TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN) - Beverages, sweets and other products flavoured with hojicha, or Japanese roasted green tea, have become a common sight in stores these days.
Hojicha’s mild flavour and aroma have brought new popularity to existing products. Increasing health consciousness among consumers has also fuelled the trend.
The market for hojicha has been growing in recent years. According to market research firm Intage, sales of hojicha beverages in 2016 totaled about 14 billion yen (S$166 million), a 30 per cent increase from 2012. That trend has continued into 2017, with consistently high sales that totaled about 10.1 billion yen from January to September.
Hojicha’s share of the entire market for sugar-free tea products in Japan is 3.5 per cent. This is lower than the 53 per cent for sencha green tea, 19.1 per cent for blended-leaf tea and 9.4 per cent 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 is 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 20mg of caffeine a 100g serving, lower than black tea at 30mg and coffee at 60mg.
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-flavoured products.
On Oct 31, Haagen-Dazs Japan re-released its Mini Cup Hojicha Latte ice cream for a limited period. One 110ml container costs 294 yen 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 introduced Kuri to Hojicha no Wapafe, a dessert combining hojicha-flavored mousse with brown sugar kanten jelly that is topped with shiratama rice dumplings and chestnut. The product, which mixes Western and Japanese flavours, costs 298 yen.
Lawson and FamilyMart also released hojicha-flavoured sweets for a limited time only this autumn, which captivated sweet-toothed consumers.
Lawson offers Machi cafe hojicha latte (210 yen), made using tea leaf stems in addition to the leaves, so that the roasted aroma of the tea is emphasised.
A Seven-Eleven spokesman said, “Because the hojicha boom is continuing, we’re doing everything we can to ensure hojicha-flavoured 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’s Oi Ocha Hojicha, both hot and cold varieties, increased 71 per cent from five years before. The company’s suggested retail price for a 525ml bottle is 151 yen.
Asahi Group Foods sells a powder tea product called Gyunyu-ya san no Hojicha Miruku Tea (Milkman’s hojicha-flavoured milk tea) under the Wakodo brand. Asahi recommends a price of 486 yen for a 200g packet. Instant powder teas dissolve easily in both hot and cold water. Consumers can also adjust the strength of the flavour 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 flavours of roasted Japanese green tea.