Genmaicha: "Pop-rice Tea"
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 the day.
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.