Though often marketed as a pure green tea, Genmaicha is actually a blend made from Bancha green tea and rice. The name “Genmaicha” translates to “brown rice tea”, likely due to the color of the added dried rice. Relatively new by the history of tea, it was created in the 1920’s by a Kyoto merchant who was trying to sell some Bancha tea that was moving slowly through his inventory. Upon invention, its popularity soared among the working class and became known to the masses as a “peasant” drink. Combining tea with the common commodity of rice created a less expensive alternative to pure teas and was a creative way for people to stretch their tea dollars. In more recent years, however, it has gained popularity in all classes.
Genmaicha remains a popular drink among those fasting or individuals who go a long time between meals, as the rice gives a thicker body to the tea and makes the brew very filling.
The best Genmaicha I’ve tasted came from Harney and Sons. The short forest green leaves are mixed with little brown dehydrated rice kernels. There are also a few white popped kernels that look like popcorn. The mixture has a bit of a dusty finish to it.
You’ll want to steep your tea for three minutes at 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Listen closely as you pour the hot water onto your tea and during the first few moments of steeping, as the rice makes a soft, pleasant crackle and popping sound as it soaks and expands.
Genmaicha’s liquor is dark green/ yellow and has a hint of cloudiness. The aroma is absolutely delicious. A hint of vegetal, but the resounding scent is reminiscent of toasted popcorn over a fire (side note: popcorn as a snack pairs well with this tea). The flavor, however, is of toasted vegetables.
When Lori and I did the official tasting of this tea we tried it two ways. First, as I described above (just tea and water). The resulting brew was light bodied and had very little astringency.
The second way we tried this tea was (at Lori’s brilliant suggestion) with the addition of a pinch of salt. As odd as it sounds, adding a pinch of salt (per 6 ounces of water, or your personal preference) to your water isn’t all that unusual. In the classic tea book, The Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura suggests salting the water during the “first boil”.
Scientifically, adding salt will increase the boiling temperature of the water. I’m sure someone much more knowledgeable than I would be able to step in and explain what that does to our tea leaves.
For our purposes today, I can tell you that adding salt not only will enhance the flavor of the tea, but it also will increase the body of the tea. In the case of Genmaicha, the addition of salt makes the resulting brew more broth like and even more filling. It gives your body the feeling of being nourished more than most cups of tea could sufficiently provide.
The addition of salt changes this good cup of tea and turns it into an amazing one. For thousands of years salt has been a necessary ingredient in our world. It has even been said that without salt “life cannot be lived humanely” (Pliny the Elder, Roman author and philosopher). Our bodies need it for survival. Our foods need it for texturizing, flavoring, and preservation. Likewise our souls need it.
The Bible says “You are the salt of the earth”. We are each here for a reason. God created and ordained for a purpose. And even if you doubt God or your purpose on this planet, know that you are more valuable than mere grains of salt. You add flavor, texture, and depth to this world. Your very presence does more than preserve. It sustains. And you are a desperately needed member of your family and your friend group. This world would not be the same without you.
Gratefully yours, my dear tea friend.