I am so pleased that Bohea Teas sent me a small selection of teas that I’m not familiar with as it gives me something new to try. This posts tea is another one I’m not particularly experienced with – Houjicha.
Houjicha is a Japanese green tea that looks not so green as it is actually roasted which is very unlike most Japanese green teas which are mostly steamed to fix the leaves. This style came about in Kyoto in the 1920s when merchants started to roast bancha (common tea as opposed to sencha which is a higher grade of leaf) in porcelain pots over coals to make it more attractive to tourists to try. There is also a variety of Houjicha made from twigs of the camellia sinensis rather than the leaves. Due to the high roasting process, the tea reduces the level of caffeine as well as looses some catechins which is an antioxidant found in green tea. We did try Houjicha at the Tea Sommelier course, though because we were trying so many other teas, I don’t distinctly remember it like I did others.
The dried leaves are a beautiful range of shades of brown with flecks of green & sandy colours in there. Its a mix of sizes, the leaves are broken, not to dust but nice small pieces. There are also some long pieces as well, I think will be some central parts of the leaves & possibly even some stems. Now whilst many people say that there is no value to the stems being the dried leaves, others do say that is adds some flavour and can give complexity to the tea. I don’t know enough to have an opinion on the technicality to it, however I have to say that I do like the look in some dried leaves when there is a bit of variety. You can definitely tell the roasted flavours coming through as the leaves have an interesting smell, it has the hint of the seaweed flavours you get it many japanese green teas but this has an overlay of nuttiness and damp wood . It almost makes me imagine of slightly damp wood toasting freshly caught fish on a beach. Its a bright fresh day but theres definitely a bit of a chill in the air, but the wood and sea water are combining to an unusual but distinct smell.
I boiled the water to just over 90 and added a small amount of the leaves to the water to let it infuse for a minute. The wet leaves have darkened to an almost black brown, but the greens are now shining, standing out.The smaller leaves have slightly mushed together with the larger pieces sticking out here and there. This is so much like walks on the beach when I go back to my parents house, this time of year when the seaweed gets collected and its mostly blackish coloured but sometimes you see pockets of emerald and moss where there is a different type of seaweed collected in the pile. This smell is of damp nuts now, quite strong.
As I didn’t brew for very long, the colour is not a coppery bright, but a beautiful pale caramel peach. The nutty notes are very clear in the first smells of the liquor but it almost ends with a slight seaweed tone. I haven’t smelled or tasted roasted seaweed before, but this is what I imagine its like. Not unpleasant, just unusual. Normally with nutty flavours, you expect it to be sweet caramel but this almost has a savoury note to it. The taste of the tea is the same, the taste of toasted nuts, perhaps chestnuts covers your tongue with the notes of marine elements ending on the tip of your tongue. It has a really full mouth feel, making me crave steamed salmon & roasted potatoes.
I will be honest, this isn’t one of my top flavours, but its not unpleasant, I’m just not used to it. I think that this is right time of year to be drinking one with flavour like this, its got the complex more nutty flavours that are so popular in the colder months. I’m so glad to have tried it and it’s been fascinating reading more about it, its an innovative use of a less desirable product that producers made extremely popular. I know I’m not going to like every tea I try but I’m disappointed not to love it immediately. I think I enjoy traditional sencha style Japanese green tea too much to have something thats a not quite something different.
Have you tried Houjicha before? What do you think of it?