Hojicha, a roasted green tea traditional in Japan, is booming in Japan as an aromatic ingredient for varieties of food and drinks.

It is brown in colour and has a pleasant roast aroma. It is a relatively low-grade tea compared with other green tea, such as matcha, gyokuro, or sencha. Japanese people generally drink it without milk or sugar.

It has become popular in Japan following the discovery that it is good with milk flavours. Starbucks Japan was one of the first to introduce a hojicha latte drink – although this has been a niche product on its menu.

In October 2016, Japan’s major tea maker Ito En launched a ready-to-drink hojicha latte under its Teas’ Tea brand. Teas’ Tea was previously a black tea, and hojicha was a new addition to the brand line-up. For its promotion, It En focused on the blend of hojicha and milk offering a ‘new flavour experience’ at the same time as offering a familiar and nostalgic flavour. The drink was very well received from the start, selling over 10 million bottles within a half year of the launch, according to Ito En.

Following Ito En, Haagen-Dazs Japan also launched its Hojicha Latte Ice Cream in April 2017, which sold out within a month of the launch. Then hojicha began to be used a wide range of products, including cakes, sweet pastry, and confectionery. Now hojicha latte is a trending drink at major convenience store chains, including Lawson, Family Mart, while many cafe chains, such as Doutor, offer their own hojicha latte.

The versatility of hojicha flavour is one of the main reasons for the hojicha boom, but the healthy image of hojicha has also contributed to its popularity. Hojicha contains lower caffeine than coffee and green tea; 20mg per 100ml, compared to coffee’s 60mg and green tea’s 30mg per 100ml. But it contains the same amount of catechin (an antioxidant) as green tea, as well as pyrazine – which helps to promote blood circulation and provides a relaxing effect.  These benefits convey a healthy image, and consumers enjoy consuming hojicha any time of the day without worrying about caffeine intake.

More interestingly, in late 2017, hojicha has tapped into savoury food categories too. Nissin Food released an instant noodles with soup made with hojicha. Convenience chain Lawson launched hojicha in ready meals in collaboration with Ito En.

In 2018, Japan will see a hojicha boom with more and more hojicha product launches – it is reminiscent of when matcha became suddenly used in many products after the emergence of matcha sweets in the late 90s.

Today matcha is known globally as a popular Japanese flavour. Hojicha is a cheaper ingredient than matcha, which can be more profitable for manufacturers.  With the rise of social media, the hojicha boom in Japan may quickly spread internationally and hojicha could overtake matcha in the near future.