You learn a lot about tea when you start a job at a tea company. In my first month here at two leaves and a bud, I've tried to pronounce "Tamayokucha," learned that some chai teas really are better than others (but I'm not naming names), and been told more than once to refill the electric kettle.
So then Bess mentions the new loose leaf tea we're going to be carrying — plenty of different kinds, two of which are Genmai Matcha and Hoji Cha. Great, I think. Another couple of teas I can't pronounce. But catching a glimpse of these varieties in little sample bags around the office, it's clear there's something really different about these two.
Genmai Matcha, Japanese for "brown rice tea," is exactly that: green tea combined with roasted brown rice. So, you've got your tea leaves, and then floating around with them are grains of rice (some of them, by the way, look like popcorn, because a few of the grains pop during the roasting process). "What's this, a science experiment?" my husband said, half joking, while leaning over the cup of Genmai Matcha I had sitting next to the computer last night. "You'll be amazed," I told him. "It's like drinking a cup of green tea paired with those Asian rice crackers we sometimes snack on." He sipped, he gave an approving grunt, he nodded. He's sold.
When you're looking at this loose tea, you'll also notice a green powder in with the leaves and roasted rice — that's the matcha, a powdered green tea that gives it color and a nice green tea flavor.
As a tea neophyte, I want to tell you how Hoji Cha tea looks like tiny sticks. (When you're new at describing tea, you use any modifier you can think of. Although I wouldn't recommend referring to a cup of tea as "tasting like dirt." You might want to go with "earthy." Just a tip.) But it turns out, I'm right about the stick thing. Hoji Cha is tea made only from stems and stalks of the Camellia Sinensis plant — the very tea plant where we get our two leaves and a bud from. So what's with this "stem tea," as some Japanese call it? The one we'll be offering as loose leaf tea brews up a pretty amber-brown color, and has a rich and nutty, slightly sweet flavor.
Sound like an expert, don't I?