Exploring Japan’s Roasted Teas-Houjicha, Kamairicha-Tamaryokucha and Ire Bancha

The southernmost island of Kyushu is one of three main tea-growing regions in
Japan.  Once known as the gateway from 
China or Korea into Japan, Kyushu
Island’s early history defined it as a cultural and artistic center with pottery mak-
ing and tea production at its core.
Tea gardens flourish in the north-
ern and southern regions of the
island, and to the south lies Kagoshima prefect-
ure, Japan’s second largest tea producing region.
The Bay of Kagoshima separates the city and
surrounding regions from the active volcano,
Sakurajima, which lies to the west of Kagoshima
City.
To the north of the city lies one of the world’s lar-
gest volcanoes, Aso-San, with a five peak caldera.
Also to the north lies Kirishima National Park where
visitors can hike
among the magnifi-
cent scenery and
breathtaking vistas.

Kagoshima’s climate

is near perfect for abundant tea growth, with warm air mixed to-
gether with cool breezes from the bay.
There are 15 tea-growing regions in Kagoshima, among them to
the north, Kumamoto and Miyazaki prefectures, and just beyond
a bit farther north, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures which pro-
duce the roasted green tea, Kamairicha or Tamaryokucha, and
where bancha is grown, used to make the roasted

Japanese
green tea, Houjicha.
Roasted teas bypass the traditional steam-
ing process and instead are pan-fired, then
hand- rolled in large metal pans or woks
over a charcoal fire or other heat source, in
a style similar to

China’s pan-fired green
teas.
Because Hojicha is fired at a higher temper-
ature, and receives a lengthier oxidaton, the
leaves turn a dark reddish-brown, rather
than the bright emerald green leaves of
most

Japanese steamed green teas.  The
infusion is also a reddish brown color.
Roasting also reduces the astringency found
in most Japanese green teas.  Tannins are
plant polyphenols from a group called catechins and
are the compounds responsible for tea’s astringency.

The length and amount of oxi-
dation the tea leaves receive determines how astringent the tea will be.
Most

green teas receive little to no oxidation which is why they are more
astringent than black or 
oolong teas which are oxidized from 12 to 100%.
Because Hojicha is roasted, with a lengthier oxidation it converts the
catechins into compounds called theaflavins and thearubigins.  The longer
the tea is oxidized, the more theaflavins and thearubigins it forms, which
are responsible for the darker color of both the dried tea and the infusion.

Along with reducing the astringency and giving the tea a milder,
sweet, toasty and nutty flavor, it also greatly reduces the

caffeine
and antioxidants.  Both theaflavins and thearubigins contribute to
the rustyred color, indicating a higher level of oxidation.
Houjicha was the innovative idea of an entrepreneurial merchant in
the 920’s who began to roast

tea twigs, selling them in Kyoto and
turning a profit from something that until then had been thought of as waste.
This creative tea is made almost entirely from the leafless stalks that
come off with the leaves during mechanical tea harvesting.  Hojicha is
made from the bancha harvest which is mechanically picked three times a
year, 15 to 20 days after each

sencha harvest, providing plenty of twigs
for making Hojicha tea.
Hojicha can be made from either bancha stalks or from sencha and
kukicha tea, made from the stalks and twigs of the plant, the same as for
bancha.  There are two different varieties of Hojicha, either green or
roasted.

The roasted variety is often set out and brewed in Japanese food
stores to lure buyers in with the fragrant roasted aromas likened to
coffee.  Hojicha is so similar to coffee, in fact, that it would make the
perfect cup to introduce your favorite holdout to tea.

Hojicha has a mild, toasty flavor that pairs well with most foods,
especially fatty fried foods, and makes a great after dinner tea.  Even though it’s a green tea,
roasting eliminates all the vegetal flavor, as well as drastically reducing the caffeine.

Because it’s so low in caffeine it makes a nice sipping tea for evening or before bed.  It’s mild-
ness and minimal caffeine also makes it a great tea for children and the elderly.

Also from Miyazaki, Saga, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki prefectures in Kyushu comes another roasted tea, Kamairicha or
Tamaryokucha tea.  Kamairicha is also pan-fired and hand rolled in the Chinese style of manufacture, sometimes even
called “
Chinese green tea.”

After a short withering, Kamairicha is fired in hot pans at up to 300C with continual
motion so as not to char.  The result is a sweet, mildly roasted tea very similar to
China’s pan-fired green teas.

Several southern regions are well-known for manufacturing top quality Kamairicha
including Sechibaru and Ureshino prefectures.

Another version of Kamairicha is called Tamaryokucha, which translates to “ball green
tea.”  A special rolling technique is used during pan-firing, rolling the tea into loose
balls.

Ire bancha is also roasted, with a delicious, smoky flavor.  It is made in an unusual manner with flat tea leaves that
are roasted flat and open.  It’s light but bulky, and when brewed a fairly large amount of leaf is added to a pot of
boiling water.

Ire bancha is a simple tea, with the light, mellow toasty flavors of roasting, and like Hojicha and Kamairicha makes for
an excellent tea to just slowly sip and Enjoy.