One of Japan’s oldest tea traditions, Ōbukucha (大福茶 - good fortune tea) is the name given to a special concoction drunk around the new year in order to usher in good luck for the upcoming year. While the ingredients vary from region to region and between various tea producers and sellers, common inclusions are umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), musubi kombu (kelp tied into a knot), kuromame (sweet simmered black soybeans), and flakes of edible gold leaf.
History of Ōbukucha
While accounts of this tea’s invention also vary, the story goes something like this: In the year 951, during the reign of Emperor Murakami, a great epidemic struck the city of Kyoto. The Buddhist monk Kūya (空也), founded the Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple (六波羅蜜寺) in order to pray for an end to the plague, and began serving a special tea that healed people of their illness. The Emperor also drank this tea and he too was cured, giving this tea its name: ōbukucha, which was originally spelled 皇服茶/王服茶 - the tea that the Emperor drinks. Since then, Emperor Murakami ushered in each new year with this special tea. Years later, the characters were changed to mean ‘great luck’ or ‘great fortune’ tea. In some versions of the legend, it is the Emperor himself that devises the concoction, being instructed in a dream by the Goddess of Mercy, Kanzeon (観世音).
How To Make Ōbukucha, Samurai Style
Today, you can buy many teas that are labelled as ōbukucha. Some are simply a seasonal pure tea blend, others are a sencha or genmaicha blended with gold flakes and kombu, while some include separately packaged musubi kombu and dried umeboshi.
This recipe, however, is unique as it hails from a school of Japanese tea ceremony, and as such uses matcha instead of sencha or bancha. Specifically, this version of ōbukucha comes from the Ūeda Sōko-ryū: a warrior-class school founded by samurai and teaist Ueda Sōko (上田宗箇) (1563–1650).
To make it, you’ll need three ingredients (plus matcha, of course):
- Umeboshi: Japanese pickled plum
- Kuromame: Sweet simmered black soybeans (here's our favourite recipe)
- Sansho powder
- First, whisk up a bowl of your favourite usucha
- Using chopsticks, place the umeboshi in the centre of the bowl
- Lastly, use the chopsticks to dip one kuromame into the sansho powder and gently balance it on top of the plum inside the bowl
To drink this festive tea, you might need the help of a kuromoji or a chopstick to scoop the umeboshi and kuromame as you sip the tea.
PS: Don’t forget that the umeboshi has a seed inside and to spit it out!