I wanted to start by thanking Nio for the opportunity to try this amazing tea. They are a company that frequently travels to Japan to source the best organic Japanese green tea from small family farms. I have tried nearly all of their teas and they are all fantastic!
This tea is known as a "stem tea" or a tea that also includes the stems of the tea plant. Stem teas are often less expensive than pure leaf teas because they include parts of the plant that would normally be discarded. The stems of the tea plant still contain a lot of flavor and can even add additional flavors that would be otherwise nonexistent in teas that contain just leaves.
For a stem tea, this brew is really quite powerful. It has a rich umami flavor, vegetal notes and a smooth, soft finish. It has all the elements I might expect from a higher grade Japanese green tea but at a much lower cost. The kukicha is a really good “everyday tea” to have around. Although my favorite tea is Gyokuro, I tend to drink that only once every few days. This one I can drink many days in a row and I never get tired of it. Although it is the least expensive tea that Nio sells, it is still one of the better green teas I have had. I find the earlier in the morning I try this, the better it tastes. It has this deep, roasted taste that is really nice to wake up to. I like it in the morning for the same reason I like Genmai cha in the morning. Something about it is just really satisfying and a really nice way to start the day.
I also find that with this tea, I get really energized. I am not sure if it is the caffeine content or something else, but I can always count on this tea to give me a nice pick-me-up. This tea is also a good one to share with others. I have made this tea for a few different people and they all said they liked it. I think it has a very gentle taste that a lot of people find appealing. Matcha, for example, is a tea that very few of the people I talk with like. I think the teas that have these strong umami flavors, people either love them or hate them. This one is the opposite. It is not my favorite Japanese green teas (although it is top 10) but it is one that I can enjoy on almost any occasion and that I never really get tired of.
I decided to take this tea for a second steeping. In general, I have been very impressed by the second steepings of some of these premium organic Japanese teas. Normally, teas that are light and complex, don’t do so well in the second steeping, but these are the exceptions. The second can be just as good as the first if done right. Sometimes I cold brew the second steeping for about an hour, but for this one I will simply use a lower temperature and steep for 2 minutes.
The first sip of the second steeping was surprisingly sweet. I was really not expecting that! The second steeping bears a resemblance to its counterpart, only with slightly less creaminess and a little less umami flavor. The umami flavor of Japanese green teas almost always goes away with after the first steeping, so this was to be expected. What I did not expect is that the astringent, mouth watering flavor would persist into the second steeping. It is really nice because it allows this tea to stay interesting. Normally second steepings tend to be flat, and although they are enjoyable there is not much about them that stands out. This tea is different because the second steeping still has some character to it. The challenging bitterness and mouthwatering astringency make this tea very enjoyable. I’m only a few sips in and already I am beginning to forget what the first steeping was like, the tea is just that good!
If you are on a budget but you really want to dive into the world of Japanese green tea, I would really suggest this as a starting point. In this tea, you are beginning to pick up on a few of the more refined notes you might find in a high-end Japanese green tea, but because it is a stem tea, you can get it for a fraction of the price. This tea lasts a long time, it is easy for other people to enjoy and it's a taste that doesn’t really get old. All-in-all, it is an excellent starter tea and if you haven’t tried an authentic Japanese green tea before, I would highly recommend this one.