Essential Genmaicha Guide by Japanese Tea Experts

You may have heard the word “popcorn tea” or seen pictures of tea leaves mixed with popcorn and I’m sure you have a lot of questions. No, this is not a tea made out of pieces of popcorn, but it is genmaicha, a delicious green tea that is loved by many around the world. In this article, we’re going to explain what genmaicha is, how its made and what you can use it for. Without any further ado, let’s get started.

What is Genmaicha

Genmaicha is the most popular type of blended tea in Japan. As you may know, all teas have to come from the tea plant, camelia sinensis, otherwise they are not considered a true tea. Blended teas are made by combining tea leaves with other ingredients, and they still can be considered teas. Genmaicha is made by combining green tea leaves with toasted rice, and it has a very unique flavor to it that a lot of people like. 


Genmaicha has more of these warm cereal flavors, a hint of nuttiness, warm toast and even a bit of popcorn. This flavor is not actually why genmaicha is called popcorn tea, the real reason has to do with the appearance.

Why is Genmaicha Tea Called popcorn Tea?

When you look at certain types of genmaicha green tea, you may notice little white pieces that look like popcorn. This is a genmaicha green tea with roasted rice that has popped in the same way that corn kernels pop. When you prepare a genmaicha green tea with roasted rice that has popped, it doesn’t change the flavor a whole lot, but you still do get a subtle popcorn flavor from genmaicha green tea.

This unique flavor comes from the starches and the sugars of the “genmai” or toasted rice as they are released into the water. Let’s discuss how these grains of roasted rice are produced and how they are integrated into the genmaicha green tea.

How is Genmaicha Made?

Genmaicha green tea has 2 different components. First there are the tea leaves and then there is the genmai or toasted rice. Let’s talk about how the toasted rice is made.

To make genmai, only white rice is used. This is the same type of rice they use to make mochi or rice dough. The reason white rice is used is because brown rice is encased in a protective hull that seals in the starches inside. To produce white rice, this hull is removed and the starch inside can be roasted much more easily. Apparently when you have a genmaicha green tea with roasted rice that is brown, there is much less flavor and fragrance.

To prepare the rice for roasting, it is first soaked and then later steamed. Later the rice has to be dried, and the main way to do this is to blow hot air underneath it. Finally, the rice is ready to be roasted and depending on the heat, some of these grains of rice can pop just like popcorn. The rice is then cooled and added to the tea leaves.

The tea leaves are made from the older leaves and stems of the tea plant. These are the most inexpensive tea leaves, used for teas like Bancha and Hojicha, but there are many benefits to them actually. First off, they are higher in minerals and they are thought to help with digestion. This is why a lot of people like to drink bancha tea after a meal.

Also these more mature leaves tend to be lower in caffeine. Caffeine is produced as a defense mechanism to protect against insects and because these older leaves are tougher, the tea plant doesn’t need to produce as much in order to protect them. This makes teas like genmaicha great for the afternoon or evening.

Finally, the flavor of the older tea leaves tends to pair well with the toasted rice. These more earthy or wooden notes, work well with the nutty flavors that come from the rice. The leaves and rice work together to produce the wonderful tea known as genmaicha.

Different Kinds of Genmaicha

As we mentioned before, most genmaicha tea is made from bancha leaves, but there are a few different types we can talk about. The different types of genmaicha are determined by what is used in addition to the toasted rice.

Normal Genmaicha

Normal genmaicha tea is made out of the older leaves and stems of the tea plant. While the flavors of the fresh young leaves tend to be sweeter and more vegetal, the older leaves have slightly more of these earthy notes and more minerality. These leaves tend to compliment the nutty and cereal flavors of the roasted rice, so the combination works great.

Sencha Genmaicha

Sencha genmaicha tea is made with toasted rice and sencha leaves. These younger leaves tend to clash a bit with the flavors of the toasted rice, but it is still a great tea if you are a fan of sencha. This tea will be slightly more expensive because it uses the younger leaves, and it will also be higher in caffeine than a normal genmaicha tea.

Gyokuro Genmaicha

Gyokuro genmaicha is made by combining gyokuro leaves with roasted rice. These leaves are not only made from the youngest sprouts of the tea plant, but they are also shaded for 3 weeks before the harvest to maximize their content of theanine. This tea will be much sweeter, much more expensive and much higher in caffeine than a regular genmaicha tea.

Hoji Genmaicha

Hoji genmaicha, as you can probably tell from the name, is made out of roasted tea leaves (hojicha) and toasted rice. The flavors of the roasted tea leaves and the toasted rice tend to compliment eachother, but it definitely takes the tea into a darker direction. This tea will be very low in caffeine, and as we learned from the farmers at Zenkouen, this tea is actually used in hospitals and for children because it is so low in caffeine.

Matcha Iri Genmaicha

This is the matcha genmaicha made by combining toasted rice, green tea leaves and green tea powder. This matcha genmaicha produces an incredibly green infusion as the matcha powder fills the water. This can be a more flavorful tea overall, but the downside is that it takes away from the flavor of the toasted rice because the matcha powder is so strong.

How was Genmaicha first invented?

There are a few different stories about how genmaicha was invented, but no one really knows for sure. One legend starts with one man from Kyoto dropping pieces of his rice cake and rather than throwing it away, he tried it and his tea and liked the flavor.

However genmaicha was invented, it doesn’t change the fact that it has been an important tea in Japan. It has sometimes been used in times of economic hardship as a way to make tea last longer, as rice tends to be inexpensive. It is also used for certain types of fasting, as the flavor of the tea can simulate a warm bowl or rice.

<h2> What are the benefits of Genmaicha </h2>

Although Genmaicha is considered to be a cheaper Japanese green tea, there are many benefits to it. As we just mentioned, genmaicha tea can be great when you are fasting, because the flavor can be very satiating, without having any calories.

Another benefit is that genmaicha has very little caffeine in it. The older tea leaves and stems are low in caffeine to begin with, but the caffeine content is brought down even further by the addition of the toasted rice.

Finally, genmaicha tends to be a tea that is very forgiving to both the producer, as well as the person preparing it. It is difficult to prepare a bad genmaicha tea, so when you find it at a cafe or a coffee shop, it can sometimes be the safest bet. Even some cheaper genmaicha teas still have a pleasant rice flavor to them.

The tea can also stand up to hotter temperatures, so it is more forgiving if you use water that is too hot. This can be useful if you are ordering the tea at a cafe, as they will more than likely bring it out with water that is close to boiling.

How to Prepare Genmaicha Tea

When it comes to preparing genmaicha tea, it can be quite simple. The tea is less sensitive to temperature and brewing time, and it can produce a lot of flavor even if you don’t get the brewing right.

We recommend taking 5 grams of genmaicha green tea and putting it into a teapot. The flavor of genmaicha can have a strong influence on the seasoning of the teapot itself, so you may want a designated genmaicha teapot, or at the very least use a glazed teapot. If you use an unglazed teapot, it will be difficult to get the flavor of the genmaicha tea out when it comes to brewing other types of teas.

Next, you can add the water in. There are two different brewing methods for genmaicha. The first is to brew it like you would a normal bancha or hojicha, with 175°F or 80° C water and a brewing time of 1 minute. The other method of brewing genmaicha tea is more of a “flash brew” with near boiling water and a steeping time of 20 seconds. Either way, you should use approximately 150ml or a little more than half a cup of water for the brewing.

After the time is up, you can pour your genmaicha tea into the tea cups. If you are preparing tea for multiple people, make sure you use the alternate pouring method. The last tea to be poured out is usually the most flavorful, so you should divide it amongst you and your guests.

One bonus of genmaicha is that the flavor can last for many different steepings. Even after the tea leaves have released all their flavor, the toasted rice will continue to provide flavor in brewing after brewing, so you can really brew the genmaicha green tea with roasted rice 5 times or more before it runs out of flavor.

Where Can You Buy Genmaicha?

If you are interested in trying some genmaicha tea, you can try some of our favorite, the Hagiricha Genmaicha. After traveling around Japan, we have met with dozens of different farmers and tried many different kinds of genmaicha tea. Our favorite is the one produced by Hagiricha, a collection of tea farmers in Shizuoka that do some really great work.

If you would like to support what we do and all the farmers in Japan that make it possible, it would mean a lot to us if you could try out this tea and let us know what you think. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave us an email, comment or message and we will respond as soon as we can. Until then, we’ll see you next time!