Thursday, 4 October 2012

More Than Less

The concept of reading one's future in tea leaves seems plausible when you're holding a bowl of genmaicha: the ragged leaves and swollen rice, some grains waterlogged and littering the bottom, others afloat and clinging to the edge; the bits of stem strewn about like drift logs; and here and there the starburst of a popped kernel. Seaweed fronds pulsing in an algal olive tide, yellow, green, and brown beneath an oily, almost soup-like steam.

Yep, that's my life, alright.

Genmaicha is a mixture of roasted (gen) rice (mai) and green tea (cha). The rice is for flavour and body, and to cut the tea, which would otherwise outprice the intended customer. The tea itself is minimally-processed cull-grade chaff, up to a quarter stem, with a musty character reminiscent of old books. It's steeped a good long time before drinking, sometimes even chafed. The overall effect is hearty, wholesome, and rural.

Like brown rice and pinto beans, genmaicha is poor man's provender, traditionally sold to Japanese peasants as "tea, more or less". And like those other pillars of my mountain diet, it's superior, warp and woof, to the fine feeble fare of the entitled. It's a supportive bowl, generous and competent, and far more valuable than sencha, the fragile, astringent stuff of the Japanese middle class.

Not that foreigners always "get" genmaicha, either; I've often wondered what Japanese visitors think, seeing it sold at gyokuro prices in trendy American boutiques. By contrast, the giant package I brought to the woods was purchased in a Canadian supermarket for seven dollars. Savoury and sustaining, it quickly became my everyday tea, shifting my fancy Dragon Well to between-meal treats on barn days.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson.)
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