12 Jun 2023
Among the countless things we love about green tea is the fact that there are so many different varieties. From the rich umami flavour of gyokuro to the complex grassiness of matcha, there’s a cup to suit every taste and occasion. And one of the relatively recent newcomers to the tea scene is hojicha.
All types of tea come from the same plant – Camellia sinensis. It’s the way you grow and process the leaves that gives us all the different kinds of the drink. And what sets hojicha apart from other green teas is that producers roast the leaves after picking them.
The name ‘hojicha’ combines the Japanese words for ‘roast’ (hoji) and ‘tea’ (cha). Although people have been drinking green tea for literally thousands of years, experts believe hojicha originated in the 1920s. A tea merchant in Kyoto wanted to reduce the amount of tea wasted during the harvesting process. He experimented with roasting the leftover leaves, twigs and stems over charcoal, and invented a whole new type of tea.
Today, tea producers make hojicha by slowly roasting the leaves at a high temperature, in a porcelain pot over charcoal. The leaves they use are typically from plants that are not shaded before harvesting (unlike those used to create matcha). Sometimes people will mix other parts of the tea plant, such as the stems, with the leaves when making hojicha.
This processing method gives hojicha a unique colour, scent and flavour that makes it easily distinguishable from other sorts of green tea. Hojicha also offers us a wealth of health benefits – but we’ll discuss those later in the article!
Roasting tea leaves turns them a beautiful autumnal shade of reddish-brown, which is also reflected in the colour of brewed hojicha tea. In addition, the process gives hojicha a distinctive smoky, earthy scent quite unlike other varieties of green tea.
Interestingly, roasting hojicha tea causes a chemical change in the leaves. Not only does this reduce the caffeine content, it also lowers the levels of certain plant compounds called tannins. This makes a cup of hojicha less astringent and bitter than other types of tea.
Hojicha tea tends to be a little earthy and nutty, with gorgeous mellow undertones of chocolate and caramel. The specific flavour profile of an individual cup will vary depending on several factors. These include the temperature of the water you brew the leaves in, and how long you leave them to steep. However, with any cup of hojicha you can expect to enjoy a drink with a rich smoky taste, accentuated by a hint of natural sweetness.
The type of leaves and the way the producers roasted them also affects the flavour of hojicha tea. For instance, hojicha can be made by roasting the younger, smaller leaves that are used to make sencha tea. Alternatively, you can roast the older, larger leaves used for bancha, or the stems and twigs used for kukicha. Each variety will have subtle differences in taste and aroma.
Because it’s made with roasted leaves, hojicha caffeine levels are lower than those in other types of green tea. This makes hojicha a good choice for times when you want to enjoy a cup of tea in the evening. Indeed, in Japan, hojicha is a popular tea to drink after meals as a way to aid digestion. Having said that, it’s not completely caffeine-free – so if you’re very sensitive to caffeine, don’t consume hojicha late at night!
Being low in caffeine is not the only reason that a cup of hojicha could help you relax. The tea is also rich in the amino acid l-theanine, which can have a positive influence on your mental state. For example, studies have found that it may help to ease anxiety and improve the quality of your sleep.(1) L-theanine might additionally increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, further benefiting your mood.(2)
The fact that hojicha does contain some caffeine is a positive. That’s because the combination of L-theanine and caffeine might be particularly beneficial for our cognitive functions. Research suggests that together the two can improve factors such as focus, attention and alertness.(3) Plus, with green tea you have the bonus of avoiding the jitteriness that some people get after consuming coffee.
And this isn’t the only way in which drinking hojicha tea could benefit your brain. Numerous studies indicate that green teas, such as hojicha, have a neuroprotective effect. Specifically, the catechins they contain may help to stave off cognitive decline and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.(4) That includes conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. This may be partly due to green tea’s antioxidant properties, and because catechins like epigallocatechin gallate might be able to activate nerve cells.(5)
It’s not only your brain that hojicha is good for – it’s also your body. For example, as mentioned above, green tea is rich in antioxidants. That means it can help to protect your cells against oxidative stress. This is key because experts believe such damage contributes to a number of chronic health conditions, from diabetes to cancer. Indeed, several observational studies have noted that green tea drinkers are less likely to develop cancer. However, further research is necessary to confirm this effect.
One of the most beneficial compounds found in green teas like hojicha is epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. Evidence indicates that EGCG can decrease cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and support healthy blood sugar levels.(6) The latter may explain why studies have discovered a correlation between green tea consumption and a lower risk of diabetes. Catechins like EGCG could even be effective against bad breath thanks to their antibacterial properties!
Similarly, research also suggests that drinking a lot of green tea can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.(7) This could be as a result of certain polyphenols in green tea lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol levels, and protecting against atherosclerosis.
Excitingly, evidence further indicates that drinking green teas like hojicha could help you to lose weight. Some studies have linked green tea with decreased waist circumference and abdominal fat in addition to reduced body weight.(8) One reason for this could be that the drink speeds up metabolism. However, more investigation is required to clarify this.
Perhaps the most notable advantage of enjoying hojicha is that green tea could even boost your longevity. Studies have found that people who drink the most green tea have a lower risk of death from all causes.(9) That’s a powerful argument for having a cuppa!
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