Genmaicha

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.

Brew It

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.

Contemplative Thoughts

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.

~Elaine

Ichiban Sencha

Ichiban Sencha, or as Lori and I lovingly call it “Icky-ban Sencha”, is a prime example of how easily you can mess up making a cup of tea. It’s refreshing to read even the most experienced tea connoisseurs and experts can incorrectly make a cup of tea the first time they brew a cup. The first time I made this sencha, I’ll admit, it was horrible. So much so, I was dreading this post. The second attempt, I’m pleased to report, was much more pleasant. 

Ichiban Sencha is possibly the most assertive of all senchas. Made from the first flush of new growth in the spring, the word Ichiban means “the first”. Unlike the single estate Matsuda’s Sencha, this is a blend of teas grown in the Kakegawa area of Shizuoka, Japan.

Made in a more modern (post World War II) style, this tea is deep steamed using  fukumushi method, where the tea is steamed an additional 30 seconds longer than the traditional method. Those extra few seconds further breaks down the leaves making a stronger brew. Today most senchas are produced using this method.

Brew It

Harney & Sons once again came to the rescue on this tea. Since there are no shops locally to source high quality teas, I do my tea shopping online, from a list quality vendors that I have grown to love. And Harney & Sons always has one of the best selections on pure teas available in the States. 

The leaves of Ichiban Sencha are a mix of rich green needles and more fine, almost powdery, bits. 

As you can see from my first attempt at the brew, the liquor is a darker green, and cloudy from the powdery leaves (this should have been my first clue that I made the cup a wee bit too strong). My second attempt matched closer to the expected intense green color (albeit still a bit on the cloudy side). 

On both attempts, the aromas of the steeped leaves is a unique mix of woodsy citrus with a vegetal undertone. 

Medium bodied on both attempts, but the flavors couldn’t be more different. The initial attempt was so astringent that Lori nor I could adequately pick out any flavors. It was like eating a lemon. Or more accurately, like a punch in the face. We did discover that as you held the liquor in your mouth, the flavors would evolve. The brew became less astringent and a warm spice flavor, almost a sweet-cinnamon or nutmeg-like, would pair with the citrus vegetable on the finish. 

My second attempt proved much more pleasant (no punch in the face!). I made the tea a little bit lighter. This made the tea slightly more lighter bodied, but also took out the worst of the astringency. As a result I was able to pick up more on the lemon and spinach / turnip green flavors. As on the first attempt, the longer that I held the liquor in my mouth, the more the flavors evolved, becoming less astringent still, letting the vegetal flavors really shine. The warm spice flavors were not as prevalent, but I definitely suggest trying yourself to see what flavors your tongue can taste. 

Contemplative Thoughts

Perfectionistic to a fault, I was certain when I first made Ichiban Sencha that I made it correctly. After all, I followed the instructions, so how could this have  gone wrong? But aray it went. 

I spent weeks brooding over this post. Dreading knowing what was down the pike. I procrastinated knowing that I would need to make another cup of this wretched brew to confirm what I had already tasted and recorded in my notes to adequately record my thoughts for you.  

Hindsight is always 20/20. And I now see that was part of the reason for delaying my writing. I found other things on which to spend my time. Making excuses for why something else was more important. But in the end, I was merely delaying the inevitable. 

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Things happen that you don’t want, that you can’t prevent. And quite frankly, sometimes there’s no way to contend against them. Pummeled, we chose not to do what we can to push through, to press forward. We just turtle up, back against the ropes, hoping it will stop soon. 

But it won’t. 

And then we face the decision: Do I chose to stay cowering in the corner? Or do I pull myself up to my full height and fight back with everything within me?

Today, I chose to fight. But first, tea.

Gunpowder

Gunpowder tea is one of my favorite green teas. Partially for the name (everyone sounds macho when they say they drink gunpowder for breakfast!) and partially for the grounding flavors.

Grown predominately in the Zhejiang province in China, this tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty. It is called gunpowder as the leaves are tightly rolled into tiny green-grey pearls that are vaguely reminiscent of gunpowder pellets (imagination is needed on this one). The tight rolling made this tea less susceptible to damage and allowed the pellets to retain more of the flavors and aroma than other green teas. As a result, this was one of the few green teas that was stable enough to find its way outside of China in the days before faster transport and sealed packaging.

Another little fact about this tea is, even to this today, it is created as an export tea and very little is drank in China. Instead, the majority of it makes its way overseas and is the base for Moroccan Mint tea.

Brew It

Since this tea is made from summer flushes (not the first, prized growth after the winter season) and many growers process this type, not all Gunpowder teas are made the same and quality widely varies. You’ll know you’ve found a lower quality tea if the liquor is bright yellow and has acrid, smoky flavors. By contrast, higher quality teas will have a charred vegetal flavor. Knowing how quality varies so widely, for this tasting I procured this tea from Harney and Sons to ensure that I would receive a good quality tea.

The leaves are tiny pellets, tightly rolled, but not perfectly round. They are a greenish-greyish color.

The Gunpowder’s liquor is a light caramel colored, almost an orange, with a hint of green. The wet leaves smell of roasted vegetables; like grilled brussel sprouts or artichoke. By contrast, the dry leaves smell sweeter and give your nose the illusion that the resulting brew will be a bit sweeter.

Medium bodied, the liquor has a mild astringency that builds a bit as you hold it in your mouth and as you drink it. The astringency is quite complementary to the flavor hint of vegetables roasted over an open fire.

Contemplative Thoughts

Like China, we often use our talents to create things for others. It could be daily tasks at your job, cooking a meal for a sick neighbor, tending to the needs of your family (like laundry, cleaning, or yard work). But how often do you take those same talents and enjoy them?

The tasks you complete may not be the most joyful, but when you slow your pace you can open an avenue for gratefulness. If nothing else, we can take a moment to enjoy how our bodies are able to do so many tasks, from strong physical labor to gently rocking babies to sleep. We can appreciate our minds and the speed from which they can swiftly move from one complex thought to the next. Our emotional well-being should never be underestimated; having the empathy to reach out to a friend in need, near or far, has the ability to bridge gaps that no man could separate.

So as you sit and sip a cuppa gunpowder, remember this: You are strong. You are gentle. You are wise. And right now, you are enough.

Dragon Pearl Jasmine

Grown in the Fujian province of China, Dragon Pearl Jasmine is a very special tea. For centuries, the Chinese have been using jasmine to enhance some of their teas. But, I warn you, not all jasmine teas are the same. Many that you’ll find in Chinese restaurants or on the tea isle in your local grocery store are made spraying the tea leaves with a jasmine flavored chemical. These teas may give you the flavor of jasmine, but the quality of the tea will likely be lacking.

One of the things I love about the tea that I tasted for this post is that there is no jasmine flowers in any of the pearls. Nor has the tea been sprayed with any flavorings.  Instead, these pears are hand-rolled by a group of women and then dried on racks. Every day fresh jasmine flowers are brought in and dried on racks in between the racks of tea leaving the small room heavily perfumed with the smell of the jasmine flowers, and thus, infusing the tea with the floral scent.

Brew It

As with many of the teas in my collection, Harney and Sons comes through with finding great quality teas at reasonable prices; Dragon Pearl Jasmine is no different.

The tightly hand-rolled dark green pearls are streaked with white. Once brewed, the pearls unfurl to be the precious green leaves and buds of the Da Bai cultivar, proving the quality of the this tippy tea.

The liquor is a golden color, like a pale copper with a strong floral jasmine and honey aroma. As the leaves cool you may also pick up the a warm spice flavor that Lori and I could only describe as “the scent of a good looking man”. Lori’s nose also picked out a light grassy scent. We both agreed the aroma was a perfect balance of manly and floral scents.

The flavor of the tea is nearly identical to the aroma: strong of jasmine, it is a fresh floral flavor with a hint of honey. The liquor is surprisingly strong bodied (must be the manliness) and has very little astringency or bitterness.

Contemplative Thoughts

Sweet and floral, but surprisingly full bodied and filling, this tea makes me think of the complex balance of a woman. Women in general are ridiculously resilient creatures. They can stand strong on their own when others fail to do so; they are fierce in battle and delicate and soft at the same time. Wrong her and she will cut you down; treat her with kindness and you’ll have won a friend for life. It is said that a woman is like tea: you never know how strong she is until she is put in hot water. Likewise, women are also like whisky in a teacup. Sweet and proper on the outside, but on the inside they are full of passion and fire.

Blaze on.