Japan is the world’s foremost producer of fine green teas, some of which we’re all familiar with. There’s the green tea we enjoy at sushi and other Japanese restaurants, as well as delicious matcha. But, there’s one lesser-known green tea that packs a ton of flavour, and is a favourite among many locals. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into hojicha.
If you took a look at some hojicha tea leaves, you’ll see that they’re varying shades of brown, but hojicha is in fact, green tea! More specifically, hojicha is green tea that have been put through a roasting process. It is this roasting process that colours the leaves a rich dark brown, and the change isn’t just in the colour. Hojicha gives off a toasted and nutty fragrance, and its flavour is mild and slightly smoky.
Aside from the flavour differences, there are several other factors that really set hojicha apart from other green teas.
For one, hojicha is generally cheaper when compared to sencha and matcha. This is because hojicha is usually made with bancha, which are tea leaves that are harvested in summer and autumn, well after the leaves for premium sencha and matcha have been picked. So if you’re a heavy tea drinker looking for volume, hojicha is a delicious yet budget-friendly choice.
Bancha, the green tea leaves used to make hojicha contains less caffeine and polyphenols than first-flush sencha and matcha. Further roasting of bancha to make hojicha causes caffeine levels to lower too. This makes hojicha popular among children and the elderly. Plus, you can enjoy a cup after dinner without worrying not being able to sleep after!
To make hojicha, tea leaves are first harvested from the tea plant, camellia sinensis, which grows out in the open fields where it is exposed to plenty of sunlight. As soon as possible after they are harvested, the tea leaves are steamed for 15 to 20 seconds- a crucial process that stops the tea leaves from oxidising. This process is what helps the leaves stay green, and hence becoming green tea.
Once the steaming is complete, the tea leaves must be dried. This is done through several steps of rolling, until the tea leaves don’t look very much like leaves at all, but instead resemble thin needles. The drying helps prevent any loss of flavour, and allows the leaves to stay fresh for longer.
After the batch has been rolled and dried, rougher parts of the leaf, such as stems and veins, and bits of leaves that have separated are set aside. Whole leaves are typically reserved for higher grade teas like sencha, but the leftovers are still flavourful, and great for making hojicha.
The roasting process now begins. Every tea manufacturer has their own roasting process, and depending on the method used, can produce hojicha with different flavour profiles. Historically, hojicha was roasted in a pot over charcoal, but nowadays the process most likely takes place in a factory with precise machinery. The roasting process turns the green tea into the dark brown colour of hojicha, and helps it give off that wonderful aroma. Heat is also what helps the tea lose some of its caffeine content, making it taste less astringent in the process.
Now that you know all about hojicha, it’s time to brew some of your own! The process is simple and quick, just follow these easy steps:
About 3g to 4g (or 2-3 tsp) of tea leaves will make a small pot of tea. Hojicha is milder in flavour, so feel free to use a little more if you like your tea strong, or just enjoy the lovely fragrance.
Bring filtered water to a gentle boil, and pour onto the hojicha tea leaves. Hot water will help draw out the flavour from the coarser leaves, so there’s no need to wait for the water to cool.
In just 30 seconds, your hojicha will be ready to drink, although you can always allow it to steep for a little longer. Don’t forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the toasty, comforting aroma before you drink!
Hojicha might not be as trendy as matcha, or as premium as sencha, but there’s certainly still a lot to love about it! Its low price point makes it a tea anyone can enjoy any day, and it’s hard not to feel nice and comforted when you get a whiff of that rich nutty fragrance. If you already love green tea, why not give hojicha a try?