As I sit here staring at my box of Yamamotoyama Genmai-cha tea, I find myself somewhat surprised that it has taken me as long as it has to write this review. I've had this box of tea for a fairly long time (over a year now), and for some inexplicable reason, it seems to keep ending up in the bottom of my tea box, forgotten and unloved. This is mystifying to me, however, as it is a wonderful tea, and I'm really not sure at all why I keep overlooking it. So, after making myself a cup of Yamamotoyama's Genmai-cha last night, I wanted to make a point of finally giving it the attention that it deserves.
But first, let's talk about some history. For those unfamiliar with the drink, genmaicha (or genmai-cha) is green tea combined and steeped together with grains of roasted brown rice. Years ago, genmaicha tea was created in Japan as a way for tea houses to offer a less expensive alternative to their more pure blends. Tea was a relatively expensive commodity at the time, and the rice acted as a filler to extend the shop's supply of green tea, thus reducing the price of each serving. At first, this was an effective solution for allowing the less wealthy to enjoy green tea without breaking the bank, and it was even frequently made with the lower quality and less flavorful "bancha" leaf (as opposed to the more premium "sencha" leaf) to further reduce the price. However, as time progressed, the genmaicha mixture grew more and more common, until eventually word got out about the blend's pleasant taste. Soon, tea enthusiasts began making the blend using high-quality tea leaves, and the drink became known more for its unique taste than its previously scorned social pretenses. Once the "tea for the poor" stigma that surrounded the tea began to fade, people from all wealth brackets grew to enjoy the added flavor of the roasted rice, and what had begun as a financial compromise reserved for the lower classes quickly became a widespread cultural icon.
Yamamotoyama's Genmai-cha blend is a very good tea. The taste is very mild and soothing, and the roasted brown rice gives the tea a very earthy and robust flavor. It is difficult to describe exactly what the tea tastes like, as the flavor is very unique, but it is safe to say that the tea is very pleasant. It has a flavor so inoffensive that I doubt that anyone could actively dislike it. Trying to imagine what a rice/tea combination might taste like may be strange for some people (particularly those with more western tastes), and while I'm not really sure how to describe it in more detail, I can offer assurance in two (technically three) fairly simple words: it's good. Yamamotoyama's take on genmaicha makes it clear why the blend grew from its deeply utilitarian origins to its modern nationwide popularity, and you should definitely keep an eye out for this one.
Also, each of the bags are aluminum-sealed, which works wonders for keeping the tea fresh. Excellent work, Yamamotoyama.
Verdict: Highly recommended
Purchased: Asian Market [Columbia, SC]
Size: 16 bags per box