Genmaicha is a Japanese beverage made from green tea and brown rice. It has been consumed in the east for many hundreds of years, and in recent years it has also become popular here in the United Kingdom, where it is often known as popcorn tea. It has a strange history and a unique flavor composition, and it could also provide the drinker with some interesting health benefits.
What is Popcorn Tea (A.K.A. Genmaicha)?
The word genmaicha roughly translates as “brown rice tea”, with the name popcorn tea stemming from the fact that some of the rice grains are known to pop during production. It is also known as people’s tea, as genmaicha has historically been considered a cheaper alternative to many other varieties of tea, making it more accessible.
Brown rice was traditionally added as a way to increase the weight of a cheap green tea, making it more affordable. But tea drinkers throughout Japan soon fell in love with the taste, and now it’s added as a flavoring and consumed by people in all walks of life. Genmaicha teas now use all kinds of green tea as a base, including matcha tea, which is produced to a very high standard and is one of the most expensive types of tea in the world on a cup-for-cup basis.
History of Popcorn Tea
There are multiple stories concerning the origin of popcorn tea, including one that suggests it was created accidentally when a servant spilled cooked rice into his master’s tea. But these are likely nothing more than interesting fables and we’ll probably never know the true origins of genmaicha.
We do know it was later used as a way of making a tea harvest stretch further, as mentioned above, which in turn could make the tea more affordable for a larger number of people.
Popcorn Tea Benefits
There are a number of health benefits to consuming genmaicha tea, but all of these are provided by the green tea. The addition of brown rice means that the average genmaicha isn’t quite as beneficial as the average green tea on a weight-by-weight basis (because while brown rice may be good for you, popping a few grains into a cup of tea won’t do anything), but there are still plenty of healthy antioxidants here and plenty of reasons to drink it, including:
1. It Can Reduce Your Cancer Risk
Genmaicha tea, and green tea in general, contains a number of potent antioxidants, including something known as ECGC. This has been linked with a host of health benefits and is thought to greatly reduce someone’s risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and more. Countless research has found connections between regular consumption of these antioxidants (in their natural form) and reduced rates of most forms of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological decline.
These antioxidants are also present in white tea and in dark fermented teas, but they are at their most abundant in green tea.
It’s worth noting, however, that there is an association between tea consumption and oral/esophageal cancers. This association is believed to stem from the repeat consumption of scalding hot tea, and the associations are even greater in countries like China, where tea is nearly always consumed at very high temperatures.
In the UK, we tend to add a splash of cold milk to black/dark teas, and it’s also more common to wait for green/white teas to cool down before drinking. If you’re concerned about this risk, make sure you brew green/popcorn tea the “proper” way, which is at 80°C to 85°C. Not only will this make for a better cup of tea, but it will also ensure you don’t drink scalding hot liquid.
2. It Could Help with Weight Loss
The claims made about green tea and weight loss have been greatly exaggerated, but there are some benefits here and these are also provided by popcorn tea. Not only does it contain caffeine, which can boost the metabolism (albeit marginally), but it may also suppress the appetite.
3. It Reduced Inflammation
Regular consumption of teas like genmaicha could reduce inflammation throughout the body, minimizing discomfort caused by joint inflammation, alleviating pain and discomfort associated with gastrointestinal discomfort, and even hastening recovery follow injury.
This is actually one of the reasons it has been associated with a decreased mortality and a longer lifespan, as chronic inflammation is associated with many deadly diseases and with an early demise, and if you keep that inflammation to a minimum, it stands to reason that those risks will decrease.
4. It Could Prevent Neurological Decline
The same antioxidants that help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer could also have a neuroprotective effect, which means they may be responsible for reducing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The studies on these effects are not as diverse and as promising as the studies on sideritis scardica and a few other herbs we’ve covered before, but they are definitely noteworthy.
How to Brew Genmaicha
You can brew genmaicha at a slightly higher heat than green tea, but it shouldn’t be boiling. The ideal temperature is around 85°C, as opposed to the 100°C at which black tea is typically brewed. It’s best enjoyed without milk, and you can add sugar or honey to sweeten it. The brown rice is said to add a natural sweetness and to an extent it does, but if you’re used to drinking your tea sweet, you will still need to add some sweetener to your genmaicha.
The Best Genmaicha
Genmaicha is like any other tea: its quality varies greatly and can depend on everything from the growth cycle to the harvest time and the preparation. The quality of the rice shouldn’t come into it—it’s used in such small quantities that even the stingiest of producers are unlikely to try and cut corners. However, the quantity of popped to un-popped rice will influence the taste, so the firing stage is important.
This is the stage where a high heat is applied to the tea in order to stop oxidation and to retain many of the antioxidants that make green tea such a healthy drink. To get the most from your tea, you should keep it in a cool and dry place, as humidity can further oxidise the leaves and impact their taste and nutritional composition.
As for the tea itself, we recommend purchasing a basic genmaicha to start. There’s no point spending big on a premium variety only to discover that the taste isn’t for you. If you’ve tried it and you like it, by all means look into purchasing a higher quality variety to explore some more of the intense and unusual flavors that popcorn tea provides.