I wrote this article several years ago when I had started writing about tea and had wanted to help others learn about one of my favorites.
One of the best known Japanese green teas is actually a blend of tea and rice. Toasty tea taste goodness. From the first time I tasted it I was hooked and am now totally going Genmaicha! Well, maybe not totally. But I am drinking quite a bit of it these days.
Legend has it that “Genmaicha” (or “Genmai-cha”) means “Genmai’s tea.” According to that legend, Genmai was a servant in the household of a Samurai in 15th century Japan. One day the Samurai was holding a meeting with warlords deciding where to stage their next battle. Genmai was serving tea, a very expensive beverage at that time. He went around the table filling the cups of each warlord and finally came to his master’s cup. Now, in those days, the style of clothing was a bit different. Even the servants wore clothing with baggy sleeves. Apparently, Genmai had been roasting some rice, because he had several kernels in his sleeves. While pouring the Samurai’s tea, Genmai had what could be classified as a “wardrobe mishap,” not as bad as one that occurred at an awards ceremony a few years ago, but having much more severe consequences. The mishap: some of the kernels of roasted rice fell out of Genmai’s sleeves into that cup of expensive green tea he had just poured for the Samurai. Well, Samurai being Samurai, he did what a Samurai does naturally — drew out his sword quick as a blink and showed Genmai just who was boss. (I guess the Union Rep wasn’t around at the moment.) Seriously, Genmai lost his head. And the Samurai calmly sat back down and sipped the “ruined” tea. He liked it so much that he superglued Genmai’s head back on him, but unfortunately it didn’t bring the servant back to life, so the Samurai just named this new tea drink after him.
Some people think Genmaicha was some thrifty housewife’s way of stretching out that expensive tea with cheaper and much more abundant toasted rice. Being a thrifty person, I could believe that. The reality is that about 90 years ago a tea merchant in Kyoto, Japan, needed a way to increase his sales by making tea more affordable. He used low grade bancha and added toasted rice to mask bad flavors. Only in recent years has this tea climbed up from being regarded as a bargain basement tea. Higher quality senchas are often now being used as the base for this tea.
Today, Genmaicha is very popular, not only in Japan but elsewhere. Just about every tea company out there has a version. They even make a point of being sure some of the rice kernels “pop” — in fact, the tea now has a nickname: “popcorn tea.” A bit confusing, since there is no corn in the tea.
One thing’s for sure: this tea has a wonderful, comforting, soothing, flavor. I make a potful in the evening and make it last until bedtime. There is no caffeine concern, though. Yes, the tea has caffeine, but there’s something about the toasted rice that seems to counter it, at least for me, and makes me feel relaxed and a bit sleepy.
Small wonder I’m going Genmaicha!
© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text