Ho-gee-cha. Did I say it right? My Japanese friends politely nod yes, but I'm pretty sure I hung on the gee a little too long. My first taste of hojicha, or toasted green tea, was in a latte and a brownie at Behind the Museum Café in Portland. Every form of the toasted tea was delicious, the aroma was deep smoky and caramel-like, the taste nutty, smoky and a bit sweet.
Hojicha is relatively new in the tea world. It was created in Kyoto, Japan, in the 1920s after the invention of machine trimming of tea leaves. The mechanical harvesting process created leftover green tea stems, leaves and stalks. An industrious tea merchant who didn't want to throw anything away toasted the remains in a porcelain pot over charcoal, and hojicha was born.
A tea for coffee lovers
The smell of roasting hojicha is very similar to coffee, so Japanese merchants roasted the tea in their shop to entice people off the street with the intoxicating aroma. The roasting process turns the tea a rich brown hue and removes the bitterness and a majority of caffeine. Hojicha starts with less caffeine anyway, because most of the caffeine is found in the tea leaves, not the stalks. Hojicha is a common full-bodied afternoon and evening tea. Like the scent, the flavor is reminiscent of freshly roasted coffee, so hojicha is an excellent tea for coffee lovers. Find hojicha as loose leaf tea, in tea bags or ground into a fine powder (think matcha but roasted).
Matcha, matcha, matcha...
I imagine hojicha whining because its older sibling gets all the attention. Matcha everything has been popular in Japan for a long time and it has a solid foothold in the U.S. Because hojicha can be used in the same way as matcha, I started looking for it, mostly because I had a craving. I asked at coffee shops with no luck. At Savory Spice Shop I ran into owner Matthew Perry who told me of a recent trip to Japan with his family. I asked him if he tried any hojicha. He hadn't heard of it. I couldn't find hojicha anywhere in town.
Can we please make hojicha a thing?
To understand why I want this so badly you need to taste hojicha. I've tried all sorts of hojicha products and so far these are my favorite: Maeda-En hojicha tea bags (online or Uwajimaya in Portland), Aquafarm hojicha latte mix (online or at Behind the Museum Cafe in Portland) and Sei Mee Tea hojicha powder (online). The hojicha powder is fantastic to bake with. I tried it in ice cream and white chocolate chip cookies. I shared the cookies with my partner and some friends and they were a huge hit. I had to make two batches in one weekend to satisfy demand.
I still have a lot of hojicha baking to try, but here are a few recipes I think hojicha would be perfect in: macarons, tiramisu, cheesecake, doughnuts, overnight oats, truffles and tarts. A real treat would be to walk into Sparrow Bakery, Foxtail Bakeshop or Too Sweet Cakes and find hojicha patisserie. A girl can dream!
White Chocolate Hojicha Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp hojicha powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/2 - 1 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325°. Grease or line baking sheets. Sift flour, hojicha powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl beat brown and white sugar and melted butter until blended. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until creamy. Add flour mixture and stir until just blended. Fold in white chocolate chips. Drop a tablespoon of cookie dough onto the baking sheet, placing cookies 2 inches apart. Bake 8 to 10 minutes.