Houjicha, my beloved. I have been craving this for months.
I had a number of places scoped out to order houjicha from, but of course, I can’t order just houjicha. I mean, I could, but the baseline shipping costs make it feel… not really worth it unless I am ordering several pounds. But several places that offer free shipping with an order minimum have suspended that (a relatively minor, if still somewhat disruptive side effect of living in interesting times). After going back and forth between a few places and waiting longer than I would like to see if the shipping situation changed, someone directed me to Obubu. Not specifically for Houjicha, though I was pleasantly surprised to see the selection, but because I was asking around looking for sencha-specific ‘tea of the month’-type clubs. While their membership program is less an ‘of the month’ club and more like a harvest-based farmshare program, truthfully that’s really a lot closer to what I’m looking for, and makes a lot more sense for sencha specifically. I’m…very intrigued, but figured I should try their tea out first. So despite shipping equating to nearly $20 usd, the most I’ve ever probably paid to have anything shipped in the last 15 years, I put in an order for their 18-serving sampler pack, 80g of basic-roast houjicha, and a futanashi kyusu. Not that I really need another kyusu, but I’ve never had a lidless kyusu before, and it was so darn affordable (cheaper than the shipping, certainly).
Everything finally arrived the other day, and I was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an extensive sampler before. As I was trying to figure out what to try first, I noticed the bottom seam of the dark roast houjicha packet was starting to come undone and a few leaves were escaping. At least that made my choice easy.
In smelling the dry leaves, the first thing I notice past the obvious toasty notes is a faint sweetness. When wet, the first thing that comes to mind is “mushrooms.” Quite different things, there. The liquor itself is… good, but nuance beyond that comforting toastiness I have been craving for so long is eluding me. The first cup I may have understeeped though, I forget this isn’t nearly as delicate as typical sencha. Further steepings seem to bring out a deeper sweetness underneath increasing earthiness, with just a touch of that chewing-on-a-pencil wooden-astringency, but the dominant flavor is definitely that toastiness.
It pretty much hits on what I like about houjicha. Something about the toasted flavor just deactivates my fight-or-flight response and makes me feel cozy and safe. Yet the analytical side of me can’t help but wonder if tea is affected by roasting in a similar way that coffee is, wherein the more it is roasted, the more it just starts to taste like … roastedness, losing any other nuances. In truth, I should have tried the basic roast at least once first to have a baseline to compare this to, but oh well. When I was initially browsing the store page, I was pretty intrigued by the concept of a Dark Roast houjicha, so I’m glad I got to try it.
This kyusu, by the way, is also quite nice. The pour seems better than my other kyusus (which, to be fair, are also inexpensive mass-produced pots), and I am really enjoying the soft, rounded shape. The spout is also wide enough to easily fit a bottle brush and I feel like I can actually see all around the inside, so it should be easy to keep clean. It’s larger than I need, but nothing stops me from filling it only partway, and I prefer that to the recurring problem I seem to have of overfilling my smaller kyusus and making a mess trying to pour them, hah. I think I’ll stick to using this one for a while.