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Saturday, 1 June 2013

Konichiwa hojicha!

If you're a tea aficionado, you may have noticed something missing in Teaism's broad selection of teas: the Japanese varieties. Our toasted rice, roasted stems, and buckwheat infusion have been off the menu for almost two years. I'm excited to say that they're all back now, and so I've prepared a short tutorial for you on the different brews, using The New Tea Companion and Harney and Son's Guide to Tea, as well as my own tasting notes. 

Genmaicha: Broad, deep green sencha leaves mixed with toasted brown rice, some crunchy whole kernels and some popped like baby popcorn. The brewed tea has a pleasing aroma of roasted rice. “An eloquent unification of the two crops central to Japanese culture:  tea and rice. The light bodied tea is a blend of genmai, or unpolished brown rice, and cha, or tea,” (Harney & Sons, 65).

Genmaicha in the canister

Gyokuro: A lovely shade-grown tea, gyokuro is one of Japan’s most expensive, highest quality brews. It is grown, picked, and processed with the utmost care so that over-exposure to sunlight doesn’t damage its delicate character. This is where it differs from its cousin sencha okabe – gyokuro is grown in the shade, which forces the plant to produce extra chlorophyll, whereas sencha stays in the sun. The needle-like leaves give of gyokuro off a spinach and seaweed aroma, while the brewed tea produces a clear pale yellow infusion with a sweet, mild, and smooth flavor with soothing roasted notes.

Hojicha: toasted stems, stalks, and coarse leaves, from Japan. These by-products of the tea process can be consumed green, or roasted to create this blend, which was invented in 1920 by an enterprising tea merchant with an excess of old green tea which he did not want to waste. It is naturally low in caffeine and has a nutty flavor with notes of wood and a slightly caramel finish – the perfect tea to introduce the avid coffee drinker to the world of tea.

Hojicha in a teacup

Soba Cha: buckwheat infusion from Japan, with a malty, toasted grain flavor. This tisane is great hot or iced, and naturally caffeine free. A great alternative to the more fruity tisanes, the soba cha tastes more like a hojicha or kukicha. The toasted buckwheat berries can also be eaten on their own or used to top your favorite salad.

Soba cha in a tea ball brewer, inside a Miya bowl
<all photos by Julia Colton>

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