Mugicha | Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Roasted Barley Tea
1. What Is Mugicha?
Mugicha is a tea made from roasted barley grains. It has a toasty flavor with a hint of bitterness, almost having a coffee-like flavor without the caffeine. In fact, several companies are marketing their roasted barley beverages as a coffee substitute.
In the U.S., Montana-based company RōBarr produces locally-grown roasted barley products that it markets as a coffee substitute. Like coffee, its namesake products even have “Original Roast” and “Bold Roast” versions.
Caro (sold as Pero in the U.S.) is another roasted barley drink sold as a coffee substitute. It comes from Germany.
Mugicha can be enjoyed hot or cold, but in Japan, it’s typically served cold. The Japanese typically keep a pitcher of mugicha in their fridge to enjoy during the summer.
It’s caffeine-free, making it safe for drinkers of all ages. Aside from being caffeine-free, mugicha is also typically enjoyed unsweetened, making it a healthier alternative to sugary drinks. However, if one prefers something sweeter, mugicha can also be sweetened with sugar or syrup.
Barley Tea in Other Countries
Barley is a popular ingredient used in various beverages, from alcoholic drinks like beer, coffee substitutes, and malted milk. In East Asia, roasted barley tea, which is roasted barley steeped in hot water, is a popular drink that goes by different names:
Japan — mugicha
China — dàmài-chá/mai-cha
The Koreas — bori-cha
Taiwan — be̍h-á-tê
Barley Tea Blends
A Korean take on roasted barley tea is oksusu-bori-cha (“corn barley tea”), which is a tea made by mixing roasted barley and roasted corn. The sweetness of the corn complements the toasty, slightly bitter taste of the barley.
In Japan, some manufacturers also mix mugicha with other teas such as oolong or other drinks like decaf coffee. You’ll also find different more unique takes on mugicha, such as barley soda, which is made by combining mugicha with carbonated water and flavorings.
2. When Did the Japanese Start Drinking Mugicha?
The origins of mugicha can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1185) when its early descendant, mugiyu (“parched barley tea”) became a favorite beverage among the aristocracy and military commanders. Mugiyu was made by mixing parched barley flour and sugar with hot water. Barley was also mixed with alcohol to make an alcoholic drink similar to sake (which is made from rice).
During the Edo Period (1603-1868), parched barley tea shops started cropping up, which allowed the public to be acquainted with the drink once reserved for nobility and high-ranking military officials. Due to their popularity, these tea shops eventually replaced cafes that served coffee during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).
With the rise of refrigeration in Japan, cold barley tea soon became a popular summertime drink, especially because its harvest season is in the summer. It was officially given the name “mugicha” in 1965.
3. How Is Mugicha Prepared?
Want to know how to make mugicha? First, you have to figure out what type of mugicha you have. Mugicha typically comes in three variants:
Loose Barley Grains
Loose Ground Barley
There’s also a fourth variant, bottled mugicha, but this doesn’t require any preparations since they’re ready-to-drink out of the bottle.
How to Make Roasted Barley Tea With Loose Barley Grains
If you can only find loose barley grains in your area, you can still make mugicha. Most of the barley you’ll find in Asian markets will already be roasted, but just in case, here’s what you need to do to make mugicha from scratch, starting with the roasting process to the actual preparation of the tea itself.
Note: These instructions were tested on pearl barley.
Rinse the barley, strain, then put them on a plate covered with a paper towel. Using another paper towel, rub the barley to remove excess water.
Transfer the barley to a pan. Be sure the pan is wide enough to keep the barley in one layer for even roasting.
Roast the barley over medium heat, tossing them once in a while. Bring the heat to medium-low and toss more frequently once the barley starts to smell roasted. Remove from the stove once the barley’s color has changed into dark brown. (Note: A darker roast will give a stronger flavor, so feel free to roast shorter or longer depending on your preference.)
Wait for the barley to cool down before using it. If you’re planning to store it, keep it in an airtight container in the fridge and use within a month.
How to Prepare Hot Mugicha
Add ¼ cup of barley grains to a pot with a liter of water. It’s advisable to use a pot that can accommodate double the amount of water you’ve put in since the barley can get really foamy and might boil over in a smaller pot.
Bring the water-barley mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat.
Simmer the mixture for 30 minutes with the pot uncovered.
Remove from the stove, strain, and serve. Add sugar or syrup if you prefer a sweetened version.
4. What Are the Benefits of Drinking Mugicha?
Mugicha Health Benefits
Some of the health benefits of barley include:
Can help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease — Research has shown that barley can help lower two types of “bad” cholesterol by 7%. This can benefit those who have Type-2 Diabetes, who are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
Can aid in reducing blood sugar levels and the risk for diabetes — In another study, researchers discovered a link between barley and the reduction of blood sugar levels, which can help reduce the risk for diabetes. The secret lies in the dietary fibers in barley, which increases the number of good bacteria in the gut. These fibers also help promote the release of beneficial hormones, which aid in regulating appetite and metabolism.