Hojicha (roasted green tea) (ほうじ茶)

Hojicha (written as ほうじちゃ or 焙じ茶) is a type of Japanese green tea, generally referring to tea made with roasted tea leaves. In general, hojicha leaves are obtained by roasting sencha (green tea of middle grade), bancha (coarse tea), or kukicha (twig tea) leaves, and have a unique roasted aroma. Hojicha has almost no bitterness or roughness in its taste and is quite smooth. Hojicha drinking customs vary greatly by region.

Although there is expensive hojicha made with high quality tea leaves, hojicha is regarded as being a lower class tea than gyokuro (refined green tea) or sencha and also is regarded as being in the same class as bancha and genmaicha (tea with roasted rice), and therefore hojicha is not a high-class Japanese tea.

Method of production

Hojicha is made by roasting green tea leaves at a high heat until the color turns brownish red.
According to the green tea labeling standard of the Japan Tea Industry Central Association, hojicha is a type of green tea and is defined as being 'produced by roasting sencha or bancha leaves at high heat.'
It is believed that the method of production in use today was established in Kyoto during the 1920's.

Tea manufacturers use a large specially built roaster. A type of porcelain instrument called a horoku is usually used to roast tea leaves at home. Horoku is also called horaku or hojiki (roaster).

Types

The general classification of the more well-known types of hojicha is as follows.

Hoji-bancha

As the 'hoji' in the name suggests, bancha leaves are roasted for hojicha brewing. In areas where bancha leaves are usually roasted to be consumed, the term bancha often refers to hojicha.

Kyo-bancha

Hoji-bancha leaves produced in southern Kyoto, which is famous for tea leaf production, have been called 'kyo-bancha' leaves. People in Kyoto and Nara Prefecture used to drink this often. People there drink kyo-bancha less frequently now because their diet has become more Westernized, but still the name kyo-bancha is widely known across Japan. In these areas, leaves are often packed in a kilogram bag and sold at stores.

Kaga-bocha

Kaga-bocha leaves are roasted kukicha (bocha) leaves. They are mainly produced in Ishikawa Prefecture. In Ishikawa Prefecture, 'bocha' and 'bancha' often mean Kaga-bocha. It is believed that Kaga-bocha originated in Kanazawa and it is registered as a certified local food of Ishikawa Prefecture. Also, in Ishikawa Prefecture, there is a certification standard (Notification #1751 issued by the head of the Food Safety and Consumer Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on October 22, 2007) for bocha leaves roasted in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Although kuki-hojicha leaves are produced across Japan, kaga-bocha has been the most widely known kind because a tea manufacturing plant in Ishikawa Prefecture manufactured a product called 'kenjo kaga-bocha' and offered it to the Emperor Showa. Since 'kenjo kaga-bocha' leaves are lightly roasted, the brewed tea is sweet and mild, but its bitterness is slightly stronger than other, commonly-known types of hojicha.

Karigane-hojicha

This is a type of hojicha leaf made with carefully picked stems of the first tea leaves to be harvested of the year (called 'kukicha' with the term kuki meaning a stem). This type of hojicha is available in markets as kuki-hojicha leaves or bo-hojicha leaves, but they essentially mean the same thing. Brewed kukicha has a very mild aroma because the stems are roasted instead of the tea leaves.

This is the reason why kukicha has a better aroma than hoji-bancha.

Hoji-sencha

Hoji-sencha leaves are made with carefully picked high quality leaves of the first or second crop of tea leaves harvested of the year. Prices of traded products differ greatly depending on the quality of tea leaves used. High quality hojicha has a unique sweet and soothing aroma, and leaf roasting requires considerable skill.

Brewing method

Hojicha can be brewed using a wide variety of instruments such as a dobin (earthenware teapot), kettle, or kyusu (small teapot), and this can depend on the area or situation. Some leaves are packed in tea bags like British tea so that the tea can be made easily.

It is commonly said that tea should be brewed with boiling water. In areas where hojicha is regularly drunk, it is most often made in a big kettle. During the winter in Hokkaido, people make hojicha in a kettle that sits on the heating stove, mix the tea with shochu (distilled spirit), and drink it (this is called bancha-wari).

Hojicha contains protein and it may go bad or its properties change with time, and as such it is recommended that the tea be consumed on the same day it is made. Hojicha which has begun to spoil can cause stomach aches or diarrhea.

Purpose and effectiveness

Roasting destroys the tannins (such as catechin) that causes tea to be bitter; therefore, hojicha tastes lighter than other types of tea because of the suppressed bitterness. Hojicha contains little caffeine and so does not stress the stomach, and for this reason, everyone from children to elderly people and even those who are sick can drink it without having to worry about any adverse effects. Some doctors recommend that hojicha is used to hydrate infants. For this reason, hojicha is often drunk at medical or nursing facilities.

Tea is served with Kyoto kaiseki dishes (a simple meal served before a ceremonial tea), and here hojicha is quite often served.