Korean Roasted Corn Tea

I’d never heard of oksusu-cha before, and simply chanced upon it in the new Korean grocery shop in Square 2 mall at Novena.


Close-up of the roasted barley grains.

Surfing the net, I’ve also just learnt that in Korea, it’s common to mix roasted barley (bori-cha; Japanese: mugicha) with roasted corn to make tea.

My Korean friend tells me that the packet says “Yu-Gi-Nong” (my rudimentary knowledge of hangul tells me that they are the biggest words in the centre of the packet), which can be written in Chinese characters as 有機農 – i.e. organic agriculture.

This website also lists the product I bought as organic, and states the health benefits of roasted corn tea as:

1) Fatigue relief.
2) Reduce high blood pressure.
3) Ease the stomach pain resulting from digestion

Apparently, Korean teas are very different from Chinese and Japanese teas because of the focus on medicinal benefits and the effects on qi. Here’s a page about different kinds of Korean teas. Here’s another article which explains that the establishment of Confucianism as the national religion in the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910), and corresponding suppression of Buddhism, was the reason for the diminished popularity of camellia sinensis teas, because production of the latter was closely tied to Buddhist temples.

However, besides barley and corn, rice and wheat can also be used to make roasted grain teas, and you can roast them yourself at home. This article tells you how to do so, and also describes the health benefits associated with each type of roasted grain tea.

Roasted grain beverages are common not only in Korea, but also much closer to home. Our Indonesian domestic helper tells me that in her home village, to make the coffee last longer, they roast corn and rice, then grind it and mix it with the coffee and it has a lovely fragrance. No wonder she was so tickled to see the packet of Korean oksusu-cha when I brought it home.

Here are instructions how to brew the roasted corn tea:
A final word of warning: if brewed really strong, oksusucha can be a speedy laxative!


Konacha and tea dust

This is a less-commonly found type of tea, but it’s the kind that is served in sushi restaurants where it is called agari. The name means ‘tea powder’ and is the rejected buds and tea dust left over from processing of sencha and gyokuro. Because of its strong colour, flavour and aroma, it’s a good tea for cooking with. [Info from Tokunaga, New Tastes in Green Tea]

So basically, it’s a low-grade product. We normally think of the leftovers of tea production being chucked into tea bags. However, some tea dust can produce some extremely popular and distinctive tea – such as the strong, milky and sweet flavour of teh tarik produced by Indian sarabat stalls in Malaysia and Singapore. The secret to teh tarik is in the tea dust! You can easily find tea dust for sale in Mustafa.

Anyway, I came across konacha on sale recently at my favourite store – Daiso! I haven’t seen it in any other Japanese supermarkets or tea shops in Singapore. And before you sniff at $2 tea, the boxes of Japanese tea bags sold in Daiso are the same brand sold in regular supermarkets for more :). And the loose leaf houjicha is pretty drinkable; one day I’ll buy and compare it with expensive bagged houjicha, e.g. Muso brand macrobiotic grade ($7.50 for pack of 10 bags in Brown Rice Paradise, $6.50 in Eat Organic, and $4.50 at Meidi-ya’s organic shelf!) or Fukujuen‘s non-organic houjicha teabags (sadly, Fukujuen in Singapore does not stock its looseleaf houjicha, nor its organic range).


Konacha from Daiso. Note how it’s packaged as ‘sushi shop tea’ in the name and with the photo of sushi.Update 5.6.07:
Nope, not going to buy this Daiso konacha again :P. Followed konacha-brewing instructions carefully but it came out tasteless.

Tea and your constitution

Just as each individual needs to discover his or her own level of caffeine tolerance, it’s also important to know the state of your body’s constitution to determine what kind of tea and how much you should drink.

I’m trying to find out more about tea and the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concepts of heaty/cooling/damp/dry.

According to macrobiotics, all teas are yin, but houjicha and kukicha are more neutral. The teacher from the Chinese tea appreciation class I attended also warned us that tea is very yin, so those with yin constitutions should drink in moderation. She also pointed out that drinking tea cold made it even more yin. Among Chinese teas, Pu Erh tea is the most neutral.

This page on the side-effects of green tea points out that the way the tea is handled also affects its properties. In TCM, tea left to go cold is ‘damp’ and causes phlegm, while drinking tea on an empty stomach causes ‘coldness’ to enter the lung & stomach system.

Related posts on this blog:
Tea, caffeine & one’s constitution pt. 2
Cooling properties of tea

plus other posts on tea.

How long to brew your tea?

I have long been frustrated with the general and unspecific instructions on brewing tea which I often come across. Recently, I’ve come across two tables which provide absolutely precise brewing times (for Japanese green teas), amount of tea leaves, temperature of water, volume of water and number of servings. Extremely useful, only problem is that are differences between the two tables!

Tea Brewing Fukujuen
[From Fukujuen pamphlet, “Japanese Green Tea”]

Tea Brewing Time Tokunaga
NB: 1 cup = 1 U.S. cup, or 240ml; 1 tsp = 1 level spoonful
[Mutsuko Tokunaga, New Tastes in Green Tea (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2004), p. 23]

It’s the season for shincha

Maki at Just Hungry reminds us that it’s time to get new tea or shincha (新茶) now. It’s Japanese green tea made from the first leaves plucked from the harvest. The store assistant at Fukujuen told me it’s only sold once a year and of course, there are limited stocks.

Read more on shincha:
Hibiki-an: report & pics from tea plantation
Green Tea Blog
Wikipedia – shincha

2.06.07 update:
A couple of weeks back I caved in and bought some high-grade sincha from Fukujuen.

Shincha front    Shincha back

There are very precise brewing instructions given. I’ve tried to follow them by measuring the amount of tea, water, using a stopwatch; and I’ve tried to only drink this when I’m ready to sit down meditatively and savour every drop. I was afraid my untrained tastebuds wouldn’t be able to appreciate tea of this quality but wow~, the taste is fresh, bright, open, very green, bitter and simply… powerful! I can’t drink more than two tiny cups (steeping the same leaves twice over) before I feel the intensity of the tea overwhelming me. The caffeine shot is very subtle though, no indigestion, just a feeling of ‘oh! enough already!’.

Tea for the caffeine-sensitive person

I love teas but have had to refrain from black teas because of my increasing caffeine-sensitivity. Mainly I get gastric irritation, against which there are some tips here.

Some solutions:

1) Go for low-caffeine or no-caffeine teas: genmaicha, kukicha, houjicha; and teas not made from the camellia sinensus plant: mugicha, Chinese chrysanthemum tea or herbal teas. Korean grain teas are also not made from camellia sinensus. I used to love black tea chai, but have since switched to YogiTea’s Classic India Spice – same fragrant spices, no black tea.

2) Use the cold-brewing method.

3) Discard the first brew (about 30secs). Subsequent brews are significantly lower in caffeine as it would have leeched out in the first brew. However, only fine teas maintain their taste after repeated brewing, and most of the beneficial antioxidants of green teas would have been lost in the first brewing. See also instructions at Steepology tea blog.

Actually, the subject of caffeine in green tea is a complex one; it depends also on the type of leaf and how it is prepared, among other things. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, so perhaps the best thing to do is really try and just see how your own body reacts to different teas brewed in various ways.

Read more:
Seven Ways to Drink Green Tea Without Caffeine
The Truth About Green Tea Caffeine Content

How I cook

1. Inspiration: starts with a craving, or some ingredient in the kitchen I have to use up, or something nice I saw in a shop.

2. Look at some recipes.
a. will start with the recipe books I have at home if I can remember off-hand that they have a recipe for the item/dish I want to cook
b. Google it! and read lots of recipes for the same dish on the internet. My focus is on understanding the general cooking method. For western food, usually I trust Delia Smith and find her explanations very helpful, so will read up her Cooking School page to prime myself on the basic cooking principles (yes, a hangover from my life in England :P).
c. if there are tweaks and particular practical issues, I try to look for blogs where people have discussed their individual experiences in cooking this item/dish

3. Assemble the ingredients. Often end up substituting, changing quantities or omitting to suit my restricted diet, restricted stocks at home or restricted budget.

4. Start cooking. Usually by this time, I am only half following the recipe and just do whatever looks right to me or whatever I fancy

5. Hope it turns out edible!

6. If not tasty, time to start thinking of ways to reuse the dish to make another dish that will hopefully make it edible ^.^!

Quite often, as soon as I have tasted the result, I lose interest in the food, even if it was yummy! Guess the highlight for me is the fun of experimenting whilst cooking, rather than the eating. Then again, the silly thing is – I have to experiment in order to adapt recipes to my dietary requirements, which usually then renders them unpalatable to everyone else! The best euphemism I’ve heard to describe my food is ‘very healthy’ :).