Ayumi: This morning, i am withering the last batch of Our Japanese black tea.
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…
Matcha is a finely milled green tea powder traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremony. Matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves called tencha 甜茶. Preventing direct sunlight from hitting the tea leaves allows amino acids, particularly L-theanine, to remain in the leaf in high levels as well as slowing growth, forcing the leaf to produce more chlorophyll. As a result, the tea leaves themselves have a very low level of astringency in respect to sweetness (astringency is caused by the anti-oxidant catechin and while relatively low, is often higher than most green teas).
After the leaves are harvested, they are steamed to prevent them from being oxidized which helps retain their original color, fragrance, and natural components. Unlike gyokuro and sencha, the leaves are not twisted nor rolled. They are then gently tumble dried with cool air, spread out over a flat surface and left to dry further. The veins and stems are separated from the main part of the leaf at the end of the drying process, and after conducting this finishing of the tea leaf, it is called tencha. This tencha is then ground into a fine powder on a stone mill to make matcha.
Often you will find fairly reasonably priced matcha on the market (under $20 / 50 grams). Manufacturers are able to produce more cheaply and with greater volume using several methods. They may use summer or autumn harvested leaves. They may use leaves produced on fields generally used for sencha. They may also use a ball mill instead of a traditional stone mill which results in the generation of heat as the leaves are pulverized. This tends to degrade the aroma and flavor.
- TalesofYui.com – Rare gifts and collectibles from Japan
- NaturaliTea.com – The English language website selling organic Japanese tea produced by the Kinezuka family and its 30 farmer partners. Toshiaki Kinezuka, having developed organic agricultural techniques for nearly 4 decades, is a leading pioneer of organic Japanese sencha green tea and Japanese black tea.
Matcha does not originate in Japan despite its prominent role in Japanese society. Rather, it is China that has been marked as the birthplace of this medicinal beverage. “Legend” has it that Shennong, an ancient Chinese emperor, stumbled upon matcha’s exceptional taste as tea leaves swept through a nearby window and into his broiling pot of water. Shennong not only took pleasure in drinking the tea, but also later went on to study its health stimulating properties.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a new form of the tea became popular. This “powdered” form of the tea was created by grinding dried leaves and packing them into molds. The forms that the tea grindings took after being molded were regarded as “tea cakes”. To make one cup of tea, a portion of the teacake was broken off and mixed into a cup of hot water. It was not until later that this method of preparing tea was abandoned in China.
In the early 8th century, traveling monks brought tealeaves and seeds with them to Japan. Soon a whole new system of growing, cultivating, and preparing tea developed; eventually leading to the creation of what we now all know as matcha. Subsequently, in the 11th century, a Japanese priest by the name of Eisai launched the cultivation of green tea in Japan. In his book, he reveals the secret to a healthy life: “Tea is the ultimate mental and medicinal remedy that has the ability to makes one’s life more full and complete.” The history of matcha has influenced Japan significantly, leading it to be the only tea to be used in traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Sado.
Another extremely influential figure apart from Eisai was a person by the name of Sen no Rikyu. From an early childhood, Rikyu studied the art of tea ceremony under Kitamuki Dochin and later Takeno Joo. During his later years as an adult he became the tea master for Oda Nobunaga (1979), a powerful daimyo (territorial lord) and after his death became the tea master for Nobunaga’s successor, (1582) Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Quickly, the relationship between tea master and daimyo became stronger, in effect providing Rikyu with many opportunities to deeply influence the system of tea ceremony. One of these instances would be Hideyoshi’s tea gathering for Emperor Ogimachi, upon which the Emperor himself gave the tea master the name “Rikyu Koji”.
During his time, Rikyu developed many of the equipment utilized in tea ceremony today such as flower containers, tea scoops, and lid rests made out of bamboo. Fond of simplicity, Rikyu collaborated with Raku Chojiro (tile maker) to create beautifully simple teabowls. Wabi-Sabi, type of philosophy that finds beauty in the very simple was not however, invented by Rikyu but instead was developed and made popular by him. Rikyu’s teachings came to be known as soan-cha (the grass-thatched hermitage style of chanoyu).
His death was unfortunate, as he was ordered by Hideyoshi to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for reasons that are still unclear. The day of his death, he held the finest tea ceremony as his last act. One guest remained after the others had left to serve as a witness to Rikyu’s death. His last words were a poem:
O sword of eternity!
And through Daruma alike
Thou has cleft thy way
Till this day, Sen no Rikyu has remained an inspiration and figure of great respect among the patrons who study the art and who know its history.
By Kaili Ayers
There are a myriad of details that must be adhered to when preparing and conducting a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Details that range from the articulate placement of utensils to the appropriate choice of content for the hanging scrolls must be catered to. Generally, there are several names that can be used to identify traditional Japanese tea ceremony; among these are Chado (茶道), Sado (茶道, same characters, different pronunciation), or Chanoyu (茶の湯). Though China and Korea also have their own forms of tea ceremony, Japan has the most well known.
The main focus of the ceremony is surprisingly almost unrelated to the actual tea itself. Rather, most of the emphasis is put into the aesthetics of presenting the tea to the guests through a predetermined process of movement. Though, it isn’t just about memorizing the sequence of steps in your mind. The art of tea ceremony also incorporates a spiritual component. Sensho Tanaka, the founder of the Japan Association of the Tea Ceremony, experienced firsthand the potential of attaining a certain state of consciousness comparable to that which is acquired in Zen meditation and therefore believed that practicing temae, or the ritual of preparing tea, would be a good chance for anyone to look at his inner self, enabling him to understand and enjoy the spiritual aspects of the tradition of Japanese tea ceremony. This is what is called the Zen Theory in the study of Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Depending on the season, preparation for the tea ceremony changes. In effect, two distinct ways to prepare tea have been developed; one being the Furo Temae (風炉点前) or preparation during the warm seasons and two being the Ro Temae (炉点前) in the cool seasons. The main difference between the two is that the Kama (釜) or iron kettle is placed on a brazier (風炉) in the warm season, and in the cool season it is placed in a sunken hearth or Ro (炉), which is a square hole in the tatami flooring. In accordance to this, the positioning of the utensils changes; and it is because of this that the method of finishing the tea ceremony during Furo and Ro slightly differs.
The time of day, time of year, and where the venue is at can be variables in the small altercations that occur to suit which type of tea ceremony takes place. A typical cool season tea ceremony occurring at noon with one host and up to five guests is considered of the most formal of tea ceremonies. Typically, the procedures are intensely systematic and require patience and appreciation for the art. A tea ceremony may last up to four hours depending on the type of ceremony performed.
It starts of with the guests entering a waiting room where they prepare for the ceremony by taking off their coats and storing their belongings. Normally, they are served some sort of hot water beverage: most commonly a type of tea. Next, they purify themselves by washing their hands and mouths.
Prior to entering the tea room, guests remove their footwear. Upon sitting down, guests sit according to rank or prestige, and then the host enters. The guests are served a meal in several courses accompanied by nihonshu (日本酒, or what we call “sake” in English) and wagashi (和菓子) or Japanese confectionary. After the meal, the guests leave the room to wait for the host to sweep the tea room, replace the hanging scroll with a flower arrangement and prepare to make tea.
Before reentering the room, guests once again purify themselves and sit in the same order. The host places all of the tea-making utensils in an orderly and predetermined fashion, and then prepares the thick tea (Koicha 濃茶). A series of bows are exchanged and the cup of tea is passed down from the highest ranked guest to the last, each taking a sip of the tea and admiring artistry of the tea cup. The host then cleans up (in a systematic way), and then leaves the room only to come back and rekindle the fire, signifying that the ceremony has shifted to a more casual atmosphere or portion.
More tea and confections are served and casual conversation ensues. Before the host puts the utensils away, they are passed around from highest ranked guest to lowest so that they may see them up close. The host collects the utensils, and as the guests leave the tea house, the host will bow from the door.
“The Japanese Tea Ceremony.” Japanese Tea Ceremony. Web. 28 May 2012.
“Japanese Tea Ceremony.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 May 2012. Web. 28 May 2012.