For a green tea, it looked rather brown. And for a green tea, it smelt less raw, I thought, as I made a cup. It was a most unusual tea, with unexpected flavours. I liked it, though it had no tea leaves, only stalks and twigs.
My introduction to the hojicha had gotten off to a good start—and it has never disappointed.
The hojicha is a roasted green tea with a lovely toasty, warming flavour. Its origins are Japanese, and it is made by roasting any green tea, either the bancha (green tea made from the lower, thicker larger leaves of the tea plant), the kukicha (made from the stem, twigs, stalks) or even the sencha (premium green tea made from buds and new leaves). The key, if you haven’t guessed already, is the roasting.
Some hojicha may use more leaves, some more stalks and twigs, and yet others a mix of leaves and stalks. The aroma and flavours depend on the degree of roasting. This could range from light to heavy and can be gleaned by simply looking at how brown the finished product is.
What really stands out in the hojicha is the toasty flavour; it creates a wonderfully palatable drink that works well as both a hot and a cold brew. And since it’s low-caffeine, it’s a suitable post-dinner beverage.
The origins of the hojicha go back about a hundred years. The story goes that when leaves are harvested by machines, as is done in Japan, there’s a lot of debris, a mix of twigs and leaves and stem. An enterprising merchant decided to roast them—and a new type of tea was born. Soon, tea merchants started adding this roasting as an added element to the various teas, whether sencha, bancha or kukicha.
The appeal lies in the aroma. For, roasting produces an aromatic compound, pyrazine, that gives the hojicha its nutty toasty character. This compound is found in coffee too.
Interestingly, I found some India-made hojicha too. One is from a tea garden in Assam that has been working on Japanese-style green tea. Another is from the Nilgiris, where roasted tea from stems is made. Both these teas resemble a roasted kukicha—in other words, mostly stem, not leaves.
Hojicha is brewed with boiling water, for short steeps of about 30 seconds. The cold brew uses about 10g of hojicha to one litre water, refrigerated overnight. It also lends itself to chai and milk tea since it’s not very delicate. Heat water, add about 3g of hojicha for a cup, along with grated ginger, some cardamom, cloves and a stick of cinnamon and sugar to taste. Let it simmer for about three minutes. Add milk and simmer some more. Strain and serve. It doesn’t taste like chai as we know it, or coffee, but it still manages to leave quite an impression.
Try the Indian-made hojicha from Chota Tingrai estate, available online at Ésah Tea, and the Nilgiri Bamboo by Tea Studio.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.