One of the "oddest" teas one can find is Genmaicha (alternately Gen Mai Cha). It's name is sometimes translated as "roasted rice tea" or "popcorn tea". For those curious, it directly translates as "brown rice tea" (in the sense of being unrefined, not roasted). Whatever the word means, the end result is a mixture of green tea leaves (of whatever quality) and roasted rice (of whatever quality). Popped rice shows up in the mix, and some websites list "popcorn" (corn has a specific meaning in the US that some of the world does not reflect, so I don't know if that's a translational thing).

The history of the blend marks it around the World War II era in Japan, when people unable to afford large amounts of green tea found that they could cut it with slightly roasted rice. It takes only a handful of rice, a cup or two, to mix with three or four ounces of green tea. Since the rice's flavor is so distinct, it actually enables you to use less of the blend per pot, meaning that enough rice to feed a person for a night translated into about double the tea for a week.

Hime brand (no clue on its quality, Genmaicha is not something that has lots of fan sites) says to mix "3 Teaspoons to a pot of boiling water for 1 minute", with no indication on what is meant by a pot. I use a 27 ounce pot for Genmaicha, and it seems to work well at the 3tsp level. Numi brand (generally a top notch tea blender) mentions 1 teaspoon per 10oz. This puts it at the same basic amount. The idea is to use slightly less and steep for about half the time.

Speaking of brands, real quick. The Hime brand sells for about $4 for their 10 ounce box. Numi sells theirs (located at this website) for something like $8 per 4 ounce package and $24 for 1 pound. On Amazon, the Numi brand is a around $13. The Foojoy brand is about $11 for 100 bags (assuming 2g per bag, about 200g or 7oz). The moral of this lesson is that most places charge green tea prices for a product that is meant to be a cheaper alternative to green tea. This is akin to the Kukicha (stems and twigs of tea historically used by farmers as a cheap alternative to tea made up out of "waste" product so that the leaves could be sold to increase profit) blends which are the same price as the tea they once supplanted on a farmer's table. For this reason, I am sticking to the Hime brand for now (found at local Asian markets, as the Foojoy brand) and a few grocery places online). I have also heard that Yamamotoyama brand is excellent and seems reasonably priced.

The flavor reminds me green tea with a roasted flavor (imagine that, right?). Think a slightly grassy green tea blend with a faint sigh of toasted seaweed and a small splash of roasted sesame. It is smooth and nutty and delicious. The tea requires no extra flavoring. It is smooth without any sort of milk or sugar. It is also strong enough to go with food, I recommend some sort of traditional Japanese rice snack or a nice vegetable sushi.

Health wise, use common sense. It should have about half as much caffeine and anti-oxidants (as well as all other nutrients) as green tea. In addition, it should have some calories and carbs and proteins from the rice. Since the recipe, which is usually half and half but is not necessarily, is not set in stone, this can vary.

I will leave you with one caveat. I, and most who have tried it, find it quite tasty and its nutty roast content may also even satisfy coffee drinkers who are unsure of tea, but that same flavor can kind of "set" into a stoneware pot. My Genmaicha pot is used for pretty much just Genmaicha and those teas that I want to taste like Genmaicha. I am sure with a good washing it will come out, but I prefer keeping them separate.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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