I can search for in the aroma when I am drinking actual tea again.