An exception to Japan’s conventional steam-processed teas, hojicha is a roasted green tea that is darker in color, bolder in flavor and contains virtually no caffeine. Read on to learn more about hojicha, including how it’s made, what it tastes like and a variety of ways you can prepare it.
What is hojicha – and what does it taste like?
In Japan, green teas — including matcha, sencha and genmaicha — are typically steamed during the drying process. Because of this, these teas generally boast notes that are vegetal (think spinach or asparagus), marine (seaweed) and/or floral (honeysuckle, chamomile), and are rich with umami.
Hojicha, on the other hand, is the exception. Rather than being steamed, it’s roasted, resulting in a bold green tea that is actually reddish-brown in color (compared to the yellowish-green hue of most green teas), and possesses notes of caramel and vanilla with toasted, earthy undertones. In other words, it does not have the flavors that are most often associated with green tea.
Those who aren’t fans of vegetable-like notes of green tea are often pleasantly surprised by hojicha, and even more so to find a green tea they can enjoy.
Where did hojicha originate?
When mechanical trimming was introduced to the Japanese tea industry to make harvesting less labor intensive, tea farmers were pleased by the convenience. However, there was one drawback. The debris from the machine trimmings scattered amidst the leaves while harvesting mechanically, creating a great deal of waste.
Shortly thereafter, in 1920, a tea merchant in Kyoto made the first attempt to roast the leftover stalks, twigs, stems and leaf debris over charcoal. The experiment was a successful one, and hojicha was born. While minimizing the amount of waste, hojicha expanded the number of business opportunities for Japanese tea merchants. Shop owners used the pleasant and earthy aromas and flavors of hojicha to entice customers to their stores, and it didn’t take long for the tea to become popular among the masses.
How is hojicha made?
Hojicha is made using tea leaves (from the Camellia sinensis plant) that are harvested during the final harvest of the season, typically in the fall. After being picked, the leaves are withered in sunlight before drying.
The drying process involves a combination of high temperatures and fans that reduce the moisture content of the leaves. As a green tea, the tea leaves are not oxidized but rather feature a reddish-brown color due to the roasting process.
The tea leaves are then roasted using charcoal or sandpits; the high heat transforms them into a deep brown color. The heating process also removes much of the caffeine content in the tea leaves and increases the presence of tannins, providing a rich, coffee-like flavor. Since the amount of caffeine in hojicha is virtually non-existent, it’s a popular choice for those looking to cut back on coffee or for those seeking the perfect evening cuppa.
For reference, a cup of hojicha tea (250 ml) contains 7.7 mg of caffeine. (Compare that to a cup of sencha green tea, which contains 30 mg of caffeine or a cup of coffee, which contains 95 mg.)
How to prepare the perfect cup of hojicha
To brew loose leaf hojicha (and let’s be real – loose leaf is the only way to go!), we recommend using the traditional Japanese brewing process, which uses more leaf and less water. (Get our full guide to brewing Japanese teas here.) The steps are below:
- Add 3 teaspoons of tea leaves into an empty teapot. (For the best infusions, we recommend brewing this tea in a kyusu teapot.)
- Pour approximately 3 small tea cup's worth of 190-degree water (approximately 200 milliliters) over the leaves in the teapot.
- Let the tea steep for 1 minute.
- Pour small amounts of tea into each cup at a time, and go around until you serve the very last drop.
- Repeat steps for a second and third infusion, increasing water temperature by 15 degrees each time.
For “Western-style” brewing, brew 2.5 grams of tea in 6 ounces of water heated to 190°F for 2.5 minutes. For the subsequent infusion, use the same parameters, but brew it for 3 minutes.
Hojicha also makes a refreshing tea when cold brewed. To make cold-brewed hojicha:
- Combine 1.5 teaspoons of loose leaf hojicha in 1 cup of cold or room-temperature water in a bottle or pitcher. (Bottles with built-in infusion baskets work best, IMO.)
- Cover and place in refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
- Strain tea leaves using a sieve or mesh strainer. Serve over ice and enjoy!
What are the health benefits of hojicha?
People have been drinking tea for thousands of years to reap its curative properties, and because all “true tea” (white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea) comes from the same plant, they all boast similar health properties. (Check out our article on tea and wellness for an in-depth look at tea’s health benefits.)
Some of hojicha’s health benefits include:
- Boosts immune system
- Good for caffeine sensitivities
- Promote digestive health
- Reduces stress
- Improves skin health
- Boosts heart health
What are other ways to enjoy hojicha?
Finally, it’s a fun tea to experiment with when making your own floral blends, or even tea cocktails and mocktails. The sky is the limit!