Barley Tea, a Cooling Summer Drink Everyone Should Try Once
Summertime foods have a tendency to be cooling, crowd pleasing, and uncomplicated to make. Big slices of watermelon, corn on the cob, lemonade, barbecued meat. The intense heat of summer will tend to force us to either go out and seek the cooler shores of the beach or a vacation from our sticky homes and jobs, or we feel so zapped all we want to do is lie down right in front of a spinning fan all afternoon. I’m an early afternoon tea drinker and a nice high mountain oolong or sheng has helped my rise against the draining summer afternoon. But not every summer day, especially in 2020 can be a day where you can go head out. I think a lot more of us find ourselves enviously eyeing the dog seated in front of the fan or the coolest floor spot. Its this kind of summer day that barley tea was made for.
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Barley tea, often presented as the Japanese mugicha or Korean boricha, is a well loved summertime herbal tea, or tisane. The post-war period brought refrigeration into many more homes in Korea and the usually hot barley tea could within two hours be a cheap and refreshing cold drink. For American readers this might start to sound a lot like another summertime favorite; powdered drinks like Kool-Aid.
A big difference with barley tea is the absence of added sugar. This should not imply that barley tea isn’t sweet and more than it does for old school camellia sinensis tea. The barley undergoes a light roast which starts to caramelize the natural sugars present in the grain. Barley tea has a nutty sweetness and low bitterness with a smooth body. A good quality barley tea should balance these attributes to make for an eminently gulpable cold drink that meets you right where you are on a hot summer afternoon. Even if that place is melting off of your chair!
National Institute of Korean Language / CC BY-SA 2.0 KR (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/kr/deed.en)
Getting Ahold of Some
If you live in an area with an Asian grocery they will almost certainly have bagged barley tea in stock and we encourage you to support specialty businesses like this. A well stocked grocery store that makes an effort to carry special items or health food might also be a good bet. If all else fails Amazon has plenty of brands to choose from.
Gpwitteveen / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
This is a delicious and healthy summertime drink that everyone should at least try once. Its well liked among the Mad Monk crew even if we don’t specialize in sourcing it. I have met some folks who just bounce off the stuff. There is a sweeter variant of barley tea that is mixed with corn to help the natural sweetness, but I can’t speak to that one personally. The only folks who really need to worry about barley tea are those with celiac disease. Barley is a staple food and ancient grain and has gluten. Some iced houjicha would be a good low caffeine gluten-free alternative.
Badagnani / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Barry Donnelly, Mad Monk Tea
Founded in San Diego, each tea purchased supports organic and regenerative farmers around the globe.