Huddled over my laptop and nursing my cold with a warm roasty mug of soba cha (buckwheat tea) I was all set to write a bit about goma dofu (sesame tofu). I tried and tried to psych myself up to write about cold tofu but instead ended up daydreaming and reveling in the aroma of my tea.
For those of you who have tried the more common genmai cha (brown rice tea), which contains grains of roasted rice, soba cha has a somewhat similar nutty toasted flavor. But, unlike genmai cha, soba cha isn’t a mix of green tea and toasted buckwheat grains, it is *just* the toasted buckwheat grains (aka kasha). The same grains are used to make soba noodles.
Unfortunately soba cha is a little more pricey and hard to find than many other Japanese teas, but I think it is worth the effort. It has a nutty flavor that is delicious as a tea and also wonderful to cook with—it can even be eaten straight or sprinkled on salads. Which brings me to the “recipes” for this week.
I would feel remiss if didn’t include at least a reference to a recipe, but these two, we’ll call them cooking suggestions, are so easy they barely count. To make ‘soba cha rice’ simply add a tablespoon or two of the tea to the rice right before you cook it. The rice will be infused with the nuttiness of the tea, and, since the tea can be eaten straight, it just mixes in with the rice. The second suggestion is to use soba cha for the Japanese dish ochazuke.
Ochazuke deserves a whole separate entry, but just briefly, it is tea poured over cooked rice often topped with furikake seasonings, tsukemono pickles, or whatever strikes your fancy. Most Japanese grocery stores even sell ochazuke mixes. It is often eaten as a snack, comfort food or hangover cure (so much so that it has a couple Facebook pages) but can also be a full meal.
A note on syntax — ‘soba cha‘ and ‘cha soba‘ refer to different things! The latter typically refers to tea-flavored noodles, so if you go to the store asking for cha soba you’ll get directed to green pasta.
Pauline Fujita lives in Santa Cruz, California. A biologist by trade and a glutton at heart, she’s especially interested in Japanese and Japanese influenced food.