Ultimate Guide to Japanese Popcorn Tea: What is Genmaicha?

By Leslie Betz
Updated: June 19, 2024

While Japanese matcha green tea is celebrated around the world, the more humble genmaicha tea, also known as “the people’s tea,” offers a unique and delightful toasty flavor that can’t be compared. It’s a versatile tea that’s enjoyed before, during, and after meals, and easily pairs with many kinds of food.

Japanese tea, with its many wonderful varieties, can be traced back to the 700s, when the emperor sent a delegation to China. They enjoyed the rich tea culture so much that they brought back the seeds that would become what we know as traditional Japanese tea today. 

Formerly a drink reserved for the elites, with improved growing techniques and a flourishing arts culture, tea became available to people of all levels of Japanese society. While matcha is still mostly reserved for tea ceremonies, you can find Japanese teas in the form of everyday drinks or incorporated into foods like cakes, ice cream and even crackers and cookies.

What is genmaicha?

A peek inside a bag of genmaicha tea, filled with green tea leaves, roasted brown rice and popped rice kernels.

Also known as popcorn tea, Japanese genmaicha tea is a mix of green tea and toasted rice, usually at a 1:1 ratio. While its name translates as brown rice tea, it actually features roasted white rice, which is first soaked, dried and then toasted until turning a light brown, with a few kernels popping. It is then mixed with green tea, giving it the perfect flavor balance of the green tea’s astringency and umami, with the sweet toastiness of the rice. 

Originally bancha tea was used as it was more affordable, due to it being picked at the end of the season and consisting of harder, more tannic leaves. Nowadays, genmaicha is mostly made with sencha, a higher grade tea, but you can occasionally find hoji-genmaicha (roasted tea), matcha-iri genmaicha (matcha) or even gyokuro genmaicha (the highest quality tea leaf). 

After brewing, its color turns a light gold, and it has a nutty, grassy taste that is rounded out nicely by the puffed rice.

The history of genmaicha in Japan

A black-and-white image of a traditional Japanese home, with a man, woman and child sitting around a Japanese tea set.

Legend has it that a samurai’s servant accidentally dropped rice into his master’s tea from his sleeve, and as a result, was either killed or heralded, depending on the story. Other genmaicha legends are related to the Japanese concept of mottainai, or being mindful to not waste anything. 

The first legend has it that during the breaking of the mirror mochi at the New Year’s festival, the crumbs were collected and added to tea, while the second legend has it that the leftover rice stuck to a cooking pot was added to tea. These show the value and appreciation for things in Japanese culture and are similar to the idea of, “waste not, want not.” 

A close-up of Japanese genmaicha tea, showing the dried tea leaves, roasted brown rice and the popped corn.

Other, more practical origin stories suggest that during times of economic hardship, rice was added to stretch expensive tea in Kyoto. This also offered a bit of relief when food was scarce due to the addition of puffed rice, which can be eaten. The Genmaicha Research Institute gives some beautiful insight into the philosophy, saying:

“...we can feel the blessings that connect us to the beginning of the universe and appreciate the heart of Shojin Ryori (Zen cuisine), which does not waste a single grain of rice, one leaf, or one drop of water, and the principles of genmaicha resonate with this philosophy.” 

Whichever of these legends is true, genmaicha tea was a delicious discovery that is still celebrated today.

How to make genmaicha?

A glass tea pot of genmaicha tea, a golden yellow color that's complemented by the yellow background and green surface. In the foreground, genmaicha tea leaves in a bowl.

To enjoy the authentic taste of genmaicha at home, you will need the essentials:

  • Hot water
  • A thermometer
  • A kyusu (Japanese teapot)
  • Yunomi (Japanese tea cups)

If you are using genmaicha made with bancha, your water will need to be between 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit, while if you are using genmaicha made with sencha, it is best to use slightly cooler water at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Standard brewing uses 3-4 grams of tea per serving, and 50 ml of hot water for every 2 grams of genmaicha. Meaning, if you are making tea for two, use 6-8 grams of tea and 150-200 ml of hot water. 

A glass tea pot with tea leaves steeping in the center, turning the hot water a light yellow.

Steep for an average of three minutes, but at minimum a little over one minute, and a maximum of up to five minutes. The longer you brew, the thicker, richer and smoother the taste becomes, but some of the green tea’s flavor will be lost. 

In most Japanese homes, multiple infusions are common, so for second or more infusions, use water at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and brew for 2-5 minutes. 

If you prefer your tea cold, you can cold brew genmaicha as well. Soak the tea in ice cold water, letting it sit for 2-3 hours. It can be stored for up to a day in the refrigerator, but is best enjoyed the same day. 

To store your dry tea leaves, keep them in a chaki (traditional Japanese airtight tea container), which have been beautifully made in the same method for centuries. They’re also a great gift to bring home due to their amazing craftsmanship and ability to keep tea fresh.

Does Japanese genmaicha tea have caffeine?

A glass tea pot with genmaicha tea bags steeping.

Genmaicha has less caffeine than regular green tea since the amount of tea leaves is nearly halved. Standard green tea has about 20-30 mg of caffeine, while genmaicha has only 6.5-12 mg, and it also has higher nutrient levels, making it a great tea for those sensitive to caffeine. 

The recommended limit is up to 8 cups per day, but this depends on your caffeine tolerance. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to try another popular caffeine-free Japanese tea like mugicha (barley tea).

Are there any genmaicha health benefits?

A top-down shot of genmaicha tea leaves and glass cups filled with tea. Around then, fresh green leaves.

Like all green tea, one of the strongest genmaicha benefits is found in the powerful antioxidants included. Genmaicha also promotes heart health and blood flow, reduces the risks of cancer, and can even reduce the effects of wrinkles

It is also said to have a relaxing effect on the brain, improving sleep quality and reducing stress. In addition, it has a low glycemic index, low caffeine and is less acidic, so it is safe for those with diabetes, GERD or celiac disease. 

In Japan, it is sometimes used for fasting between meals and is known to help kill mouth bacteria, keeping your mouth feeling fresh.

Here is the general nutritional breakdown of genmaicha:


  • Riboflavin B2 (1%): 0.01 mg
  • Niacin B3 (1%): 0.1 mg
  • Vitamin B6 (1%): 0.01 mg
  • Folic Acid B9 (1%): 3 µg
  • Vitamin C (1%): 1 mg


  • Sodium (0%): 2 mg
  • Potassium (0%): 7 mg
  • Calcium (0%): 2 mg
  • Magnesium (0%): 1 mg
  • Phosphorus (0%): 1 mg
  • Copper (1%): 0.01 mg

Other ingredients

  • Moisture: 99.9 g
  • Caffeine: 0.01 g
  • Tannins: 0.01 g

Where to try genmaicha in Japan?

A selection of traditional Japanese tea leaves in white dishes, waiting to be prepared.

While genmaicha is most often enjoyed at home, you can find it bottled in convenience stores, usually cold, but sometimes offered hot during the winter. 

If you’re wanting a fresh, hot cup of genmaicha, try it with a meal at a sushi restaurant, where they will likely offer you an option of green tea to pair with your meal, or at an ochazuke shop where it can be used to pour over your meal. 

You may occasionally find it offered with wagashi Japanese sweets, but matcha is still most common in formal teahouses. To enjoy genmaicha with wagashi, stop by a specialty tea cafe and choose your tea and sweets to pair. You may also even find it offered in your hotel as part of your room’s amenities!

Japanese tea tasting, matcha making and matcha sweets in Tokyo

Shot glasses filled with five different types of traditional Japanese tea, perfect for trying the different flavors.

For a more personal and immersive tea experience, join our class for Japanese tea tasting, matcha-making and matcha sweets in Tokyo. Our host, Chisei, is a professional tea instructor and has seven years of experience in tea farming, cultivating and processing, so you can get to know more about the world of Japanese tea while enjoying a hands-on experience. 

Featuring five kinds of tea, each with their own distinct preparation methods, you have the opportunity to compare flavors and make sure they’re all brewed to perfection.

Book this experience to try five traditional Japanese teas!

While Japan is well-known overseas for its matcha, the humble genmaicha tea continues to be a family staple, and nothing can beat its rich balance of the green tea’s umami and the warmth of the toasted rice. 

Try it with some wagashi or a fabulous sushi meal. If you want to know more about the fascinating types of tea, check out the most popular types of Japanese tea.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Leslie Betz
Embracing the local life and finding new hidden gems are my favorite things to do here in Tokyo, Japan. After deciding to make a new life in Japan, I learned the language and fell in love with a great local guy and ended up getting married. In our free time, you can find us roasting coffee, doing pop-up events at bicycle shops or exploring hidden neighborhoods on our bikes.
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