American tea lovers are often familiar with Sencha and Genmaicha (or “popcorn tea”), but ほうじ茶 (houjicha) is still a secret left to be discovered by many. At first, many people’s reaction to this green tea is “Wait a minute . . . that looks like black tea! And aren’t those leaves brown?”
Hojicha – leaf and cup
Japanese green teas are steamed immediately after harvest, locking in the nutrients of the leaf which give that vibrant green color and halting the enzymatic action that causes oxidation. (Oolong and black teas, on the other hand, undergo partial or full oxidation.) Like Sencha and Genmaicha, Hojicha also goes through this process, so it is technically a green tea. But what sets Hojicha apart is the final roasting process. Like coffee, Hojicha undergoes a high temperature roasting process that gives it that rich, earthy brown color, and, with it, an incredible toasty aroma!
Because “houjicha” is a general term that refers to any roasted Japanese green tea, any number of base teas can be used. Typically Bancha, Kukicha, or a combination of both is used to make Hojicha. Using leaves (such as Bancha or Sencha) results in a slightly sweeter tea, while using stems and twigs (i.e. Kukicha) gives a much more fragrant, roasted aroma with a more toasty flavor. Ratios of leaves and stems in Hojicha is a reflection of the tastes of the tea master who blends the tea.
The roasting process alters the leaves and stems in a way that affects the nutrient profile and, ultimately, flavor. The tannins, flavonoids, and caffeine (responsible for making tea bitter and acidic) are largely broken down in the roasting, making Hojicha full-bodied, yet mild. The resultant cup is very low in caffeine comparatively (roughly 15mg/cup vs. 100mg/cup for coffee). Additionally, the low levels of these nutrients means you can brew Hojicha with boiling water, and it doesn’t become bitter even if you accidentally over-steep. Lastly, the roasted tea is very high in fiber, most of which is water-insoluble, so be sure to gulp down any floating bits in your cup!
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