Strange Brew... Genmaicha

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Carolyn L.H. Furr
Jan. 2, 2018

Is that popcorn in my tea?

If you've had genmaicha, you get it... it's amazing. But first-timers are often puzzled by this peculiar tea, I know I was. After years of turning my nose up at genmaicha I finally gave in, and I loved it. The distinct contrast between the verdant green tea and the warmth of the toasted brown rice make for a smooth, comforting blend. So how did this unlikely duo hook up?

Genmai Cha literally translates to Brown Rice Tea, yet it is often known by one of its pseudonyms, People’s Tea or Popcorn Tea. These aliases give a clue into what genmaicha is and how it came about.

People’s Tea. Genmaicha was born out of necessity for Japanese folks living on a meager salary. Adding rice to the tea was a way to add substance, especially if meals were few and far between. Because tea was expensive the addition of rice would also extend the life of a pot of tea on a budget. Not only was it a brilliant idea for fiscal reasons but a new beverage was created that would be celebrated for generations to come. Power to the people('s)!

Popcorn Tea. The brown rice in genmaicha is toasted to give it that savory nutty flavor we all love so much. But during the process of toasting the rice, some grains will inadvertently pop like a kernel of corn. Once the tea leaves and rice are blended it looks like tiny pieces of popcorn are doing the backstroke in your bancha.

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Do you like variety? I do.

Traditional Genmaicha's are usually Bancha or Sencha leaves blended with brown rice. The grassiness of the green tea is easily subdued by the nutty toastiness of the brown rice, yielding a soothing cup of the warm and cozies. Reasonably priced, but rich in flavor. Great with any meal.

Inexpensive varieties of Genmaicha will usually have a Bancha base and use white rice instead of brown to keep the cost low. Although still somewhat tasty, they're a bit more bland. Be careful not to over-steep as they can get very bitter quickly... yuck!

Matcha-Iri Genmaicha, is a very popular variation of genmaicha that is infused with matcha powder. The addition of the matcha powder renders a more robust cup with a higher caffeine and antioxidant level than regular genmaicha.

Gyokuro Genmaicha is a more modish version, blended with Gyokuro leaves and toasted brown rice. It's savory, buttery flavor is delightful. Not to mention that it is rich in antioxidants and theanine. This delicious little remedy will put you on the train to CalmMeDown Town!

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What could possibly make genmaicha taste any better?

A dubious legend you say? Okay!

Genmai, servant to a wicked master, was pouring tea when he unwittingly dropped some rice into his master's teacup. Outraged by his servant's clumsiness, the master beheaded Genmai and casually returned to drink his tea. Finding the unusual flavor most pleasing, the master was delighted yet filled with regret. To ease his conscious, he named the new beverage in honor of his late servant Genmai, thus the name Genmaicha. (It’s only folklore, no need to weep into your teacup!)


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