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In which we learn about Hojicha…

January 22, 2007

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When I posted asking for a translation on some tea purchased for me in Osaka, Takuro responded with a link to the boutique where the tea was purchased, and some names to put with the flavors. The one in the purple “Okame” package was sencha, so my nose and taste buds were on the money.

tea1.jpgBut the beige packet (my favorite) said ‘Hiotoko,” and looking that up in a search engine leads to a lot of interesting things that have nothing to do with tea. Takuro had also mentioned the word “houjicha,” but for some reason I never looked it up!

My confusion was finally over when we hosted a gongfu demonstration party at my house about a week ago. The other two GG authors were in attendance, and a few of the guests brought their own tea as well, including a packet of “hoji cha” from Uwajimaya, our local Japanese market.

As soon as we opened the foil seal, I knew I’d found what I was looking for. Here’s Wikipedia’s description:

Hōjicha is set apart from other Japanese green teas because it is roasted over charcoal. The tea is fired at high temperature, altering the leaf colour tints from green to reddish-brown. The process was first performed in Kyoto, Japan in the 1920s and its popularity persists today. The roasted flavours are extracted and predominate this blend. Hōjicha is made from Bancha (番茶, “common tea”), tea from the last harvest of the season and considered a somewhat lower grade of green tea than sencha, and Kukicha, tea made from the twigs of the tea plant rather than the leaves.

Hōjicha infusions have a light- to reddish-brown appearance, and are less astringent due to losing catechin during the high temperature roasting process. The roasting replaces the vegetative tones of standard green tea with a toasty, slightly caramel-like flavour. As both Bancha and Kukicha are low in caffeine, Hōjicha is a popular tea to drink before going to sleep.

Even though this isn’t a premium tea, it still brings me a lot of joy. Its toasty aroma and almost savory flavor make it very comforting. It would complement the smell of campfire and the breeze through the pines on camping and backpacking trips. The lack of caffeine makes it a good choice when I’m feeling particularly sensitive, as well as being on my rather short list of before-bedtime teas. I don’t care if I’m slumming with the fannings and stems – I am unashamed of my love for hojicha.

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