Genmaicha is a Japanese green tea made from brown rice. In Japan, genmaicha is the name for green tea combined with roasted brown rice. It is also often referred to as “popcorn tea” as well because sometimes a few grains of rice pop as it gets roasting during the process of tea making and it resemble popcorn as well.
Genmaicha was often referred to as “the poor man’s tea” in Japan. The rice was meant to be filling and it came at an affordable price and for that reason it is also referred to as “people’s tea.” This type of tea was also popular among people who fasted for religious reasons or people who wanted to drink something between meals.
The tea is made when the rice is relieved of its sugar and starch content, which creates a bright, smooth tea with nutty flavors. The tea is very drinkable and has soothing effects on the stomach, mostly preferred for drinking in the morning or evening. In the modern day, genmaicha is widely consumed by many people across the world, and tea enthusiasts also enjoy genmaicha tea for its nutty undertones.
Origins and History
There is no established history for Genmaicha tea and while we know that it originates from Japan, its history is still in dispute. One of the popular beliefs in relation to genmaicha tea is that it was founded when a man in Kyoto dropped his kagami mochi. Kagami mochi is a mocha rice cake often used for decoration during the Japanese New Year celebrations. Upon dropping it, the man decided to take some small pieces of the cake and drank them with green tea, so as not to waste it. Thus, genmaicha tea came into being.
Another account of the genmaicha origin lies in Korea. Koreans are known to have a taste for drinking a tisane of roasted brown rice, dating way back. To lower the cost of tea, they may have tried to combine green tea with roasted rice. The bancha green tea is traditionally used for making genmaicha, which is more affordable in comparison to sencha green tea.
There are, of course, more dramatic versions of the genmaicha origins. Some people believe that the tea can be traced back all the way to 15th century. It is rumored that an unnamed Samurai was holding counsel with fellow warlords for the purposes of a military campaign.
Genmai the Servant
As per the custom, green tea was served as refreshment to the Samurai and warlords. One of the servants, called Genmai, was in charge of pouring the tea. When he poured the tea for the Samurai, a few grains of roasted rice dropped into the cup from his sleeve. Genmai used to snack on those kernels of rice during the day and he chose to keep them in his sleeve.
While the tea came to become popular, Genmai was severely punished. The Samurai got very upset about his ruined tea, as the best green tea was considered a luxurious beverage at that time. In his rage, he beheaded Genmai and went back to drink the tea. Surprisingly, the Samurai came to enjoy the new developed taste, a taste far superior than regular green tea.
He felt remorse for his actions and ordered the loose leaf tea to be served every morning in memory of his late servant. To honor Genmai, the tea was named after him and hence the name genmaicha meaning tea of Genmai.
Creator of Genmaicha
The most viable and most probably true origin of genmaicha is not from too long ago. A small teashop owner in Kyoto, Japan was most likely the creator of the tea. He merely tried various combinations to create something that would be more affordable to the public. Roasted brown rice was cheap at the time and thus, genmaicha was created. Since then, the connotation has stuck with the tea. It is mostly created with low-grade bancha tea and the rice is there to mask unfavorable tastes.
However, in recent years, genmaicha has come to be an exquisite tea. The bancha has been replaced by high-grade sencha tea and is combined with matcha, which has redefined the image of genmaicha. It’s made available in different tea subscriptions all over the world.
How It Is Made
Traditionally, genmaicha is made with bancha, though many different options are not available, such as sencha, houji, gyokuro and sometimes the addition of matcha. You will be easily able to define whether genmaicha includes matcha, because the tea will take a greenish color.
The rice used in the making of genmaicha is called genmai. The ratio between green tea to rice is 1:1, though it may change depending on the manufacturer. While the tea was originally made from brown rice, it is not often made using roasted white rice as well. The change was made to improve the quality of the tea because white rice has better aroma and does not get as dark as brown rice when roasted.
Traditionally, genmaicha is made using mochi rice. The highest quality of tea comes from 100% use of mochi rice, although it is often made using other types of rice as well, such as uruchimai, or a combination of both.
How to Make Roasted Rice
The process to make the roasted rice has five simple steps:
- The rice is soaked in water for some time, so that it can be easily steamed.
- The rice is steamed.
- Drying process begins. There are more than one ways to do this, one of which is by using hot air.
- Once the rice is dried, it is roasted.
- The roasted rice is then cooled.
The rice are then mixed with either bancha or sencha green tea. These tealeaves are harvested, steamed and rolled like any other green tea. Bancha, by itself, is a summer tea and is harvested after the Sencha season. It is available in large quantities, which is why it is relatively inexpensive. The leaves are broad with a yellowish green color. After they are mixed with the rice, the tea is then sold either in loose leaves or in tea bags.
The popcorn look, as mentioned before, comes from rice being popped during roasting. Although, the machinery that is being used now has better temperature control and the rice does not pop as much. Sometimes popped kernels are merely added for the look. Popped or not, the quality and taste of the tea stay intact.
Steeped tea from loose leaf genmaicha takes a light yellow color and the flavor is mild. Though some people may describe the color has vibrant green, from the green tea, combined with a khaki color, from the rice, which in turn takes a light yellow color upon brewing. It has a taste of fresh grass from the green tea and the aroma from the roasted rice. Sometimes you may also taste a bit of citrus from the green leaves.
Although, genmaicha contains green tea, it is brewed in a different manner. The level of caffeine in genmaicha is relatively higher than other green teas. The overall body of the tea is very light, though if brewed for long it can become full bodied.
Most people who try genmaicha usually find that they have a high acceptance for the tea, mostly because of its mild taste. In fact, more people are able to enjoy genmaicha than matcha tea or sencha tea. This is because the astringency and bitterness from the green tea are masked by the nutty flavor and aroma of the roasted rice. Some tea enthusiasts also define it as a very earthy tea and like as much as chicken noodle soup.
Genmaicha is generally considered a low-grade tea, much like bancha and hojicha. For that reason, the tea is brewed at high temperature as compared to high-grade tea like gyokuro. For each cup of tea, you need about 3 to 4 grams of genmaicha. Add it to your cast iron teapot and then pour boiling water on top. Let the tea brew for about half minute before you pour it into teacups. Do not fill one cup all at once, rather pour a little in each cup alternately until all cups are full.
Genmaicha is often combined with Matcha, which a powdered green tea. This combination is called Matcha-iri genmaicha, which literally translates to genmaicha with added powdered tea. The flavor Matcha-iri genmaicha is very similar to the regular genmaicha but the tea is stronger in flavor and color both. The green from the Matcha gives the tea a vibrant greenish-brown hue.
The origin of this combination stems from the Uji region of Japan, which is a historical tea production area. The region is known to produce high quality teas, such as gyokuro, matcha and sencha. The best matcha-iri genmaicha is made from the blend of high quality sencha, from the first harvest, genmai roasted rice and a generous addition of Matcha.
This powerful combination creates a tea of great synergy, with calming tones. The backbone and foundation of the tea is set by the sencha. The warmth and toasty goodness comes from the toasted rice. The leafy aroma and soft mossy green color comes from matcha.
Health Benefits of Genmaicha and Matcha
In combination, genmaicha and matcha have great health benefits. They both contain some overlapping ingredients such as caffeine, L-theanine, catechins and EGCG. It makes an excellent morning tea to wake you up for the day and an excellent afternoon tea to keep you going for the remainder of the day.
As we all know, caffeine is a natural form of stimulant, which increases the alpha waves in your brain. As a result, you are able to elevate your mood levels, solve problems and increase reaction time. Since the caffeine is coming from a natural source, you will not experience crash as you would with artificial versions of caffeine.
The L-theanine, on the other hand, improves brain calculation, lowers anxiety, helps with sleep and boosts your immune system. Combined with caffeine, L-theanine can work wonders for your brainwaves. Catechins are antioxidants, which help in improving blood flow, dental health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Lastly, EGCG help with binding free radicals as it an antioxidant as well.
The two teas together make a great combination as matcha brings its sweet bitterness, while the genmaicha brings its nutty flavors.
Genmaicha on its own
Genmaicha on its own is also very beneficial for your health. Apart from the above benefits, genmaicha is rich in polyphenols as well. The polyphenols in the tea keep the cancer cells from reproducing by triggering a natural process of programmed cell death called apoptosis.
The rice in the tea, especially brown rice, lowers the risk of colon, pancreatic and rectal cancer, when consumed at least once a week. For what it’s worth, Japan has the lowest rate of cancer, which is primarily owed to their large consumption of green tea. However, it is important to consult with your doctor before consuming genmaicha, if you suffer from any serious illnesses.
There are also many vitamins and minerals present in genmaicha. The rice in the tea contains selenium, which helps regulate your hormones, metabolism and thyroid function. It is also rich in manganese, which is an important mineral for keeping your nerve functions healthy and stabilizing your blood sugar. It also helps your body to synthesize cholesterol and essential fatty acids. Apart from the above minerals, the rice is also abundant in vitamin B, fiber and iron.
Genmaicha is a highly acceptable tea and a must try, if not for the flavor then at least for its health benefits. The green is an excellent diuretic if you are on a weight loss regime and the brown rice has its own nutritious profile. If you opt for genmaicha that is infused with matcha tea powder, then the health benefits literally double, along with its taste and aroma.
The tea also makes an excellent companion for breakfast. The caffeine will make you alert for the day and if you take it in the afternoon, then you will get a boost of energy to keep going. The tea also pairs well with other Japanese foods, mostly for its digestive properties. Get genmaicha today!
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.