|What is it?
What began as a
way to stretch the precious tea by adding some rice as filler, has become one of
the most popular teas in Japan as well as a favorite around the world.
usually made from bancha green tea and roasted or puffed rice grains. The
resulting flavor is partially green, but mainly the roasted component of the
rice comes through.
Sometimes a higher grade of sencha is used and one can
also find genmaimatcha. This is genmaicha with some matcha powdered green tea
added which give the leaves and the rice grains a uniform appearance.
I went back to
visit our supplier of Genmaicha last spring when the tea was being picked. They
mainly focus on Sencha and won "Best Sencha of Japan" several years ago. This
highly prestigious award is treasured and displayed in their small shop. I was
pleased to also see an empty package of In Pursuit of Tea Genmaicha framed and
displayed also. We are their only export customer and are honored to carry their
When the leaves
are ready to be picked the growers have to move fast to get the leaves
processed. They have to pick the leaves before they get too large and the taste
changes. This means that the largest labor pool available is assembled - the
mothers and grandmothers of the village. They are all plucking the leaves and
gossiping about their children. They are amused to see someone from New York
watching them and taking their photos.
factory was so clean and orderly that you could have eaten off the floor! While
not brand new, all the machines showed that they were well maintained and taken
Genmaicha is a distinct green tea composed of sencha
tea leaves and whole grains of roasted brown rice. Many people, when
they first see the tea, are surprised at the fluffy pieces of what
appears to be popcorn among the brown kernels and green, pine
needle-like tea leaves. Try to resist the temptation to eat these
popped pieces of rice that are part of the charm of genmaicha.
According to ancient Japanese legend, during the 15th century, a
servant named Genmai was serving his master, a samurai warrior, some
tea when a few grains of rice accidentally fell out of his pocket and
into the pot. The warrior was so infuriated that his servant had
"ruined" a perfectly good cup of tea that he chopped off his head. He
decided to drink the cup of tea anyway, and discovered that he enjoyed
the distinct flavor of the tea and rice infusion. In honor of his poor
servant, he insisted that this combination of tea and rice be served
every morning and named it genmaicha ("cha" means tea in Japanese).
Another story claims that genmaicha was a way for frugal
Japanese housewives to stretch their tea with the addition of rice to
get the most out of their precious tea leaves. Whether its origin was
accidental or practical, genmaicha is a delicious beverage that is
enjoyed throughout Japan.
The fresh, vegetal character of the green tea is balanced with
the toasted, nutty flavor of the rice. This tea is naturally sweet and
refreshing. During the firing of the rice, it is not uncommon for the
rice grains to pop not unlike popcorn, which is why it is often
referred to as "popcorn tea." This tea produces a light brownish yellow
liquor. Nowadays, genmaicha is a very popular beverage in Japan because
of its affordability and distinctive flavor. It is known to cleanse the
palate and enhance the flavor of fine food. It is lower in caffeine
than other green teas, making it a beverage for anyone at any time of
Begin with good tasting water. We use water that is between 180
and 190 F. Some sources recommend using water at a boiling temperature.
While this is unusually high for a green tea, supposedly the hot water
is necessary to bring out the toasty flavor of the rice. Other sources
recommend using water just below boiling, as you would with other green
teas. We decided to try both and discovered it is really dependant on
your personal tastes. The rice flavor was much stronger at a higher
temperature, so if you prefer a more subtle taste, we recommend the
lower steeping temperature.