Genmaicha (玄米茶, “brown rice tea”) is a Japanese brown rice green tea consisting of green tea mixed with roasted popped brown rice.[1] It is sometimes referred to colloquially as “popcorn tea” because a few grains of the rice pop during the roasting process and resemble popcorn, or as “people’s tea”, as the rice served as a filler and reduced the price of the tea, making it historically more available for poorer Japanese. Today all segments of society drink genmaicha.[2] It was also used by people fasting for religious purposes or who found themselves to be between meals for long periods of time.[2].                                                                                                                                 Wikipedia

The Legend of Genmaicha

The story behind this vegetative-flavored tea began thousands of years ago when a servant was pouring green tea for his master.  While in motion, the servant accidentally dropped brown rice from his pocket into the cup of green tea.  The master – a warrior – was so angered he beheaded the servant, but he drank the contaminated tea anyway and discovered that the brown rice and green tea made a delectable combination.  In honor of the servant, Genmai, he named the tea “Genmaicha”.  Another version of the same story is that the Samuari warrior so valued his personal tea servant, Genmai, that he spared his life and drank the tea with relish.

Contemporary Appreciation of Genmaicha

Genmaicha is now a favorite tea of the Japanese for many reasons.  The tea has the same benefits as green tea, including antioxidants for cellular health.  It also aids in digestion and calms the brain, even though it has the flavor of popped corn and nuts (which isn’t so bad, by the way).  In addition, Genmaicha has less caffeine than green tea.  This tea is perfect for those who want to enjoy the benefits of green tea without the extra caffeine.

Preparing Genmaicha

To make a perfect cup of Genmaicha, it is important to steep it for just the right amount of time.  Based on my research, each brand of Genmaicha has a different recommended steeping time, yet they are all within the three-to-five minute range.  This tea is more sensitive to heat than most; the directions that come with most brands of Genmaicha advocate pouring the water before it begins to boil.  And, as with all true teas, care must be taken not to oversteep the beverage, resulting in a bitter flavor.

Some may initially be turned off by the aroma.  The first thing I was reminded of was the smell of hay or an open field.  I was not sure if I was supposed to drink it or feed it to the local barn animals.  But after my first sip, I was pleased that I had not passed up this opportunity.  Genmaicha has an earthy flavor that is unlike any other.  The popped rice flavor brings soothing warmth across the palate, and makes you feel connected to the tea and the moment.  Every tea has an experience, taste, and memory attached to it. 

What is your experience with Genmaicha?

This article has been updated from the original February 2010 publication.