“Hojicha” refers to any type of Japanese tea that has been roasted. Most people don’t know that sencha and bancha are the raw materials for making hojicha. Typically, lower grade sencha leaves are roasted over high heat, turning them into hojicha. “Bancha” refers to a green tea that has been harvested late; it is made of older leaves and stems that cannot be used to produce sencha. When roasted over high heat, bancha also becomes hojicha. In both cases the roasting process lends the leaves a rich aroma and warming taste.
Hojichas of all variety have been an easy and inexpensive tea for Japanese people to drink at home for centuries and remain well-loved daily drinkers.
There is a significant difference between hojicha and bocha that we must explain. Whereas “hojicha” indicates that late harvest stems and leaves have been used, “bocha” refers to the stems from first harvest tea leaves.
First harvest tea leaves are hand picked, one-bud-two-leaf, at the beginning of Spring. The buds and leaves (and sometimes some tender stems) are steamed, kneaded and dried to be made into tea. During the kneading process, the leaves and the stems are separated. The leaves are used to make the finest grade sencha and gyokuro, and these young stems are what is used to make bocha!
Maruhachi Tea Factory
Maruhachi Tea Factory was founded in Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture in 1863. This tea factory has been making the finest roasted teas for six generations, from the Edo Period to the present day. They have maintained their reputation by focusing on the quality and parts of the tea tree used, the consistent blending of the tea stems, and their refined method for roasting them.
Between the Edo Period and the Showa Period, tea trees were cultivated in what is now Kaga City of Ishikawa Prefecture. Tea production was quite large at the time, with many teas from Kaga being exported to the US. At this scale of production, tea leaves were harvested by machine, a process by which stems are mixed in with the tea leaves. After machine harvest, the leaves are separated and used to make sencha, gyokuro and matcha. It came to be that the left over stems would be roasted and enjoyed by the local people of Kaga: this is the origin of “stem tea,” or bocha.
In 1983 Emperor Showa visited Ishikawa Prefecture and requested that the best quality Kaga Bocha be delivered to his hotel. The task of producing the best quality kaga bocha was assigned to the Maruhachi Tea Factory. First harvest stems from Kagoshima were used as the raw material, and a slow roasting process with ceramic heaters was devised to mimic the traditional sand roasting process. The end result, “Kenjo Kaga Boucha,” was greatly enjoyed by Emperor Showa, so much so that he brought it back to Tokyo with him.
“Kenjo” literally means “presented to the Emperor,” and since this Kaga Bocha was crafted for Emperor Showa it has become a widely known and representative tea of Ishikawa Prefecture. To this day, only Maruhachi Tea Factory produces the esteemed “Kenjo Kaga Boucha.”