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The Complete Guide to Kyobancha

The distinct smoky smell might shock at first but is pleasantly addictive. Dive into this "everyday tea" of Kyoto.

This article was last modified December 20th, 2021. by Yuki

Kyobancha tea leaves in a cup
If you're having Kyobancha for the first time, you might be gearing up for a shock!
It has a very strong smell which is nothing like other Japanese tea. And yet - it is precisely that smell that captivates the people of Kyoto.
In this article, we'll go over Kyobancha, and everything you need to know about this unique tea!

Introduction To Kyobancha - What is it?

Kyobancha is type of roasted Japanese green tea with an extremely strong, unique, smoky smell.
The smell may be so strong and smoky, that it's actually repelling for some people! However, it is absolutely addictive for others!
Consider yourself lucky if you've come across Kyobancha.
It's a very rare tea which is seldom seen outside of Kyoto. Even in Tokyo or other parts of Japan, you'll seldom come across this tea.
Kyobancha's name comes from - you guessed it! Kyoto. It implies that it's the Bancha that is drunk in Kyoto!
Kyobancha written in Japanese

Kyobancha written in Japanese

Kyobancha is a tea that is made from roasting the tea leaves after they are steamed. In that sense, this tea is seemingly similar to the Houjicha.
However, the taste and smell isn't similar at all! It ends up being an extremely different kind of tea.
Well, firstly, the leaves are different.
It's still the same tea plant - it's just that it uses leaves and branches which are not used for other types of tea!
They use the leaves and twigs - or more like branches rather - that are removed during the maintinance work of the tea plant.
Farms must trim the overgrown leaves and branches of the tea plant used for Gyokuro and Tencha (which is the ingredients for Matcha) in preparation for the next season.
They trim it off, and reuse some of these leaves for Kyobancha.
The Kyobancha leaves are not processed, so you can find the leaves and twigs almost in their original form in the tea!
The look of the tea may be surprise you! They look like someone just raked up some autumn leaves. Take a look.
Kyobancha tea leaves
Yes, they definitely look different from normal Houjicha tea leaves!
A typical Houjicha use leaves of Sencha or Bancha, which will first be steamed then dried to hault oxidation. Then it would go through some processing.
For a Sencha, twigs and particles will first be split from the leaves. Then it would go through a rolling process. This rolling process is to prepare the tea juices to be extracted during infusion, while also organizing and preparing the leaves for visual display.
However for Kyobancha, it does not go through the processing.
They just keep the leaves and branches as is. After steaming, they are sun-dried, and then they are roasted in a huge metal pan. This is where the smoky smell emerges.

The taste and smell of Kyobancha

cup of kyobancha

A cup of Kyobancha

The unique processing method of Kyobancha gives it an extremely strong, smoky smell.
This smoky smell is the number one characteristic of this strongly captivating tea.
Though when poured, the water color looks very similar to a Houjicha with its brown tint, you can already sense from the smell that the taste is going to be completely different.
Some people may say it smells like burnt firewood, or even cigarettes!
The taste and smell is so unique that if you like Kyobancha, you may have a difficult time going back to a normal Houjicha.
It may suddenly feel that the light taste of Houjicha may be a little unfulfilling.

Kyobancha leaves in a cup up close

Nutrients and Uses

Are the nutrients all that different from a normal green tea? - Well, not really.
Similar to a Houjicha, the overall nutrients are much lower as compared to other green teas such as Gyokuro or a Sencha.
This is because the additional "roasting" process tends to break down some of these important nutrients.
It's not only the important nutrients it breaks down. It also reduces caffeine as well! Although strong, smoky and addictive, Kyobancha actually is a light tea, low in caffeine.
In Kyoto, Kyobancha has always been a tea for even babies for this reason. As a matter of fact, Kyobancha is also called the "Akachan-Bancha" (Or the Bancha for Babies) as well!
It is a nice healthy drink with very low stimulants suitable for people of all ages.
Kyobancha is very afforable. Therefore, It is considered a tea for every day use. For the people of Kyoto, Kyobancha is used almost like water.
In fact, if you order a "Bancha" in Kyoto, most likely you won't get a normal Bancha. You'll get this Kyobancha instead. This is the de facto tea of Kyoto.

woman drinking Japanese tea

How to prepare Kyobancha

There are 2 ways to prepare a Kyobancha.

One using a kettle, and the other is using a Kyusu or Dobin (Teapot) similar to other Japanese tea. Kyobancha can be enjoyed both hot or cold.

Preparing Kyobancha using a Kettle (or a pan)

  1. Pour about 2 - 3 Liters of water into a Kettle
  2. Boil the water
  3. Add about 40g of Kyobancha leaves into the Kettle
  4. Continue to boil for about 2 minutes
  5. Remove the tea leaves, and enjoy

Preparing Kyobancha using a Kyusu or a Dobin (Teapot)

  1. Break down the leaves a little to make it seep easier
  2. take a large Kyusu or Dobin, add about 10 g of leaves
  3. take boiling water and fill the Kyusu or Dobin
  4. Let it seep for 10 minutes, and enjoy
preparing kyobancha in a dobin (Teapot)

Preparing Kyobancha in a Dobin

Japanese tea farms in Kyoto

How Kyobancha is Made

Kyobancha typically use leaves of the tea trees for making Gyokuro tea or Tencha.
After the leaves are plucked for these high-grade tea, the tree will still have leftover leaves and branches which are hard and not suitable for making normal tea.
These branches will grow as the year goes along, and around Autumn, they will be trimmed to prepare for the next year.
This trimming process is important as it enhances the taste of the Ichibancha or the first flush tea leaves of the following year.
The trimmed leaves and branches are the ingredients of Kyobancha.
They are then taken and steamed, similar to how other green teas are made.
However, it doesn't go through the rolling process to organize and shape the leaves. (They can't because the leaves are too hard!)
They are spread under the sun to dry, and then roasted in a huge metal pan under strong fire.
The roasting process is quick - but it will burn some of the leaves and branches and the smoke coming out with it - producing that unique smokiness to the aroma.


I hope this article is enough to get you interested in at least trying Kyobancha out!

It may be during your next trip to Kyoto, or if you can't wait, you can always check it out at our online shop!

Author Yuki


Yuki is the Editor-in-Chief AND Community Manager at Tealife. He bleeds Japanese Tea and loves being a part of the Japanese Tea journey of others. Writes, does events, conducts tasting sessions, drinks, drinks and drinks tea! Easily accessible - hit him up on whatsapp (+65) 85882980.