Rich flavor and aroma
As with all the green teas, the main water-soluble components of hojicha are tannin, caffeine, theanine (an amino acid), and vitamin C. Tannin is the source of the tea’s astringency, caffeine the source of its bitterness, and theanine the source of its flavor. But in the case of hojicha, the amounts of tannin and caffeine are relatively low, making it suitable for children and those with a delicate constitution. The lower amount of tannin translates to less astringency, making it more thirst-quenching and easier to drink. And the relatively low caffeine content makes it ideal for consumption in the evening.
Components of Hojicha...
Why does hojicha have less caffeine than other green teas? In part, the leaves have less caffeine to begin with. Generally, the tips and young shoots of the Camellia sinensis tea plant tend to have the highest concentrations of caffeine, but the leaves which we use for our hojicha are generally of the larger, coarser variety. In addition, hojicha is a roasted tea. The roasting process takes place over a high heat, during which time much of the caffeine is rendered ineffective.
As a result, hojicha provides a distinct rich flavor and aroma while offering lighter concentrations of the components normally found in green tea. That makes it a perfect drink for casual everyday consumption, be it morning, afternoon or evening.
How Bancha is Processed
1. Tea Plantation
Being grown in open fields without shade, the leaves are exposed to direct sunlight for their entire life cycle, and accordingly exhibit rapid growth. While the upper shoots of the tea plant are used for sencha, the lower (closer to the stalk) leaves are used for bancha (a group of teas which includes yanagi,hojicha and genmaicha). These tend to be larger coarser leaves that are difficult to roll into the fine needlelike twist demanded by sencha.
On the traditional Japanese calendar, Risshun refers to the first day of spring in a given year; hachijuhachiya refers to the 88th day after Risshun. Hachijuhachiya is special because it marks the beginning of the year’s first tea picking. Though it varies slightly from year to year, hachijuhachiya typically occurs in early-May. At that time, the leaves used for sencha and bancha are harvested together. The leaves would later be sorted according to their size, shape and tightness of twist, and subsequently classified as either sencha or bancha.
A key difference between Japanese green tea and other teas (black tea, oolong tea, Chinese green tea) is that Japanese tea leaves are steamed after being harvested. The steaming process lasts for about 15 - 20 seconds, and is performed soon (within 12 - 20 hours) after the leaves are picked. The purpose of the steaming is to prevent the leaves from being oxidized. Thanks to this steaming process, most of the leaves' natural green color, fragrance and nutritional components are retained at this stage. In the particular case of hojicha which would later be roasted, the color and fragrance would eventually take on a unique and distinct roasted characteristic.
4. Rolling / Drying
The rolling/drying process begins shortly after the steaming has finished. During this process, the fibers are softened, allowing the tea’s flavor components to be released. There are several stages of rolling, starting with a loose rolling and culminating with a tight twist. By the time the leaves have gone through their final drying, the water content has been mostly removed. This effectively prevents the quality of the leaves from changing, thereby maintaining the original character of the tea as much as possible.
If you examine the finished tea leaves closely, you will see that they resemble a finely-twisted paper string. Concealed inside the twisted leaves is the essence of the tea's natural flavor.
5. Sorting / Rolling
After being steamed, rolled and dried, the leaves go through a sorting process. The buds, flakes, fine stems and tightly-twisted leaves are set aside for sencha, while the coarse leaves and larger stems are used for bancha.
The different banchas at Ippodo have very different characters. Yanagi has similar traits to sencha, though slightly less refined. Genmaicha – a mixture of yanagi and roasted brown rice – has a savory flavor and slightly popcorn-like aroma. And hojicha – a favorite among our customers – has a distinct roasted flavor and a full rich aroma that permeates the air.
Indeed, it is the roasting process that makes hojicha so special. It is roasted at high heat, during which the leaves take on a brownish hue and become imbued with a rich savory fragrance. The high heat also serves to diminish the caffeine and tannin content of the leaves, making hojicha suitable for consumption in the evening and by those with a slightly sensitive stomach.
At Ippodo, hojicha is available in regular twisted-leaf form, and also in roasted stem form. The stem hojicha is known as Hojicha Kukicha.