What is Barley Tea?

Mary McMahon

Barley tea is a tea brewed from toasted barley. This tea is especially popular in Japan, Korea, and China, although it is consumed in other Asian nations and regions with a large Asian community as well. It has a very nutty, warming flavor that some people find is an acquired taste. Asian markets often carry roasted barley that can be used to make tea, and some also carry tea bags that can be used for quick brewing.

Individual teapots can be used to brew freh barley tea.
Individual teapots can be used to brew freh barley tea.

In Japan, barley tea is known as mugicha, and it is traditionally served in the summer as a cooling drink. The Japanese also believe that it helps to extract impurities from the blood, and to thin the blood in hot summer weather. In Korea, the tea is known as boricha, and it is drunk hot in winter and cool in summer. The Chinese sometimes pair this tea with heavy meals to aid digestion, and they use it to treat nausea.


Traditionally, the tea is made by tossing a handful of barley grains into a kettle of water, bringing the kettle to a boil, and then allowing the tea to steep briefly before pouring. In some households, the kettle may simply be left out on the stove, with members of the household serving themselves as desired. Over the course of a day, the flavor of the tea will deepen, becoming increasingly nutty and intense.

Barley grains.
Barley grains.

Individual teapots and cups of barley tea can also be brewed. The amount of barley can be adjusted, depending on the flavor desired. Some Korean cooks like their tea so intense that it tastes almost like coffee, while Japanese often enjoy more mildly flavored drinks in the summer months. It can also be brewed in cold water, or as sun tea, which can be useful in the summer, when cooks do not want to heat up the kitchen by boiling water.

This tea is traditionally served plain, allowing people to appreciate the flavor as-is. In regions where cooks have difficulty finding roasted barley to make their own, regular barley can be toasted in a heavy saucepan on the stove top or in a pan in the oven. If possible, whole barley in its husk should be used, so that the expected nutty flavor will develop. The barley should be tossed periodically as it toasts, ensuring that all of the grains become uniformly browned in the process.

Barley tea is popular in Japan.
Barley tea is popular in Japan.

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Discussion Comments


I like that barley tea is caffeine free. It gives me another choice apart from the herbal or ginger tea bags I have at the moment.

The barley tea health benefits listed are amazing, and definitely something else that makes this a very attractive drink for me.


A few years ago I took a year out and travelled in several Asian countries. When I came back people were amazed that this hardened coffee addict had transformed into a tea fanatic while away!

My favorite of them all is Korean roasted barley tea, though Oolong tea is a close second. At first I drank them because tea is so much more refreshing than coffee when the weather is hot.

I didn't really like the taste at first because it was so different from anything I'd tried before. Now I spend one Saturday a month traveling a hundred miles to the closest Korean grocery store to replenish my supplies!

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