Hojicha, the other green tea
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Hojicha, the other green tea

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Tea

It seems there's another member in the green tea family. And it's not even green! That's because hojicha is made from roasted green tea leaves, stems and stalks, giving it an earthy reddish-brown hue that makes it look more like black tea or coffee than its verdant cousins.

Very popular in Japan, mellow, slightly sweet, and smooth, hojicha (also houjicha) is patiently steeping its way into North America, popping up at mainstream tea and coffee houses (Starbucks!) and flooding social media sites. But how does this emerging trend compare to its ancient green tea ancestry?

Origins

Compared to traditionally prepared green tea, which has been around for thousands of years, hojicha is a relative newcomer to the tea scene. It's said to have debuted in 1920s Kyoto, Japan, the roasted result of tea merchants attempting to make economic use of the stems and stalks that were mixed among the green tea leaves during harvest. Apparently, the aroma of the roasted concoction was so inviting, it brought passersby into the shops.

What is it?

Hojicha is a general term for any roasted Japanese green tea, so it may be made from sencha, bancha or kukicha leaves, stems, and twigs, depending on the preference of the tea maker. Variations produce slightly different flavors and aromas. All Japanese green teas are made from leaves steamed right after harvest. What makes hojicha different is it is then roasted at high temperature, which affects the nutrient profile and flavor. Roasting breaks down the compounds — caffeine, tannins, flavonoids — that make tea bitter-tasting and acidic. The result is a milder brew that has a toasted flavor that's slightly nutty, sweet and smoky, with less of a caffeine jolt.

Health benefits

Green tea is well known for its health benefits due to its impressive supply of antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect cells from damage that can lead to illness, like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It also contains an amino acid, L-thianine, which produces a calming effect to reduce stress. While roasting does lessen the amounts of these health-protecting compounds, research shows that roasted tea has high antioxidant activity and is beneficial to human health.

Hojicha, available as a loose tea or a fine powder, might just be a great addition to a tea lover's collection, or a worthy new taste for someone who likes the idea of tea's benefits, but without the bitterness and caffeine.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)

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