Obukucha, Japanese New Year’s Good Luck Tea

Obukucha  大福茶  is a Kyoto tradition that can actually be a few different kinds of tea. Whatever exactly, it is named for what it is meant to bring, lots of good luck.

The origins of obukucha are said to go back to an epidemic that struck Kyoto during the Heian period. The itinerant priest Kūya helped people by giving them tea, and the tradition of new year’s tea for good luck developed from there.

What Obukucha Is (or Can Be)

Some obukucha is said to be made from sencha with kombu seaweed, a Japanese ume plum in each bowl, and sometimes flakes of gold leaf.

Some may be brewed with fresh spring water, only collected on New Year’s Day, served in Kyoto temples.

Ippodo Tea, for example, makes an obukucha that is a genmaicha, i.e. Japanese green tea mixed with roasted rice. For their obukucha genmaicha, though, the higher-quality sencha (rather than bancha) is used, and there is less of the rice in it.

Ippodo Tea Obukucha Matcha

Ippodo Tea also makes obukucha matcha in three different versions of the same tea:

  • Neno-mukashi, which gets a label showing the animal of the Chinese zodiac whose year is coming up (and which is only available from December 1 to January 15);
  • Wakamatsu-no-mukashi, which comes in the smaller 20g tin, and
  • Seiun, coming in the 40g tin. (Those two available from December 1 to January 31.)

The matcha are the same type either way; and it is a very good matcha that can be used for koicha “thick” matcha.

(If it sounds strange that the same tea should come with different names: No, that is actually common. Certainly, but not exclusively, with the matcha from Ippodo; they mention where different size tins of the same matcha have different names all the time.)

Marukyu Koyama-en Obukucha Matcha

Marukyu Koyama-en, always deep in traditions and involved with many tea schools, have long been offering obukucha matcha.

Marukyu Koyama-en Obukucha Kin

This is one of the regular cases, also, where they offer a silver “gin” and an even higher-quality “kin” (gold) version.

Either matcha is good, but there is a distinct difference between them, too.

As usual, the “gin” version is of a quality good enough for a koicha, but stronger in flavor. It already appealed intensely to me; it is vegetal and sweet and round.

The “kin” obukucha is a velvety dream; soft and round with a taste that is fleeting, intensely good in aroma with umami and a sweetness. It surprised me, but it was a step up from the “gin.” As high-quality matcha typically go, it has to be savored.

Horii Shichimei-en Obukucha Matcha

This year, one of the matcha producers that I know little about because they are somewhat hidden, not easily available, not marketing themselves offensively (or in English, at all), also released an obukucha matcha.

Horii Shichimei-en Obuku-no-mukashi

This matcha maker is Horii Shichimeien, and going by what Sazen Tea (my usual purveyor for matcha; they have a great selection) say about and offers from them, they should be paid more attention.

Their obukucha matcha is Obuku-no-shiro or Obuku-no-mukashi. So yes, really, they also produced two different qualities obukucha.

A “shiro” (“white”) is for usucha, a “mukashi” is for koicha. I tried the higher-quality Obuku-no-mukashi.

It is very interesting; it is round and good in aroma, but different again. The flavor made me think of minerals; there was something to it that was not the usual vegetalness or sweetness or umami… even as it was a very good matcha in all of those respects.

I do still have to return to this matcha and really make it as a koicha, though. This New Year’s drinking of it, I think I made it too thin. Little things like the amount of matcha and of water, as well as the temperature of the water, quickly make a difference with matcha…

Second try, this time really made as koicha, it had the creaminess that a koicha should have. The taste was different again, yet similar: Nice, round, slightly sweet, vegetal – a good matcha. With a certain strength, something of a prickling feeling of it.

I liked it, but I’m not sure a beginner with matcha should go for it. A good continuation of the new year it was.

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