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Genmaicha ('Popcorn Tea'): A Profile

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

Literally translated, ‘genmaicha’ means ‘brown rice tea’. While this may not sound immediately appetizing, rest assured it is as delicious as it is beautiful. Genmaicha goes by several names, such as ‘popcorn tea’, due to fact that some grains of rice pop when they are roasted, or ‘people’s tea’, because adding rice to the tea has historically allowed it to be sold for a more affordable price to the poorer members of Japanese society.

Folktales describe the origin of genmaicha as being the result of a fatal accident, in which a few grains of toasted rice fell from the sleeve of a servant called Genmai while he was pouring tea for a samurai. Believing his expensive tea to have been ruined, the samurai beheaded the servant; when he sat back down and took a sip of the tea, he discovered its flavor had actually been enhanced by the rice, not tainted. In his guilt, he named this creation genmaicha (‘tea of Genmai’) and requested that it be served every morning in his former servant’s honor.

This tea is distinctly savory in taste and once brewed, it is a soft yellow hue. The prevailing flavors of this tea are the grassy and earthy notes that will be familiar to habitual green tea drinkers, coupled with a warm, nutty quality yielded from the toasted grains. To balance these umami notes, there are subtle hints of floral rose petals and jasmine blossoms.

This comforting tea is traditionally consumed first thing in the morning, or during periods of fasting. Containing anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, genmaicha has many reported positive health effects. L-theanine, an amino acid present in genmaicha, is also beneficial in helping to regulate dopamine and serotonin within the brain – neurotransmitters essential for mood, sleep, and cognition.

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