A complete guide to genmaicha green tea
Genmaicha, Brown Rice Tea, Popcorn Tea, People's Tea. All names for the simple combination of common Japanese green tea and toasted rice kernels. Traditionally made with lower grade sencha or bancha, the mild, grassy expression of these teas couple perfectly with the lightly caramelized sugars in the toasted rice, resulting in a soul pleasing balance between refreshing bitterness and fulfilling sweetness. No wonder genmaicha is a perennial favourite across Japan and beyond!
How to make the perfect cup of genmaicha
- Set a kettle of fresh, cool water to boil. A cast iron kettle or tetsubin is ideal to bring out the best flavour.
- While the water boils, portion out a heaping teaspoon (4 - 5g) of loose-leaf genmaicha.
- Fill the teapot with the boiled water and let sit for about 30 seconds. This step serves to pre-heat the teapot and cool the water to the ideal temp. A Japanese kyusu with about 250ml capacity is ideal.
- Pour off the teapot into your cup, place the genmaicha in the teapot and refill with the cooled water.
- Let it steep for minute or so in 85C (185F) water then pour off into your favourite tea cup.
TEA Tip: A good rule of thumb with all Japanese tea is : Hotter water - more bitter...Cooler water - more sweet. As well, more of the caffeine will be extracted when hotter water is used.
The origins of genmaicha
Though there is no established origin story of genmaicha, likely due to its humble nature, there are several quaint tales recounting how it came about. One even suggests a servant named Genmai lost his head for enraging his master after dropping rice in some tea. A more likely, and practical story is that genmaicha came about in poorer households as a way to improve the taste of the lowest grade green tea of the day or possibly to enhance the taste of tea past its prime. There is a folk custom in Japan of adding roasted kagami-mochi, a type of mochi rice cake eaten around New Years, to a cup of green tea.
A familiar tea in the West
When was the first time you had Japanese tea? Genmaicha is the ubiquitous tea served in sushi joints across North America so it's likely this was your first sip of Japanese tea. Casual, affordable and palate cleansing. Hot or cold, it's perfectly suited for pairing with food.
As tastes have evolved and modern machinery made green tea more affordable, so too has genmaicha. While it is still most commonly made with summer or autumn harvest bancha, some producers now offer first or second harvest 'sencha genmaicha' for a richer umami complexity.
Whether you have a sensitivity to caffeine or simply like to have a cup in the evening, genmaicha made with summer or fall harvest bancha is preferable to first harvest 'sencha genmaicha'
Matcha-iri genmaicha, pictured below, has the addition of matcha powder and produces a fuller flavoured, vivid green tea. Not recommended before bed!