Genmaicha a Taste of Ancient Japan

Japanese temple overlooking a Japanese city

In ancient Japan, the common people stretched their tea supply by adding toasted brown rice, which was in abundance. The combination of umami-rich sencha (Japan's spring-harvested, steamed green tea) and nutty toasted rice was so adored that it has become a traditional style of tea known as genmaicha, "brown rice tea." Today, it is a popular taste of old Japan, sometimes made with the finest sencha.

a plate of genmaicha

My favorite genmaicha is from Japan's southernmost tea-growing region, Kagoshima. It has a particularly rich taste reminiscent of sweet potato and fresh grass and a delicate, exotic aroma that reminds me of incense, in a really good way. The cup is full-bodied, clean, savory and satisfying. It is the perfect tea to drink with any kind of Japanese food.

sakaurajima erupting in Japan in a blue sky with plumes of smoke


The unique taste of the genmaicha from Kagoshima has to do with preparation and terroir – one of the world's most active volcanoes is in Kagoshima. Mount Sakurajima, "cherry blossom island," frequently erupts, throwing mineral-rich volcanic ash over the land, adding nutrients and a rich, umami taste to the tea.

a field of shaded tea leaves in Japan

To further intensify the taste and nutrient density of the tea, the tea plants in Kagoshima are shaded for a week or so before harvest to keep them from photosynthesizing. The result is a vibrant, almost blue-green tea that is exceptionally rich in chlorophyll, amino acids and catechins, the antioxidants associated with tea's reported metabolism-boosting and cancer-fighting properties.

Japanese farmer standing out front of a field of tea leaves with mountains in the background in Japan

On top of this, the organic tea farmers I work with at the Bio Farm in Kagoshima use indigenous cultivars like Yutaka Midori and Hatsumomiji for a taste profile unlike anything else in the world.

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