New Year's Teas

Happy New Year, Tea Lovers! With so many holiday parties coming up this month I already know that by New Year's Eve, spending another night with a cocktail in hand won't sound too appealing to me. Many good hosts I know simply won't let their guests be empty handed at their party, however, so I thought this year I'd decline ringing in my New Year with anything from a bottle and switch to something from a pot: a teapot, of course. While this might seem strange considering the American tradition of consuming copious amounts of champagne on New Year's Eve, drinking New Year tea is not a new idea.

Many cultures around the world celebrate the New Year, and naturally they do so at different times of the year and in different ways. Unlike how we roll in the United States, many countries and cultures don't rely quite so heavily on alcohol consumption at their New Year. Some celebrate by eating symbolic foods. Others do it with nonalcoholic beverages. Thus, it probably isn't surprising to hear that both Chinese and Japanese New Year's traditions often include drinking special or lucky teas. In fact, the first tea ceremony of the New Year in Japan is so significant, it even has a special name: hatsugama.

In Japan, gold is considered lucky. One company, Hibiki-an, offers a Golden Celebration Matcha tea that it claims the Japanese drink on New Year's Day as part of a long-standing tradition. "The tea is consumed while praying for the welfare of the household, and appreciating the good fortune of the previous year. It is a special moment, full of happiness and hope for the future." The tea is prepared and small gold flakes are sprinkled over the cups for good luck.

Ofuku-cha is another tea that is consumed on New Year's Day in Japan. Tea blogger Kohei says it is sencha with pickled plum and dried kelp and it is enjoyed as a lucky-charm tea in Kyoto or some other areas on New Year's days. Another variation of Ofuku-cha from Sencha-Teahouse is "100% Shizuoka-grown Matcha mixed with traditional soy beans, black soy beans, and popped brown rice." This Ofuku-cha is sprinkled with gold flakes and includes seaweed (konbu), as both are traditionally used in Japan during happy occasions. This tea seems to have quite a history to boot. According to the Web site:

In the early morning of the New Year, before even eating the New Year soup (zooni), a tea was prepared with the first water scooped of the year "young water" (wakamizu). With plenty of tea leaves there were pickled salted plums (umeboshi) and seaweed (musubi konbu), sometimes even some mountain pepper (sanshoo) in the brew.
It was drank with the prayer and wish to stay healthy for the rest of the year by all family members and later in the day served to all visitors.

This custom dates back to the day of emperor Murakami, when an epidemic raged in the town of Kyoto. Saint Kuya of the temple Rokuharamitsu had a sacred dream to offer some of this tea to main deity, Kannon Bosatsu and thus cured all people. 
The tea was named oofuku and from that day onwards prepared every year. Since the Muromachi period, plums, seaweed and mountain pepper were added. It is served at the temple Rokuharamitsu during the New Year visit (hatsu moode).

In China, the New Year is traditionally celebrated for 15 days, and a typical offering to the Jade Emperor on the Ninth Day is tea. Though celebrated later than New Year's in the west, the Chinese New Year's traditions include things that are red (a color considered lucky to the Chinese), and dragons, symbols of wisdom and beauty, are also often included in the festivities (as well as in the names of many teas). The English Tea Store blog suggests some wonderful teas appropriate for welcoming a new year, such as Golden Monkey and Dragon Pearls. Don't forget to brew them in a red teapot or break out some red table linens.

While I don't plan to spend my New Year's Eve with champagne, I do plan to spend it with Champagne Oolong. Another name for Adagio's Formosa Bai Hao Oolong #40, it is one of the most prized oolongs in the world. It yields a luxurious floral and peach-pit fragrance and is sweet and lush with a delicate warm spicy undertone, which I think sounds perfect for New Year's Eve.

I'm probably the minority here, wanting to spend New Year's Eve with tea in hand instead of champagne, but I don't mind. For many, I'm sure that the most important time of the season to spend with a drink is at the stroke of midnight on December 31. I can toast to a wonderful year, health, and good luck with a cup of tea just as easily as I can with a glass of Dom Perignon. But, if you don't want to join me from afar and welcome 2012 with a cup of tea, at the very least you can welcome New Year's Day with one. Or, you could always make "drink more tea" your number one resolution.

Happy 2012!