Japan is known for its prowess when it comes to green tea, in particular the brightly colored and powdery Matcha and the exceedingly popular infused taste of Sencha. Yet there is another green tea that originated in Japan that is oftentimes overlooked and now rising in popularity: the nutty, toasty and sweet tasting Hojicha tea.
Although tea has been around in Japan as early as the 8th century, Hojicha green tea wasn’t developed until the 1920s, when Kyoto merchants stumbled on a new method of making tea. Up until that point tea farmers and merchants discarded the leftovers, like stems, twigs and even stalks, from the by then automated processing of tea leaves. In an effort to not let anything go to waste the leftovers were roasted over charcoal. This process resulted in a highly aromatic and earthy, reddish/brownish brew, “Hoji-Chi”, or “roasted-tea”, that quickly made its way all over Japan.
Generally Hojicha is made out of Bancha, tea leaves that are harvested from the second flush of Sencha, placing it on the lower end of the tea grade spectrum. However, the quality of Hojicha can vary depending on the base tea that is used. The process starts by steaming the tea to prevent oxidation and fermentation. After being dried the tea is then roasted in a porcelain pot at high temperatures or is drum roasted, similarly to how coffee roasts are produced. One of the byproducts of the roasting process is that it significantly reduces the amount of caffeine in the tea, and therefore the tea is much more suitable as a beverage during evening times or for children.
These days Hojicha is consumed in a number of ways. First and foremost as loose leaf tea, unbroken by the packaging process, and closest to how Hojicha was originally consumed. But increasingly also in powder form, not unlike the techniques used to make Matcha. In its powder-form it also becomes a versatile ingredient to add flavor to many other beverages and foods, think for instance about Hojicha lattes, iced teas, and all kinds of baking.