By Miho Saeki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterBeverages, sweets and other products flavored with hojicha, or Japanese roasted green tea, have become a common sight in stores these days.
Hojicha's mild flavor and aroma have brought new popularity to existing products. Increasing health consciousness among consumers has also fueled the trend.
The market for hojicha has been growing in recent years. According to market research firm Intage Inc., sales of hojicha beverages in 2016 totaled about ¥14 billion, a 30 percent increase from 2012. That trend has continued into 2017, with consistently high sales that totaled about ¥10.1 billion from January to September.
Hojicha’s share of the entire market for sugar-free tea products in Japan is 3.5 percent. This is lower than the 53 percent for sencha green tea, 19.1 percent for blended-leaf tea and 9.4 percent for mugicha barley tea, but hojicha’s figure has been steadily rising.
Many pregnant women and women with young children enjoy the beverage, as it’s thought to be gentle on the stomach and easy to drink.
According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s 2015 edition of the Standard Tables of Food Composition in Japan, hojicha contains only 20 milligrams of caffeine per 100 gram serving, lower than black tea at 30 milligrams and coffee at 60 milligrams.
Though hojicha is made from the same leaves as sencha and bancha green tea, leaves for hojicha are roasted at a higher temperature, reducing the relative caffeine content. This also accounts for hojicha’s unique aroma.
Flood of new products
Major food and beverage companies have released a number of hojicha-flavored products.
On Oct. 31, Haagen-Dazs Japan Inc. re-released its Mini Cup Hojicha Latte ice cream for a limited period. One 110-milliliter container costs ¥294 including tax.
The ice cream was first released in April, but the company had to end its sales about two months ahead of schedule due to greater-than-expected demand. Haagen-Dazs Japan said consumers had been calling for the product to return.
Late last month, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. introduced Kuri to Hojicha no Wapafe, a dessert combining hojicha-flavored mousse with brown sugar kanten jelly that’s topped with shiratama rice dumplings and chestnut. The product, which mixes Western and Japanese flavors, costs ¥298.
Lawson Inc. and FamilyMart Co. also released hojicha-flavored sweets for a limited time only this autumn, which captivated sweet-toothed consumers.
Lawson currently offers Machi cafe hojicha latte (¥210), made using tea leaf stems in addition to the leaves so that the roasted aroma of the tea is emphasized.
A Seven-Eleven spokesperson said, "Because the hojicha boom is continuing, we’re doing everything we can to ensure hojicha flavored products are stocked in our shops."
The popularity of hojicha tea drinks has also been strong. The total sales volume last year for Ito En Ltd.’s Oi Ocha Hojicha, both hot and cold varieties, increased 71 percent from five years before. The company’s suggested retail price for a 525-milliliter bottle is ¥151.
Asahi Group Foods Ltd. sells a powder tea product called Gyunyu-ya san no Hojicha Miruku Tea (Milkman’s hojicha-flavored milk tea) under the Wakodo brand. Asahi recommends a price of ¥486 for a 200-gram packet. Instant powder teas dissolve easily in both hot and cold water. Consumers can also adjust the strength of the flavor as they prefer.
An increasing number of cafes, such as Starbucks, have also introduced hojicha tea at their bigger branches recently, as consumers re-embrace the simple yet deep flavors of roasted Japanese green tea.
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