Genmaicha tea offers a unique twist to the classic vegetal and grassy notes of standard green teas. Made with popped rice kernels, this green tea is nutty, roasted, and toasty, creating a distinctly crisp flavor you won't find in other green teas. Learn more about Genmaicha tea including the history behind the emergence of this unique blend, how it's cultivated, and how to brew it.

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What is Genmaicha Tea?

Genmaicha tea is a type of Japanese green tea made with popped white rice kernels. The rice turns a rich golden brown hue, leading many to confuse the tea as being made with brown rice kernels. Genmaicha green tea is also known as "the people's tea" — because the toasted rice acts as a filler, reducing the price of the tea — or "popcorn tea" thanks to the appearance of the popped rice kernels. The tea is loaded with potential health benefits as it contains high concentrations of antioxidants including polyphenols and catechins

Another thing that sets it apart from other Japanese teas is that this tea is roasted instead of steamed. The result is a rich bodied tea with toasty and nutty flavors, hints of caramel, and a smooth finish that rounds out the tasting notes. This green tea is also less bitter than other green teas as the roasted rice kernels help to balance out the tasting notes. 

Typically, Genmaicha is made using bancha sencha green tea leaves. Bancha refers to the use of green tea leaves that are harvested during the second flush of sencha, which occurs between summer and autumn. These leaves are different in flavor from shincha, which is harvested during the first flush. Sencha refers to a wide category of Japanese green teas that are made using the whole leaf of the tea plant.

High-quality Genmaicha offers mildly grassy notes thanks to the presence of the Japanese sencha leaves. The tea brews into a light yellow hue. A rarer variety of Genmaicha is made using matcha green tea powder. Known as matcha-iri Genmaicha, the tea is a brighter green hue and offers stronger vegetal flavors compared to the sencha variety.

genmaicha tea with white rice

History of Genmaicha Tea

The history of Genmaicha tea, like most Japanese teas, is steeped in history. There are several different legends claiming to be the origin story of the famous tea. 

The first tale involves intrigue, deceit, and murder. The legend begins in the 15th century with a servant named Genmai making tea for a samurai. The servant accidentally pours rice into the tea, which outrages the samurai who proceeds to cut the servant's head off with a sword. The samurai then settles in and drinks the tea and discovers the rice has added complexity to the flavor that he rather enjoyed. To honor his servant, he called the tea Genmai cha.

Another milder legend traces the roots of this roasted tea to poverty in the 20th century. Poorer Japanese populations enjoyed drinking green tea, but the product was quite expensive at the time. In order to enjoy the delicious flavors in an economical way, legend has it that villagers began adding roasted rice to create a more filling drink that also used fewer expensive green tea leaves.

Regardless of how the tea came into existence, today it is one of the most beloved types of Japanese green tea in the United States and across the globe. Thanks to its unique ingredients and hearty flavors, it's a great way to enjoy a cup of green tea.

How is Genmaicha Green Tea Made?

Like other true teas including white tea, black tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea, Genmaicha is made using the leaves of the tea plant called Camellia sinensis. As mentioned, most traditional Genmaicha tea is made using bancha sencha, though some regions also produce the tea using a shade-grown green tea known as gyokuro. The tea is typically made using either mocha rice or Japanese uruchimai rice. The largest producers of Genmaicha can be found in Shizuoka Prefecture and Kyoto.

The sencha leaves are harvested during the second flush of the season, which occurs in early summer. The leaves are gently plucked from the plant by hand and withered in direct sunlight to reduce moisture content. Once withered, the leaves are placed in a large wok with the rice and roasted. 

Prior to roasting, the rice is soaked in water and then steamed. Afterward, the rice is dried using hot air and then roasted in the wok with the green tea leaves. The roasting process infuses the leaves and rice with a toasted flavor while also drying the leaves to prevent oxidation.

Genmaicha popped rice tea

How to Brew Genmaicha

Genmaicha can be brewed using loose leaf tea or tea bags. Loose tea typically offers better flavor than tea bags, Look for blends that are made with organic green tea leaves for the best flavors.

Genmaicha green tea should be brewed using one teaspoon for every eight ounces of water at a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the tea steep for two to three minutes. The longer the steeping time, the stronger the flavors will become. The tea is traditionally brewed in a Japanese kyusu teapot, but you can use whatever vessel you prefer.

If you want to make iced tea, brew it the same as you would a cup of hot tea. After the steeping time is finished, let the tea mixture cool to room temperature and then serve over ice cubes.

Go Nuts Over Genmaicha Tea

Genmaicha tea is made with popped rice kernels and sencha green tea leaves offering a unique blend of vegetal and nutty flavors. The tea is fabulous when brewed as a hot tea or latte, but can also be made as an iced tea to cool off in the summer heat. Pick up some Genmaicha green tea today and discover what all the buzz is about when it comes to this grain-rich tea.

Tags: Green Tea