Hojicha: Japan's Ultimate Comfort Tea

Posted by Zach Mangan on

What is Hojicha?

Hojicha refers to a style of Japanese green tea that undergoes a secondary process of roasting. While many green teas undergo "hiire" - a type of firing to adjust moisture and bring out sweetness and balance - the roasting applied to hojicha is completely different. Roasting the green tea imbues it with a nutty, toasty fragrance and lowers the overall caffeine content of the tea making it the perfect accompaniment to food as well as an everyday classic.

Hojicha is produced in nearly every tea producing prefecture in Japan and is consumed in millions of Japanese homes daily. The wonderful thing about it are those regional differences: each area of Japan has a slightly different approach to hojicha and with so many styles available, it is an endlessly fascinating tea to buy and consume. And since the price point per serving is lower than other teas, it is a green tea you can really enjoy exploring with less stress on your wallet.

It's Green Tea? Then Why Is It Brown?

Generally speaking, Hojicha is made from the green leaves and/or stems of later harvest bancha. Bancha contains less caffeine, theanine, and polyphenols - all the flavor components that make great sencha. Due to the lack of these chemicals, bancha gains a new layer of flavor after roasting. Generally, Hojicha is a green tea where aroma really trumps flavor. The satisfying toastiness can be reminiscent of coffee, toasted nuts, chestnuts, and even caramelized sugar. Intensely satisfying to say the least.

The Roasting Process

The process of making houjicha starts after the aracha processing (aracha is a crued, unfinished green tea. For more more on aracha, refer to our post on Sencha). The green tea used for roasting is generally coarse and unrefined - so it will contain more stem as well as multiple sizes of leaf. This coarse tea is then batch roasted - anywhere between 10 - 100kg in a drum roaster. The drum roaster a large metal drum that is heated to a high temperature by gas. The exact method, materials, and length of roasting vary from producer to producer and are generally a point of pride. The nuances of each tea makers houjicha can be likened to the roasting of coffee beans - each roaster has a template for what they think make great tea. What makes up that template is tea leaf and roasting time and temperature.


A hojicha roaster. Saitama Prefecture.

Of course, there are exception to the rule and sometimes fully processed, non aracha tea is used. As in the case of our Koetsu Hujicha, very high grade Karigane (shaded stems and leaf) is used with a much lighter roast. Koetsu magically highlights both the beautiful roasted aroma of hojicha with the salinity, umami and mouthfeel of shaded green tea. This is truly an extrodanary hojicha and speaks to the refinement in production that has been developing in Japan as of late.

Freshly roasted hojicha. Saitama Prefecture.

Enjoying Hojicha

The low astringency and mellow toasted profile of Hojicha, a well as its low caffeine content, make it a perfect daily drinker. Additionally, hojicha pairs well with all types of food both savory and sweet. Regardless if you are in a home, office or restaurant in Japan, hojicha is one of the most popular green teas served to guests. Making hojicha is quite easy. Follow along below.

Brewing Perfect Hojicha

  • Bring filtered water to a rolling boil
  • Add 4g, or one teaspoon per cup to a cool, empty teapot
  • Pour 150ml (5oz) of water (now around 200F / 96C) per cup into your cup
  • Immediately pour the water from your cup into tea pot
  • Brew for 1 minute
  • Pour into preheated tea cup
  • Enjoy!

Which Hojicha Should I Try?

Fear not, we have several wonderful hojicha for your to try. Read about each below and find your new favorite. And don't forget, hojicha are teas made for drinking in a relaxed style. Try pairing any of these with chocolate, nuts or even roasted veggies or meat.

Late harvest Uji bancha is drum roasted until reaching a deep brown, almost black hue. Incredibly fragrant and easy drinking, this is the perfect winter cup.

 Tasting Notes: Kettle Corn / Chestnuts / Roasted Barley

Tea Origin: Uji, Japan

Koetsu Houjicha is the diamond in the crown of Ryuouen's houjicha offering. The soft and gentle roast is evidenced by the still greenish hue of the stems. Made from select Uji grown shaded karigane, Koetsu offers deep aromatics and incredibly refined and lasting umami.

Tasting Notes: Saline Umami / Toasted Hazelnut / Sea Breeze

Tea Origin: Uji, Japan

An Often Controversial Tea, Iribancha Is A Late Harvest Tea That Is Simply Dried And Ten Undergoes Intense Deep Roast. The Resulting Leaf Is Richly Fragranced With Notes Smoke, Pine Resin, And Pipe Tobacco.

Tasting Notes: Pine Resin / Bonfire / Burnt Cannabis

Tea Origin: Uji, Japan

Packaging: 300g Ryuouen Bag

Sencha leaves and stems are roasted until caramelizing imbuing this tea with deep fragrances of toasted hazelnut, burnt sugar and slight smoke. Houjicha is light on the palate and naturally low in caffeine.

Tasting Notes: Toasted / Caramelized sugar / Umami

Tea Origin: Fukuoka, Japan

Packaging: 12 4g bags per pack / 100 4g bags per pack

Final Thoughts

Hojicha remains one of the most important green teas to Japan and for good reason. Hojicha is the comfy sweater of Japanese green tea and its always a good time to drink it. We love searching for new and delicious examples. In fact, whenever we meet with a new tea producer we ask to try their hojicha first and we have found something quite unique. While Hojicha commands much lower prices than Sencha, Gyokuro or Matcha, the tea makers who focus on the details of their hojicha always have the most delicious Sencha, Gyokuro and Matcha. It is a true bellwether for whats to come. So, drink up folks!

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