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Mugicha, the Lesser-Known Japanese Tea

Cold mugicha (barley tea) is a drink that is popular in Japan, especially in summer, or after taking a bath or exercising. How is it different from green tea and what are its effects?

What Are the Differences Between Mugicha and Other Teas?

Mugicha is golden brown, whereas green tea is… well, green.
There are other brown teas such as roasted tea, oolong tea, and black tea, all of which Japanese people drink regularly but mugicha tea is completely different.

Regular tea is made from the leaves of a tea plant. There are two kinds of tea leaves: leaves from plants cultivated in Japan and China, and leaves from the Assam tea plant found in the Assam region of India.
Green tea, oolong tea, roasted tea, and black tea are made from the leaves of the tea plant. The tea’s color, taste, and type vary depending on the fermentation of the leaves.

Mugicha (barley tea), on the other hand, actually contains no tea at all! It is made by roasting barley seeds, which gives it a mild and refreshing flavor.

Barley field
Barley

The Origins of Mugicha and How It Became a Summer Drink

The origins of mugicha date from the Heian era (794–1185), when people drank parched barley flour and sugar dissolved in hot water.
During the Japanese civil war era, military commanders would drink it. They drank it not only as tea using hot water, but also as an alcoholic beverage (mixed with alcohol), like unrefined sake.

Parched-barley became popular among the common class of people during the late Edo period (1603–1868) and parched-barley tea shops started to open. They replaced cafés that served coffee during the Meiji era (1868–1912) and parched-barley tea was also more commonly enjoyed at home. It was still referred to as “parched-barley tea.”

After refrigeration appeared in the middle 1950s, mugicha became established as a summer drink because barley is harvested during the summer. It got its final name of “mugicha” in 1965.

The Effects of Mugicha: Why We Should Drink It During Summer

Japanese people are very careful about what they drink and eat during the summer. Eating one umeboshi (salted plum) a day, for example, is said to keep you healthy during this season.

Japanese high school girl drinking mugicha
Mugicha can be drunk at all ages

Barley has a cooling effect on the body. Drinking large amounts of water when you are extremely hot or exhausted can be dangerous. Drinking mugicha will replenish the body of deprived nutrients. It also protects the mucous membrane of the stomach, prevents lifestyle-related diseases, prevents tooth decay, and stimulates blood circulation.

Unlike teas and coffee, mugicha is caffeine-free, so it is good for children and women who are pregnant.

Tips for Trying Mugicha in Japan

Mugicha used to be an expensive drink but it is very affordable now. During summer, you can easily buy a bottle of cold mugicha at vending machines, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Just look for these kanji: 麦茶. 

You can also buy a tea-like bag for brewing cold or hot mugicha. If you brew your own mugicha, make sure you finish it within two days, even when kept refrigerated, because bacteria can quickly proliferate from the barley!

Amélie Geeraert

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.

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