Everything You Need to Know About Hojicha
Although the color of the hojicha leaves and hojicha tea may make it look like a type of black tea, Hojicha is actually a roasted green tea. After the leaves are harvested, they are steamed to stop the oxidation process. If the leaves were not heated after harvest, they would fully oxidize and become a black tea. This makes hōjicha a type of Japanese green tea, but what makes it unique is what happens next.The hojicha leaves are roasted in either a large pan or in a roasting machine. While it is common for japanese green teas to be heated at many different stages in the production, this is usually done at very low temperatures and is used primarily for drying. With hojicha, the heat applied is far more intense and it is done for a longer time. This completely transforms the tea leaf, and it turns the color from green to brown. What is even more remarkable is what happens to the flavor. The hojicha tea is now almost unrecognizable from its original, unroasted state. The flavor is not necessarily better or worse, it just becomes different. It trades these fresher notes of steamed vegetables and citrus for warmer notes of coffee, caramel and chocolate. The color of the hojicha tea also becomes red to brown, further demonstrating the massive transformation this tea undergoes.
History of Japanese Hojicha
Japanese hojicha is a relatively modern invention, dating back to the early 20th century. As with many other teas like genmaicha and kukicha, hojicha began as a way to get the most out of the tea harvest. At this point in time, tea was still a precious commodity, and the demand often exceeded the supply. A few innovative tea producers in Kyoto began to roast parts of the plant they wouldn’t otherwise sell, such as the stems and older leaves of the plant. This became a huge hit, and people all around Japan began to appreciate these more roasted flavors in their green tea. Eventually, producers began experimenting with different ways to make hojicha.Not all hojicha green tea is the same, depending on which parts of the tea plant are roasted and how strong the roast is, you can get completely different flavor profiles. Hojicha is normally made out of either sencha, bancha or kukicha. While it is far less common, we have also encountered hoji genmaicha and even roasted Gyokuro tea. Different parts of the tea plant not only taste different, but they also roast differently. Smaller more delicate leaves roast quicker than the thicker mature leaves you may find in a bancha. Hojicha can also be separated into light roast, medium roast and dark roast. Depending on how dark you like the flavor, you have many different options in the world of hojicha tea, similar to the world of coffee.
Other Types of Hojicha
Kyo bancha is a specialty of the area of Kyoto, and it is made from roasted bancha leaves. These are the older leaves of the tea plant, so when they are roasted, they take on a different taste profile than roasted younger leaves. Kyo bancha is turned by hand in a large pan, and the tea is roasted quite thoroughly. When trying a Kyobancha from Mr. Takada, you will notice right away how heavily roasted this tea is. It almost goes into a smoky direction and the leaves of the tea almost look burnt. This may be a polarizing tea, but many tea connoisseurs really enjoy it. While this used to be a more common practice in Japan, there are now only 10 small locations around Kyoto that make Kyobancha in this traditional style.
Kuki hojicha is also another delicious phenomenon. This tea is made from either the stems and leaves of the tea plant, or simply just the stems. By using just the stems of the tea plant, you are not only lowering the caffeine content but you are also able to get a darker roast. With this tea you get more of the hay or straw notes coming from the tea and in the case of the Kuki hojicha from Mr. Issin, you get a much darker flavor profile, almost like coffee. If you are looking for the best hojicha for coffee lovers, the Issin Kuki Hojicha is definitely the one!
Mr. Issin uses a unique method to produce his hojicha. While most hojicha teas are roasted in a large machine to get a uniform roast, Mr. Issin uses a technique that is a bit more nuanced for producing smaller batches of his famous Kuki hojicha. He actually roasts the tea leaves in a hot pan and they are automatically turned by a system of metal paddles. This process may take more time, and only allow smaller quantities to be produced, but it allows Mr. Issin to have more control over the roasting process and make sure the tea is roasted to perfection. He also uses this same machine to produce his Kamairicha, or partially roasted tea.
Kamairicha is somewhere in between a hojicha or fully roasted tea and a sencha or unroasted tea. This pan-firing method is common with Chinese green teas, but not with Japanese green teas, making Kamairicha an anomaly in Japan. Although Kamairicha is uncommon in Japan as a whole, there are some areas where it has become a specialty, such as Miyazaki, where Mr. Issin lives. This Kamairicha is roasted in the same pan as the Kuki Hojicha, but this time it is left uncovered so it doesn’t get to as high of a temperature. It also is roasted for a shorter time, so instead of turning brown, the leaves only slightly change in color. This tea really strikes a “sweet spot” in between roasted tea and unroasted tea. It has characteristics of each, but also it’s own which are entirely unique. The Kamairicha from Mr. Issin has these nutty flavor profiles like cashew, hazelnut and toasted almond. It also maintains some of it’s steamed vegetable characteristics you would expect from a Japanese green tea like sencha.
Choosing the Best Hojicha
When it comes to the best hojicha for beginners, we often point people towards the Noike hojicha. This tea is produced by Mr. Noike, who owns a small tea farm in a forest just outside of Kyoto. Because of the natural shading provided by the large pine trees that surround his forest, a lot of his teas take on a sweeter taste profile than they normally would. This makes the Noike Hojicha a much sweeter hojicha, with notes of caramel and chocolate. Kyoto is the origin of Japanese hojicha, and it still produces some of the best roasted teas. This hojicha from Mr. Noike is a proud representative of this great legacy.If you would like to try and make your own hojicha at home, there is a trick you can use that works quite well. Just take a few grams of tea leaves and place them into a dry pan to roast over your stove. It will take about five minutes before you notice any roasting take place, but once it starts it will happen very quickly so keep an eye on the leaves. Once you have reached the desired level of roast, you can turn off the heat and brew your Hojicha tea right away.