Perhaps, I thought, it's the roasted aroma that blends well with the milk, at least for my palate. I love roasted oolongs, but the thought of adding milk to them did not seem at all appealing. This brought me to the idea of adding milk to hojicha, which is one of my favorite teas. I decided to use Upton Tea Imports TJ41, Organic Ho-Ji Cha Kamakura:
I picked this tea because it had the darkest roast of any of the hojicha I had on hand--this was important to me as I was seeking a tea which had a coffee-like aroma). The results were good, but a bit on the bland side...hojicha is already a gentle tea, and adding milk took it too far in this direction; I then had the idea of adding spices to create "hojichai", which I admit appealed to be in large part because of its terribly gimmicky name. After some experimentation I settled upon the following process, which is somewhat different from how I would normally make a spiced tea from black tea.
Recipe for Hojichai:
This spice combination, as well as the ratios and process, might strike you as a bit odd, but I found it worked well for this tea. Part of the strangeness of this recipe is due to my own personal tastes (I'm not a big cinnamon person), but part of it is due to the fact that hojicha has a very different character from black tea. Here's what I came up with:
- Two teapsoons of loose hojicha per cup
- Three pods of green cardamom per cup
- Three thin (~1mm) slices of fresh ginger per cup
- A dash of powdered allspice
- No sweetener -- I would recommend honey if you wish to sweeten it though.
I brewed the tea for 3 minutes; I used a little bit less than one cup for each final cup, leaving room for milk. After brewing I removed the tea leaves and kept the tea warm over water (not boiling) with the spices for about 5 more (or to taste--longer = stronger spice flavor). Then I took it off the heat and added milk (about 1/10th of the cup) at the end. I tend to avoid heating milk, although it is fine as long as you don't let the water get too close to boiling. You can then remove the spices if you want.
People experienced in making chai will realize that this recipe calls for a very large quantity of ginger. This is to add "kick". Normally, masala chai is made from a fairly strong black tea. Hojicha may have a rich, full roasted aroma, but its flavor is extremely smooth and mellow. I occasionally add ginger to masala chai, but in this case I found it to be mandatory. When I tried making the tea without ginger, it smelled nice but the flavor was lacking something. Three slices of ginger added just the right amount of bite.
What is this "Hojichai" like?
In some ways it's like any kind of masala chai, but in other ways it's very different. The strong roasted aroma of the tea I find that because of the mellowness of the hojicha base, the aroma of the spices comes out more. I also find that, although the final tea I settled on was strongly aromatic and flavorful, it was considerably gentler on the stomach not only compared to straight tea, but also compared to Masala chai. Hojicha tends to be lower on caffeine and I found this blend did not feel particularly caffeinated to me...but also, the ginger I think settles the stomach. I felt very mellow and settled after drinking this tea.
If you like hojicha, and you like masala chai (and perhaps even if you don't), I'd recommend making some of your own hojichai--and if you do, please let me know how it turns out and what recipes you come up with!