In my experience, genmaichas vary a lot in quality, apparently because some producers avail themselves of the opportunity to use very low-grade green tea as the base, knowing as they do that the popped rice will dominate anyway. Adding to the unpredictable quality of genmaicha purchased without first testing (or even after, since batches may vary greatly as well), is the age of the popped rice.
Many kinds of tea have an excellent shelf life—as evidenced by the fact that the “use by” date is generally three years out from production. I’ve consumed plenty of tea way beyond its expiration date, much of which has been perfectly potable. Perhaps the age would matter more with the highest tier teas, but for mass-market produced teas, even the freshest batch may not be that great to begin with, so what’s a few years? The same thing happens with spices at the grocery store, by the way. Those bottles have been sitting there for ages and may literally be years old when you first open one! The best place to buy spices is from somewhere like Penzey’s, in my opinion, but that’s another story.
Genmaicha is more finicky because the popped rice can go stale, and once it does, the tea is ruined. This Numi Toasted Rice tea (in effect, genmaicha, though they recently appear to have removed that part of the name from the label—perhaps gringos found it too scary?—is very fresh and tasty, and the underlying base tea is not murky and brown but beautiful greenish yellow, the surest sign that they did not lie when they claimed “organic sencha” as the number one ingredient.
The popped rice flavor is also fresh, so together the fresh and high-quality sencha and the fresh and toasty rice add up to a fine genmaicha—surprisingly so, given that it’s found in a filter bag! I received bags of this tea in some boxes of the Numi sampler (which by the way I highly recommend since it features 18 different teas—that’s why I bought four boxes…). I’ll probably purchase a full box of this genmaicha in the future.