Like its superstar cousin matcha, hojicha is a traditional Japanese green drinking tea that lends intense flavour and colour when used in desserts.
But that’s more or less where the similarities end. Where matcha is bright green and clean-flavoured, hojicha is dark brown, earthy, nutty and even smoky.
Its flavour profile and characteristic hue, ranging from dark brown to grey depending on the sweet application, stem from roasting. “Technically it’s from the same plant as all tea, [camellia sinensis],” explains Stephanie Wee of Perth’s Little Matcha Girl. “But the tendency for farmers is to use the lower, coarser part of the leaf.” After being steamed, rolled and dried, the leaves are roasted at high heat over charcoal.
Another upshot of the roasting process? It’s low in caffeine. “In Japan, it’s typically served with or at the end of a meal.”
Wee’s patisserie-meets-tea shop is one of a growing number of sweet vendors in Australia using the sultry variety in its desserts, from hojicha-butter popcorn to hojicha eclairs. “We get it in powdered form (still 100 per cent tea leaves) for easier incorporation, especially into glazes and mousses, however, it can also be steeped,” says Wee.
In Sydney cake king Black Star’s Christopher The’s newest creation, Japanese Forest Cake, earth-like layers of sponge are tinted with hojicha:
While at Melbourne’s LuxBite, flaky croissants are filled with hojicha-infused cream:
Globally, hojicha has been trending for a while now across Asia. Search #hojicha on Instagram and almost every second post is the epic hojicha kakigori (shaved ice) at Bangkok’s After You Dessert Café.
In Singapore, Starbucks’ has jumped on with a hojicha, you guessed it, frappuccino.
And what would a flavour on the ascent be without its own soft serve? Seen from LA to SF, Toronto and Sydney.
My first experience with hojicha was in New York researching my new book, The Desserts Of New York. First, at Burrow, a Japanese-French patisserie, where a mix of powdered and coarsely ground leaves had been stirred through sablé. Revelatory. Then, at Cha-An Teahouse, where hojicha appeared in both ice cream and a traditional anmitsu jelly.
If you’ve never been big into matcha – or you love it – hojicha could be your guy; it’s been a game-changer for me.
In this column, Dessert Date, I scour bakeries, patisseries and dessert joints from around the world for the hottest sweet trends, up-and-coming ingredients and game-changing pastry techniques.