One legend has it that the origins of Genmaicha date all the way back to 15th century Japan, when a servant accidentally lost a few grains of rice hidden up his sleeve into the cup of the master, for whom he was pouring very expensive tea.
Another tale is that of housewives around the same period who mixed cheap brown rice into tiny amounts of expensive green tea so that common folk could enjoy.
Yet another, most probable story reads that this method of adding rice to tea was introduced in the 1900's as a way of stretching tea during times of hardship.
So what is Genmaicha? Genmaicha is a mixture of toasted brown rice grains and green tea. It translates as "brown rice tea". The rice can be popped or just roasted, but this makes little difference in the flavor. It's sometimes called "popcorn" tea because of its nutty flavor and popcorn-like appearance on account of tiny popped brown rice kernels. You can even find low quality "Genmaicha" with actual popcorn in place of rice, but needless to say, avoid such imitations at all costs.
Sencha or Gyokuro are usually used for making Genmaicha. Matcha-iri Genmaicha is another option, with matcha added to bring out the green tea flavor and provide smoother mouth feel. Traditionally, Bancha was the tea of choice for steeping with the toasted mochi rice.
Because this tea was so commonly used by the poor, it became known as "the people's tea".
In Japan, the tea is drunk in the morning before breakfast. It also makes a great tea for fasting. If you've never tried Genmaicha be sure to give your first impression to a proper experience of the tea; one of good quality, traditional ratios, and precise brewing technique.
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