Houjicha is technically a green tea but is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal instead of being steamed. This changes the color to a reddish-brown and gives it a mild, nutty, caramel-like flavor with none of the bitterness associated with green tea. Due to the roasting process, which originated in Kyoto during the 1920′s, the caffeine level in Houjicha is greatly reduced. Therefore, it is commonly drunk at night before going to sleep. It is also a popular tea to serve during or after an evening meal due to it’s easy drinkability. You too can make your own Houjicha! It is fairly easy and is simply done by taking old or stale Sencha and roasting it in a pan until brown.
The ritual of putting a pot on to boil, sitting down, and enjoying a nice cup of tea has the image of relaxation and leisure. But is it all psychological? In the case of green tea, no. A component called Theanine derived from the amino acid glutamate found in tea leaves enters the central nervous system where it lowers stress and anxiety while elevating the consumer’s mood. Theanine increases the activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter, which leads to relaxed and peaceful state. So sit down and treat yourself to a relaxing cup of hot tea!
Name: Kiyosumi Gardens
Location: 3-3-9 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0024
How to get there:
Toei O-edo Line and Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line, Kiyosumi-shirakawa Sta. (3 minutes on foot)
*No parking available
Inquiry: Kiyosumi Garden Office (Japanese) 03-3641-5892
Hours: Open from 9:00 to 17:00 (Entry until 16:30)
Closed: Year-end holidays (December 29 to January 1)
Entrance fee: ¥150 (Persons 65 and over: ¥70)
(No charge for primary school children or younger, and junior high school students living or attending school in Tokyo)
*20% discount for groups of 20 persons or more.
Related facilities: Ryotei (Japanese tea house), Taisho Memorial Museum (separate entry charge required)
Excerpt from the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association’s history of the gardens:
In 1878, the founder of Mitsubishi, Iwasaki Yataro, chose this property to use a garden for the enjoyment of his employees and entertainment of important guests. After the design and construction phases ended, the garden opened in 1880 under the name of “Fukagawa Shimbokuen.” In later years, the waters of the Sumidagawa were brought into the grounds to make the pond. Hills and waterless waterfalls were constructed and famous rocks from all over Japan were brought in to embellish the garden. The garden was completed in the Meiji Period and developed into a famous strolling-style tree-filled design centered around a large pond. On March 31, 1979 this garden was designated as Tokyo Metropolitan Place of Scenic Beauty.
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The world of Japanese tea is beautiful, profound, and wow…can be quite expensive!!! This piece of beauty was found at the Takashimaya Department Store in Nihonbashi (6th floor for those of you visiting Tokyo). A tea canister made with lacquer and hand-painted design in gold by artist Giho Doi (土居 義峰, born 1964 in Ishikawa Pref.), entitled “Uchiwa Ryūsui Maki-e Hira Natsume” (団扇流水蒔絵平漆). Doi-san was recognized as an official master craftsman (通産大臣認定の伝統工芸士の称号) of lacquerware at age 35 in 1999.
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Genmaicha is a blend of green tea and roasted brown rice with a sweet, toasted rice flavor. The hue is a light yellow with a mild, smooth taste and rounded body.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the tea leaves themselves that separate good Genmaicha from great Genmaicha (although better tea leaves are certainly a luxury no one would deny). It’s actually the genmai itself…the toasted brown rice (these days often white rice since its cheaper) provides the flavorful nuttiness that will drive you crazy.
Other Names in English
Brown Rice Tea
Strange legend going around in English
There is a story going around in the English language (including on actual products!!) about the origins of genmaicha. As someone familiar with Japanese culture and language, it’s fairly obvious that it was written by someone who doesn’t know Japanese. Here’s how it goes:
A feudal lord was sitting around drinking tea one day when his servant accidently spills rice into his tea. Offended, the feudal lord immediately cut off the guy’s head. However, he tastes the tea and discovers that it actually tastes quite good. In honor of the servant, whose name was Genmai, the tea was named Genmaicha.
Worth a good laugh for someone out there…
Real(?) Origins of Genmaicha
Like Houjicha, Genmaicha probably had its origins as a way to extended the life of tea that had gotten old. The story that is told in Japan is that it comes from a folk custom of roasting leftover kagami-mochi, a kind of rice cake that is eaten during the New Year holidays, and putting the roasted mochi into tea.
Prior to refrigeration, the shelf life of tea leaves did not keep as long. The leaves would lose its flavor after a year, and placing yummy tasting toasted mochi into the tea is one way to combine and enhance both flavors. And as we all know, mochi is made from rice…