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Dark Roast vs Light Roast Hojicha – How Roasting Times and Temperatures Affect Flavour Profile

Hey Everyone! Today’s post is all about Hojicha which is a tea a lot of people associate with this time of the year so I thought that now was the best time to do this post and assist those of you out there who love hojicha in learning more about what goes into creating it and how roasting times (among other things) can affect the flavour profile of your hojicha. As you all know well enough by now I love taking 2-3 similar teas and doing comparison tasting with them, utilizing them as a learning tool for my readers and myself to learn about tea on a much more in-depth level. So when I was given the chance to try two of Yunomi’s house-blended hojichas I knew that this is what I wanted to use them for and I’ve been so excited to do it ever since.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with hojicha it is said that in the 1920s, a tea merchant strived to make the most of the leftover leaves, stems, stalks, and twigs by roasting them over charcoal, thus creating Hojicha. Hojicha originated in Kyoto and not long after, it rapidly spread throughout Japan and tea shops all across Japan began roasting their green teas. In addition to helping to minimize wastefulness, the delicious aroma of roasting green tea helped merchants entice more customers into their shops. Once tea drinkers tasted Hojicha, they were enthralled by its character.

Hojicha is usually made from either Bancha, Sencha or Kukicha and the conventional process when it comes to creating Hojicha consists of roasting the loose leaf at about 200°C / 392°F followed by quick cooling. This process diminishes the catechin (caffeine content) and the level of tannins, which helps to make Hojicha a milder tea, that is tremendous for evenings and for people who are sensitive to caffeine.

To take a little more of an in-depth view at how roasting times and temperatures affect the flavour profile of hojicha I thought I would experiment using Yunomi’s House Blend Dark Roast Hojicha and Light Roast Hojicha they also do a medium but for this post, I thought I would stick with the two that would illustrate the substantial differences. So I decided to do a side by side tasting of both at the same time, and I thought I could talk you all through my tasting notes explain the differences and look into what those differences in flavour profile are a result of.

The creation of these hojicha’s is the outcome of a roasting experiment done by the Yunomi team. All of the hojicha’s produced use the same first flush Aracha (unrefined tea) from Kagoshima as their base. To start off their experiment, they firstvput 300g of tea leaves into the rotating drum. The light roast hojicha was extracted when the temperature of the drum reached 180℃ (356F) and the dark roast was extracted from the drum when the temperature of the drum reached 210℃ (410F) and as I am sure you can all tell the difference between the two just by looking at the image below, that there an is an unmistakable difference between the two but many more differences also occur between the two when it comes down to taste.

Hojicha No.1– is very lightly roasted and is probably too lightly roasted to be regular hojicha and would probably be referred to as Ao-Hojicha by most who know hojicha well, which translates into green hojicha and I think that is a much more fitting name as it would portray the leaves, aroma and taste pretty perfectly. What I will say is it is unlike any hojicha I’ve ever had before and while the roasted note was light it still made for a delicious cup and does well to combine the savoriness of a green tea with the roasted aroma and taste of a classic hojicha which is a great combination.

I believe this would be the perfect hojicha to sip on outside in the afternoon on a warm spring / early summer day which I love about it as it goes against the opinion of most tea lovers in the west that hojicha is primarily a tea reserved only for the autumn / fall as that is usually the season that works perfectly with it’s darker, toastier and roasted flavour profile to create a full immersive tea experience. I always love it when a tea can provide me with a new experience and this one did just that so it made a good impression on me.

Ian from Yunomi says that this tea could be good for people who feel green tea’s astringency is too strong for their body. As it has less astringent than normal green tea because it has been roasted. But green tea’s savoury flavour remains and I completely agree with him on that, so if you are working your way up to the more astringent umami strong green teas this would be a great place to begin.

Hojicha No.2 – As you can imagine with such a difference between their roasting times this hojicha was much deeper and darker in terms of its flavour. It had intense roasted notes to it, a hit of burnt caramel and the aroma of an autumn bonfire. I was slightly worried when I first opened the bag of this tea that I had because teas that have those slightly smoky burnt notes to them are not something I reach for, however, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone when it comes to hojicha. This I would say was much more on the savoury side compared to what I’m used to when it comes to hojicha and while it probably isn’t something I would reach for daily it still makes for an enjoyable cup.

You would speculate that for a tea that has such a dark and deep flavour profile you would see a decent amount of dryness in your mouth afterwards but luckily that was not the case at all. It was smooth and left a lingering slightly burnt wood note in the mouth that was most prominent on the roof of my mouth and my cheeks rather than the tongue.

Having tasted both the lighted roast and the darkest roast from this experiment I have to say that I enjoyed the lightest roast more because it just appeared to have much more to give in terms of its overall flavour profile. I feel like the medium level roast from this experiment would be what you would typically expect from hojicha as it hits a roasting level between the two in this post which I feel would bring a little more harmony overall to the cup. So with that in mind, I do think that I’ll purchase some to try in the future along with more of the lightest roast to enjoy during the spring and summer.

This was an interesting comparison tasting to do because what I learned from it was just how much a simple change like roasting temp and time could affect hojicha. I expected the roasting to affect the leaves but what I didn’t expect was just how drastically different they would end up being. You expect distinct things when it comes to hojicha like its rich sweet caramel notes, and its powerful aromatic aroma notes and the fact that neither of these teas really had those just goes to show how much of an art creating the hojicha we all know and love and how precise you have to be in terms of roasting times, temps and more.

Ian says in his post about this experiment that he imagines they would have seen better results in terms of getting those classic hojicha flavours and aroma notes if they had worked with leaves from a summer harvest rather than a first flush. This goes to show that while roasting time and temp are important factors when it comes to hojicha, the kind of tea leaves you use and how they are grown, farmed, processed and numerous other factors all contribute to the way that hojicha will taste.

He also says that he was told by the producer (Ogura-san, owner of Ogura tea garden) that helped him conduct his original experiment that ageing the hojicha could also help to make the taste of the darker on milder which I hadn’t considered and I do think that, that is an experiment I will have to conduct myself in the future and see just how much properly ageing hojicha for a decent amount of time could end up effecting its overall flavour profile.

I had such a fantastic time conducting this comparison tasting and I do feel like I’ve learnt a lot about Hoijcha in doing so. I will be doing more of these comparison tastings in the future here on my blog, as not only do I thoroughly enjoy putting them together but with each one I write I also end up gaining new knowledge about teas I thought I already and I hope they do the same for those of you reading this as well. If you are yet to try doing a comparison tasting yourself I highly recommend doing one as it will teach you so many new things in the process.

Should you want to do a comparison tasting with the two Hojichas featured in this post, you can purchase them here, on the Yunomi website. Remember to use the code start 20 to get 20% off your order. Should you want to see more of my work or just to talk tea with me the best places to follow me are Instagram & Tik Tok (Both are @kimberleyskyusu) as they are where I post the most outside of my blog.

Until next time, Happy Steeping – Kimberley

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