Friday, April 24, 2015

Japanese roasted green tea, hojicha, reviewed and researched

I'm reviewing a roasted green tea from Japan, which will involve describing the tea, and also considerable research into what that is.  At first it seemed it would be partially oxidized tea, so essentially oolong, but based on a comment from a tea expert that probably isn't right (Michael Coffey).  He said the tea wasn't oxidized but instead converted by a different type of reaction, the Maillard reaction, which he described as the change that browns toast (which I also thought related to the seared coating on steak).  Wikipedia can clear that part up, but describing the tea in more detail will also take some research.

It goes without saying, implied in the context of the writing, but in most cases these posts are more about sharing my "journey to tea" than describing really unusual teas, or as an authoritative reference, and so on.  Some of the teas are exceptional types, and some exceptional examples of a type, but generally I wouldn't try to specify that, more just talk about the teas.

This tea I'm writing about seems a conventional type, although an example that perhaps few people "outside the world of tea" would have got around to trying.  It wouldn't be new to most tea enthusiasts, and would almost surely seem quite common in Japan.

unconventional looking; still cool

Review part:

should say hojicha?

The tea is nice.  It is just tea but the processing gives it a grain-like taste, perhaps most like toasted sesame, maybe a little like a fresh home-made loaf of wheat bread would taste (I can't remember ever having that though; my Mom only used white flour, but after this tea I'd like to try it).

So it's nothing like green tea; no astringency, very soft, not grassy or vegetal, with a rich, full flavor, a bit sweet, maybe even towards caramel.  And not really like black tea or oolong, different than those ranges of flavors.  So new to me, just great!  Except I bought and tried another similar tea in Japan recently, almost certainly the same type, but still new enough.

still not informative to me

It would seem to work well as an everyday tea; not so exceptional I'd keep seeking out slight variations on the type, but good in a way that I don't think I'd get tired of it.  Of course this is based on trying one such tea (ok, two; not different, especially since the other was an inexpensive tea I picked up in passing).  Different versions could shine in some different ways, or I guess someone else could get really caught up in the flavor profile.

It almost reminds me of genmaicha, the Japanese tea that blends roasted rice with green tea.  I suppose in addition to the grain-like flavor profile there is a hint of fresh vegetable flavor below that, slightly towards seaweed, but in a good sense.

It's a bit of a tangent but seaweed really could get a bad name it doesn't deserve, of course; it's a broad range of plants, not just one.  I don't love most of those plants or most of the ways they are prepared but once you get past the unfamiliarity and texture a lot of them are nice, just not my favorite.  Of course it works great with sushi, and there's no other decent vehicle for consuming wasabe, at least that I've tried.

Hawaiians love seaweed mixed with raw tuna (poke); not so much for me.  Koreans, and I suppose Japanese, love dried sheets of processed seaweed as a snack, salted or flavored, and those are nice.  Japanese ramen often comes with similar sheets that integrate really well with the other rich flavors, nice with pork stock broths, or for me even better with a miso base added.  Now this really is a tangent.

Related to tea I favor more oxidized versions so I'm on the opposite page but green teas have a fresh taste they can't match.  I suppose to be honest I like longjing best because it has a slightly less grassy, vegetable range profile, closer to toasted rice, grain, or nuts, so this tea works well with my natural preference.  It turns out the processing steps aren't so different.

Type of tea: research section

I've read of this tea type recently in summaries of types being sold in Japan, and when doing online research (I think).  Of course Wikipedia content matches all the following research turns up, but since that article is a subset of "green tea" Japanese black tea falls by the wayside (wakoucha / kocha; the tea I reviewed last).

Per Google's first reference suggestion (

the degree of roastiness in the aroma and flavor will depend on whether the tea is lightly or more deeply roasted... Lower in caffeine, it makes a great after-dinner tea. 

So there's that; maybe drinking tea in the evenings is one way I could work on the growing stock-pile at home.  I'm still not seeing how that's different than an oolong though.

A bit of a different subject, but related to the main Japanese green tea type the reference also said:

sencha can be translated as "roasted tea". This term refers to an older style of processing Japanese green tea that was influenced by Chinese tea processing methods. Today, most sencha is steamed instead of pan-roasted in its initial stage to prevent oxidation of the leaf.

A second general reference ( sheds no more light on these types, but does refer to Japanese black tea as "kocha," not wakoucha, which seems a variant, and adds:
Oolongcha (a type of Chinese tea):  Oolongcha involves allowing the tea leaves to oxidize, and then steaming or roasting them to stop the oxidization process. 

On the first read I thought now I've got to go back to Japan to try their version of oolong but this seems to actually just refer to Chinese tea.  Chinese oolongs are nice (pretty much my favorite), and they were selling them in different places in Japan, along with lots of other types of teas.

hojicha would've been nice

Yet another summary reference didn't add much, except that the tea is roasted by pan-frying, and also the point "this tea is usually the first tea that Japanese babies drink."  Too late since my baby has tried a few types already, but I will certainly introduce her to it, and I'm sure it will suit her palate.  Now I just need to teach her to talk so she can describe her preferences and general flavor profiles.

I'm still not getting to processing details for this tea:  a better blog reference from Ricardo Caicedo starts into more detail at least:  It add lots more depth, including brewing instructions, and a video on how the tea is roasted, and a link to how to try that at home (cool enough!), along with background:

Houjicha is most commonly made with bancha, although it is also made with sencha and kukicha as well. The basic process consists of roasting the loose leaves at about 200 degrees celcius, followed by a quick cooling.

This process lowers the catechin and caffeine content of the leaves. Why is this important? Because the catechin is the main source of astringency and caffeine an important source of bitterness in the tea. 

A different blog post discussed re-roasting teas, not exactly related, but this might sound familiar, as a way to refresh the flavors of a pan-fried type of tea.  While I'm digressing, comments about how to make masala chai in recent discussion covered how roasting those other ingredients changes and heightens their flavors when making that type of spice and tea blend.  My blog post on this subject didn't cover that technique, but a comment did, and the technique used by my Korean tea guru did (I'll have to figure out a way to get her to guest post about something as an introduction).

Another reference claims the tea is oxidized, along with this interesting point "because Hojicha is roasted, with a lengthier oxidation it converts the catechins into compounds called theaflavins and thearubigins."  Good to know, but that won't stick.  It seems possible "oxidized" isn't really the right concept.

A redit page includes a lot of general background on different teas, and makes the point that this tea type (hojicha) includes stems as a component that provides a particular flavor, whereas in most other teas including stems is a sign of lower quality tea.  That's starting on a separate subject I've often considered, the impact of stems on the taste of tea.  It always seemed it wouldn't necessarily just be negative, that the stem included could compliment leaf flavor elements, but I've not made any ground on that line of thought.  The "common tea myths" section by Michael Coffey in that reference is worth a read but not related.


This never did get around to completely settling the difference between oxidation and the later roasting process changes in this tea.  It was interesting to read through tea processing references, and some did go into how this tea is made (with further reading out there; seemed like a lot of links to keep adding them all), but apparently it's just pan roasted after normal green tea production.

The Maillard reaction reference is a start but doesn't clarify things either, really:  per the Wikipedia article:

The reaction is a form of nonenzymatic browning which typically proceeds rapidly from around 140 to 165 °C (284 to 329 °F)...  The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors.

here it is, tea processing summarized!  and no oxidation.  graphic credit doesn't fit here.

Tea processing graphic credit:  by Sjschen (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

So there's that.  The process corresponding to roasting (pan frying) this tea is related to browning toast, searing steak, that crust on pretzels, and malted barley, but not oxidation.  It does create a nice, distinctive tea in this case.

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