A Japanese green tea, cha is made from tea leaves that are roasted over charcoals. The green tea leaves are rendered a dark rich brown when the roasting process is complete. Also called hoji cha tea or hojicha, the tea made from these leaves has a lower caffeine and tannin content due to the roasting process, making it a popular choice over other teas. Though in reality a green tea, cha has a rich brown hue.
What distinguishes cha tea from other traditional Japanese teas is the process in which all the moisture is removed from the leaves. Other teas have their leaves slowly dried, while the leaves for cha tea are roasted at very high temperatures over charcoals. The roasting process dramatically changes not only the flavor, but also creates a brown-colored leaf.
Cha tea has a nutty flavor that tends toward a mesquite influence. The nutty, toasted flavor of the roasted leaves is what makes them a popular choice for tea lovers. The tea is a mild-bodied tea, with an aroma strength that largely matches its taste. The reason for its lower level of caffeine, which is sought by many, is that it has a large quantity of stems roasted along with the leaves.
Though it can be served cool, but not cold, it is most commonly served hot. Cha tea is presented at the conclusion of a traditional Japanese meal. With its low caffeine content and light taste, it is the most commonly chosen tea to be served after the evening meal. For these reasons, cha tea is often the first tea experience of Japanese children.
The process of creating cha tea first began when Japanese farmers found that the late summer-blooming older bancha leaves were not producing a tea favored by many. The large leaves created a less refined flavor in the tea when steeped, which left many tea drinkers displeased. Due to the lack of land for cultivation, the farmers found they needed to create a use for the bancha tea leaves and twigs or risk losing needed revenue. After roasting them, the bancha leaves' nutty flavor and unique caramel taste proved to be quite popular. Though first made from the cheapest of tea leaves, today many varieties of leaves are used to create different essences of cha.