Sencha vs Hojicha - What's the difference?

What’s the difference between sencha and Hojicha? Sencha and hojicha are both very popular teas, but they taste very different. In this article, we’re going to cover the two teas and see what they have in common. We’ll also learn how one subtle difference in the production process can lead to two completely different flavor profiles.

First, let’s start with Sencha. Sencha is the most common type of green tea in Japan, making up approximately 70% of the total tea market. While sencha is a broad category, it generally refers to tea leaves that have been steamed and rolled to form these tightly rolled needle shapes. Sencha is not quite as tightly rolled as gyokuro, but it is more tightly rolled compared to a tea like Tamaryokucha for example. 

During the steaming process, the enzymes in the tea that cause oxidation are broken down and the tea locks in these more grassy notes. These grassy or vegetable notes come from the presence of the polyphenols in the tea leaves. If the tea leaves were not heated directly after harvest, they would begin to oxidize naturally and the polyphenols would be converted into Theaflavins. That’s why black teas have less of this grassy or steamed vegetable flavor. 

The caffeine content of sencha is on the higher side, making this a good tea to enjoy in the morning. The amount of caffeine can vary slightly depending on how the tea is shaded and also what cultivar it comes from. Shaded senchas will be higher in caffeine, while unshaded senchas will be lower in caffeine. Most sencha teas will have between 40-60mg of caffeine per cup. This is only slightly lower than a small cup of coffee, which can have between 80-120mg of caffeine per cup. Even though this tea has a significant amount of caffeine, you won’t feel quite as jittery when you drink it. That’s because of the l-theanine, and amino acid that can slow the absorption of caffeine. You should notice a much more of a calm alert sensation when you drink green tea in the morning instead of coffee.

Hojicha goes through a similar production process compared to sencha except once the leaves have been dried, they are then roasted at a high heat. This can be done in a rolling machine, or in a large pan where it is turned automatically. In this large pan, the farmer makes both hojicha (fully roasted tea) and Kamairicha (partially roasted tea). The difference here is that the hojicha is roasted with the lid on, allowing it to be heated at a higher temperature for a longer time. This high temperature starts to break down the polyphenols of the leaf, giving it less of these grassy notes. The partially roasted kamairicha actually retains some of it its grassy notes, making it taste somewhere in between a sencha and a hojicha. The high heat of the hojicha roasting process, really cooks out the polyphenols almost completely, and therefore the Hojicha has very little of these grassy or steamed vegetable flavors the sencha once had. Instead, it takes on these more roasted notes of caramel, chocolate and coffee. 

Drinking hojicha in the late afternoon or evening can be a very relaxing part of your daily routine. The tea is quite low in caffeine, with only around 7-40mg of caffeine per cup. The roasted notes of the tea are very calming, and can be a great way to unwind after a long day. 

Now that we’ve explained a bit about both of these teas, let’s discuss the differences in a little more detail. First, let’s start with the flavor of the tea. The flavor notes in sencha have been compared to edamame, sweet corn, baby spinach and even a hint of seaweed. The emphasis is on these green, but slightly sweet flavor profiles. With hojicha, you may notice notes of roasted nuts, chocolate, caramel and even a hint of coffee. The coffee note is often not as pronounced, but it can come out with darker Roasted Hojicha Teas like the Kuki Hojicha. 

Both of the teas are prepared the same way, but with different temperatures. You can use 5 grams of leaves in a teapot and pour in 150ml of water too steep the tea for 1 minute. For sencha, you can use 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit water and for hojicha you can use 160-175 degree Fahrenheit water. The reason sencha is prepared at a lower temperature is because hotter water extracts more of the bitter components from the tea. During the roasting process, a lot of these bitter components have been reduced and therefore it is able to stand up to higher temperatures. With a temperature around 160-175 you should be able to extract this nice roasted flavor from the tea.

Both teas also work exceptionally well as a cold brew. The sencha takes on more of these sweet and fruity notes and the hojicha takes on more of the chocolate and caramel notes. To prepare each tea as a cold brew, just use 5 grams of leaves, 500ml of room temperature water and let the tea sit overnight. In the morning you should have a nice refreshing cup of cold brewed tea.

The last difference comes down to the price of the tea. Hojicha will almost always be cheaper than sencha, because it tends to be made from older tea leaves and stems, whereas premium sencha is made from the top sprouts of the tea plant. The top sprouts are the highest in nutrients and therefore they are the most desirable. Because leaves used for Hojicha are roasted, they don’t need to be made from the sprouts, they can be made from the older leaves and stems of the tea plant. This brings the price of the hojicha down, and the stems actually roast differently than the leaves, giving the tea more complexity in its roasted flavor.

So there you have it, sencha vs. hojicha. Both of these teas are great to drink, but depending on the time of day and what you’re in the mood for flavor wise, they can have separate advantages and disadvantages.