For centuries barley tea has been a staple beverage in Korean and Japanese culture. Just about everyone drinks it, even infants. It's a no caffeine, no sugar, no dairy kind of tisane that gets served hot or cold and at any time of day, often in lieu of water. Many drinkers tout the benefits of this simple beverage as an antioxidant and sleep aide, though some just enjoy barley tea for its nutty, toasty flavor.
- Origin: East Asia, mainly Korea and Japan
- Alternative Names: Barley water, mugicha, boricha, dàmài-chá
- Temperature: 212°F
- Caffeine: None
- Main Ingredient: Roasted barley
What Is Barley Tea?
This is one food that's as simple as it sounds, it's a light brown tisane made with roasted barley and hot water. The barley gets steeped in boiling water for about five to ten minutes and served either hot, on ice or chilled, depending on the country in which it's being consumed.
In Japan, barley tea is also called mugicha, and often is poured cold and in the summer as a refreshing beverage. In Korea, barley tea is called boricha and is consumed more readily. The tisane is taken hot or cold and often is drunk in lieu of water. Another way barley tea is prepared is with the addition of roasted corn, making a drink called oksusu boricha, or corn-barley tea. This can offset the barley's natural bitterness.
Traditionally barley tea is made using already roasted barley grains purchased from the market, or raw barley that's roasted at home. It's preparation is similar to that of loose leaf tea. Once brewed the barley is discarded.
In the 1980s pre-packaged tea bags containing ground barley started hitting the shelves, and in many cities this is how the tea is often made. There are kid-friendly tea bags featuring non-bleached wrappings. Pre-made bottled barley tea is also found in many convenience stores and vending machines in Korea and Japan. For a more coffee-like experience, barley tea can be mixed with chicory.
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Health Benefits of Barley Tea
Barley tea is drunk all day in many Asian countries. Aside from tradition and taste, here are some of the health benefits associated with the tea.
Brain and Heart Health
Barley tea has quercetin, an antioxidant thought to improve blood pressure and aid in brain and heart health.
Barley tea contains the antioxidants chlorogenic and vanillic acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
There are trace amounts of melatonin, the hormone humans make to help regulate sleep, found in barley tea. While one cup probably won't make anyone fall asleep quickly, it could be used as a sleep aide.
A natural diuretic, drinking barley tea can help flush toxins from the kidneys. This helps balance pH levels in the body and makes the organ alkaline, something that can help against kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
Because barley tea doesn't have many calories and contains no caffeine, it's drunk all day long in many Asian countries, especially in Korea and Japan. Sometimes through traditional Chinese medicine practices, this drink is used to help treat diarrhea, fatigue and inflammation.
How to Drink Barley Tea
Steep roasted barley in boiling water for about five to seven minutes. This can be done with loose barley or pre-made tea bags, which can be found in many specialty grocery stores. Drink it hot or chilled and over ice.
A cup of barley tea has earthy, toasty nuances and tastes a little like roasted coffee, albeit watered down. It resembles black tea, but lighter and with more of a starchy grain essence. Some drinkers find barley tea bitter, something that's often tamed with the addition of corn.
Buying and Storing
Barley tea bags can be found in many Asian grocery shops, and occasionally as a health food in some specialty stores. Barley tea bought in a tea bag is the same as barley soaked in boiling water, the only difference being the bagged tisane contains ground barely and the other uses whole, roasted grains. Barley tea can be found under the labels mugicha in Japan, boricha in Korea and dàmài-chá in China.
Finding loose barley proves much more common, and most supermarkets carry some version of raw and/or roasted barley. It can also be sourced in the fill-your-own bag style from bins at certain shops like Whole Foods and Sprouts. If the barely isn't roasted, that step is easy to do at home in five to ten minutes with a hot pan and wooden spoon.
Barley tea is also sometimes called barley water when served cold. Customers can find barely water chilled and pre-made in a bottle in many East Asian markets.
Keep all grains in dark, dry spots in the pantry. It's best to use an air tight container, but not necessary. If the barley tea is already bagged it can be stored with other teas as long as it's kept from direct sunlight and moisture.
Barley Tea Recipes
There isn't much to making barely tea, simply roasted grains steeped in water. However the drink, also called barely water sometimes when served cold, can get additions that make it stand out.
Barley Tea vs. Genmaicha
Though barley tea and genmaicha don't contain any of the same ingredients, the toasty profile of the beverage has them often confused. Barley tea is a tisane made with roasted barley, where genmaicha is a green tea flavored with roasted brown rice.
These teas are both primarily drunk in Asian countries and served hot, though barley tea is also drunk cold. Aside from ingredients, another major difference between the two is caffeine. Barley tea has none where genmaicha is made with green tea leaves, which do contain caffeine.
Barley has a lot of fiber, and while this is good for digestion, too much of it can cause stomach cramps, bloating, constipation and gas. This is also true when used as a tea. Some barley tea has also been found to contain small amounts of acrylamide, an anti-nutrient that may cause cancer. Finally, barley tea should not be drunk if someone is on a gluten-free or grain-free diet.