G is for Genmaicha

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Genmaicha is a very special and somewhat unusual traditional tea from Japan that has been growing in popularity in recent years. It is a wondrous, and little-known culinary treat that offers a natural combination of starch, sugar and a nutty flavor. Simply put, genmaicha is green tea mixed with roasted brown rice and the combining of these two traditional Japanese products – tea and rice –  makes Genmaicha an unmistakable exponent of Japanese culture – plus it has a VERY interesting history!

Legend has it…

Many teas, especially Chinese teas, have legends or myths surrounding them, offering explanations about their origins or cultural/ historical/social roots. These legends not only deepen our appreciation for the tea, they provide a fascinating back story, that draws us into the magic of the tea. There are several accounts as to the origins surrounding Genmaicha, but the first in my opinion is the most intriguing – for it includes, blood, remorse and some very interesting people.

The first…

In 15th century Japan, an important samurai warlord was having tea one morning while discussing battle strategies with his patrol leaders. His servant, Genmai, had been keeping rice up his sleeve to snack on during the day, and when he poured the tea at the meeting, a few pieces fell out into his master’s cup. The warlord, furious and embarrassed, immediately beheaded his servant. He then sat down and continued the meeting, and even though the tea had been tarnished with the rice, he drank it anyway. The flavor was unique, and he enjoyed it tremendously. The warlord felt immediate remorse, after tasting Genmai’s “accident” and in honor of poor Genamai he pronounced that this rice and tea be served every morning and be called ‘Genmaicha’ (cha being the name of ‘tea’ in Japanese).

warlord & tea

https://www.storynory.com/the-samurai-and-the-tea-master/

The second and yet another and another…

The second story suggests that long ago, that Kyoto was the birthplace of genmaicha. It was said that a tea farmer mixed roasted brown rice, which was abundant and very cheap, in with his shoddiest blends so that poor people, who couldn’t afford expensive blends, could now could meet the expense of a pound of “tea”. Thus, enabling  common folk to enjoy the same tea as the noble classes.  Or how about this one –  Buddhist monks were have said to have mixed green tea with the browned rice stuck to the bottom of their rice cauldrons in a gesture of humility and conservation. Once again back in Kyoto, “someone” found that by adding roasted rice cakes to tea, the cakes perked up the aroma and flavor. Since rice cakes were an essential part of the New Year’s holiday menu, there were always lots of rice cakes left after celebrating the New Year. Not wanting to waste them, “someone” broke the hard rice cakes into small pieces, toasted them and put them into green tea.

I don’t know about you, but I personally find the first, although a little blood thirsty, more shadowy and interesting. But don’t let the legend scare you off… you MUST try some genmaicha.

So just what is it…

Genmaicha has historically been made of bancha (bancha is harvested from the same tree as sencha grade, but it is plucked later, thus giving it a lower market grade) and brown rice. Being a green tea made from later harvests, bancha was and still is less expensive than the higher grades of sencha and gyokuro.  The use of bancha contributed to a reputation of it as a cheap tea in the past.  However today, genmaicha is made with a variety of Japanese green teas including sencha and gyokuro.  Additionally,  genmaicha can be found infused with matcha to provide both a slightly different flavor and mouth feel.

Finally, although genmaicha is sometimes called popcorn tea, it typically does not actually have popcorn. Brown rice, as its heated and toasted, will sometimes pop resulting in something that looks like popcorn yet is really popped rice.

Next… Genmaicha in my cup

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