By Katherine Burnett
The early samurai of the 1st century Japan were military servants. By what I have read, I would not want to meet one in a dark alley.
Though protectors of the wealthy, they too were wealthy and had servants. The legend of Genmai, a samurai's servant, is not exactly a bedtime story for grandchildren, but perhaps in the Hallowe’en season, it could have some merit.
Photo courtesy of StoryNory.com
Master Samurai was entertaining a VIP and ordered some tea to be served. Genmai, the servant boy made a pot of Sencha green tea, very likely the highest quality in his cupboard to impress the visitor. Now Genmai was poor and his snack consisted of grains of rice which he kept tucked in the rolled up sleeve of his tunic. As Genmai bent over the master and his friend seated on the floor, he tipped the pot into their vessels and as he did, some loose grains of rice fell from his sleeve into the grassy green herbaceous libation, making little splashes and causing great alarm and disdain by master samurai.
Samurai were known to be ready for attack and though this accident by Genmai should, by my standards, have solicited very little reaction, it was interpreted as a great insult to his master who jumped to his feet, pulled out his sword and cut off Genmai’s head! Can you imagine being the guest at that moment?
As Genmai’s head rolled and came to a stop a few feet away, Master Samurai sat down as if nothing had happened and he and Mr. VIP sipped the tea with the grains of rice. To his surprise, his guest’s eyes widened as his tongue ran over his lips. Master Samurai, a little puzzled, nodded with serenity and pleasure.
“This is very good…the best tea I have ever had!” he said.
“I will continue to add rice grain to my tea from now on. And since my servant no longer can serve me, I wish to remember him. I will call this magnificent blend Genmai-cha (Genmai’s tea).”
And that’s the story (perhaps embellished a little bit) which goes down in Japanese history as a ‘believe it or not’ legend about what I think is one of the yummiest teas we have in our green tea selection. I try not to think of poor Genmai as I drink it.
Over time it became known as the Japanese ‘people’s tea’ because affordable rice could be added as a filler and reduce the price of tea. And actually, legends aside, Genmaicha means ‘brown rice tea.’
Currently, Genmaicha is one of the most popular green teas in North America. With the added rice kernels which are well roasted and popped, this green tea is less herbaceous and more roasty-toasty and a bit nutty to taste. I enjoy it on its own or with a plain melba toast and a sweet mild cheese like Havarti. A rice cracker would be good accompaniment too!
Genmaicha also makes a wonderful broth for soups (see recipe below). Japanese scented broths and sauces often rely on tea stocks to gently flavour food. Add the tea in a sachet to the pot of hot water and then lift out when the intensity of tea flavour has been achieved. Add whatever veggies, noodles or rice you prefer!
As the seasons change, if you haven’t already tried it, think ‘Genmaicha’ and if you do, we’ve applied a 10% discount as incentive to add it to your tea shelf.
As spooky, creepy traditional tales find their way into our homes at Hallowe’en, you can add the Legend of Genmai to your storytelling and raise a cup or two to the servant himself!
Genmaicha Fish Soup
from the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada
What you'll need:
4 tsp loose or 4 teabags Genmaicha tea
1 red onion, diced
2 sticks celery, chopped fine
½ bulb fennel, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
4 medium chopped plum tomatoes
500 ml fish or vegetable stock
200 g salmon fillet, skinned
300 g halibut fillet , skinned
12 raw peeled shrimps
1 large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
What you'll do:
· Steep tea in 400 ml water at 80C for 5 minutes. Remove/strain tea and set steeped tea aside.
· In a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat 2tsp of olive oil. Add the onion, celery, fennel, garlic and sautee until soft. Add the wine, tomatoes , steeped tea and stock and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Season and gently break up the tomatoes.
· Roughly chop the salmon and halibut and add to the pan. Add the shrimp, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until just cooked.
· Taste the soup and season it again with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the chopped parsley.
*As a bonus to our customers, we are offering a 10% discount on Genmaicha for October.