How a roasted tea with healing benefits and tranquil vibes can help you thrive.
– KEYS SOULCARE
The kettle whistles, steam swirls, aromas diffuse — making tea is a ritual and a meditative experience. The elixir itself offers calmness and comfort in a cup, instantly making you more cozy. Green tea is especially rejuvenating and likely the most popular beverage worldwide (second only to water) for that very reason. But, soothing effects are just a drop of the many benefits tea offers; Green tea is also one of our favorite pantry skin secrets, and some say it helps them get better sleep. Studies have also reported its role in stress reduction, and overall longevity.
Though it has a burnt sienna hue, hojicha (also houjicha) is a fairly new Japanese green tea. This roasted variation can be steeped loose leaf or used in velvety powder form, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. To be clear, this isn’t amber-tinged matcha. This is matcha’s warm and caramelly cousin; a more complex, yet milder brew with significantly less caffeine and nearly as much antioxidant power.
During harvest in Japan, the greenest, most tender leaves are sorted for sencha tea; the larger, coarser leaves and stems become bancha tea; the twigs kukicha tea. All leaves are steamed after harvest to preserve their nutrients and flavor profile, and then dried. Hojicha can include bancha, sencha, kukicha or a combination of the three — the key is roasting the leaves over high heat to produce its signature reddish-brown color and deep, smoky, cocoa notes. This process also reduces caffeine and tannic astringency, creating a nutty and naturally sweet blend that appeals to tea and coffee drinkers alike.
“Since hojicha has such a unique taste, the flavor is honestly best experienced firsthand,” says Francois Mathieu, co-founder of Hojicha Co. in Toronto. “Though smoky and earthy, it reminds some people of roasted chestnuts, maple syrup, caramel, or pecans.”
Hailing from Kyoto — the “holy land” known for centuries-old tea houses and mountain slope tea fields — hojicha was first created by merchants making the most of their crop. During the 1920s, mechanical harvesting began to scatter twig debris and stems among leftover leaves. The remaining medley was then roasted in ceramic pots over searing charcoal until tantalizingly toasty. The new aroma and comforting quality soared in popularity among Japanese tea drinkers, heralding hojicha as the ultimate tea for everyday relaxation and as an after dinner digestif. (A cup of hojicha contains just 7 mg caffeine, making it ideal for longer tea-sipping sessions and nighttime rituals.)
The process of steaming green tea leaves preserves their abundance of antioxidants and also sustains antioxidant release over multiple brewing sessions — even after the tea is roasted. This means you can re-steep loose-leaf hojicha up to two more times to achieve its full antioxidant potential (more than twice the amount of the first brew) and further develop those earthy, nutty flavors. “Hojicha can be steeped at least three times, or as long as you find it flavorful,” Mathieu says. “Each steep brings a new experience.”
Topically, hojicha’s antioxidants work wonders, possessing anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Green tea can also help protect skin from free radical damage and encourage healthy cellular functioning. In our Be Luminous Exfoliator, hojicha powder works in tandem with other ingredients to provide a gentle, non-stripping exfoliation that helps give skin a softer, smoother appearance.
Internally, green tea also contains polyphenols that trigger autophagy, the body’s process of cleaning out damaged cells in order to regenerate newer, healthier ones. This could explain why, in further studies, the same green-tea-specific compounds (epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG) were shown to have the potential to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, and help negate the effects of environmental toxins like pesticides, smoke, UV damage and photoaging, as well as mediate neurodegenerative diseases. As with anything, though, moderation is essential. The same studies boasting its benefits also stress proper dosing, as excessive use of green tea can cause negative reactions, including liver toxicity. The recommended daily consumption is no more than seven to nine cups of hojicha.
Hojicha has followed the path of matcha in recent years, blooming in various lattes and bubble teas, confections, cocktails, and even marinades. “When you visit a shop in Japan, almost everything comes in both matcha and hojicha flavor,” says Danielle Geva, Hojicha Co. co-founder. “In fact, many cafés offer hojicha as soon as you sit down — it’s a welcoming gesture that makes you feel warm and comfortable.”
To prepare the ideal cup, play around a little. “We often tell our customers that the best way to prepare hojicha is their way,” Geva says. Hojicha powder dissolves easily in warm or cold water and can be mixed using a whisk, a milk frother, or even a spoon. All the ratios — water, milk, powder — can be adjusted to suit your preference.
Here are the basics:
1 teaspoon hojicha powder
2 ounces filtered water
sweetener of choice, to taste
Traditional preparation of hojicha powder requires a bamboo whisk, or chasen, and is often topped with milk. Hojicha fans, however, have taken liberties with their culinary creativity, whipping up viral social media concoctions like frothy coffee and hojicha-laced challah bread. You can even substitute hojicha powder in place of coffee, matcha, or cocoa powder in your go-to recipes, making it easy to discover new favorites. Sprinkle it into pancake batter, add it to marinades, or try it in cocktails. The culinary applications are truly endless.