Part 3: Halloween Tea is the Best Tea
Back to food!
My favorite chain tea store in Japan is Lupicia Tea. Last September, I went to the Nagoya Les Grande Marche de Thes and bought enough tea (3000 yen’s worth) to qualify for the tea of the month club. My favorite tea from Lupicia is the seasonal Halloween tea, a blend of sweet potato, chestnuts, kabocha, and rooibos tea called いもくりかぼ茶 (imokurikabo-cha).
When I think of Japanese cuisine, the first two words that come to mind are local and seasonal. While Japan celebrates its local specialties like Nagoya unagi and Kyoto tofu, Japan is a fairly small country in terms of size. Because the climate of the country is relatively similar across prefectures, the consistency of many flora across the archipelago means that there is a national consciousness about seasonal activities like flower-viewing: sakura in the spring and maple leaves in the fall. This extends to seasonal produce: sweet potatoes, chestnuts, and kabocha are three of the biggest autumn foods available nationwide. (Mushrooms, especially the prized matsutake, are also up there, but mushroom tea doesn’t sound so hot.) Imokurikabo-cha is made of all three of these famous fall flavors, so it’s perfect for getting into that fall mood as the temperatures drop and we wait for the maple leaves to turn in Ishikawa.
This year, Lupicia is offering gift bags that include tea and cookies for sale as part of its annual Trick or Tea? campaign.I find the text of this ad quite interesting:
October is the month of Halloween. Mischievous children dressed as monsters and witches are after tea and treats! If you’re asked, “Trick or Tea?” (“if you don’t give us a treat, we will make mischief!”), make sure you don’t forget the tea!
In my experience, children in Japan also drink quite a bit of tea (and adults drink it like water), so a child asking for a special tea wouldn’t be entirely out of the question–though I suspect most children here would be more interested in the cookies and cakes Lupicia is selling as accompanying tea snacks. Tea and accompanying snacks are quite popular with adults, a tie to the cultural practice of pairing a “sweet” (for Japan) okashi with bitter matcha. There’s nothing like an afternoon tea break as a pick-me-up at work, no matter if you’re having manjû and matcha or a cookie and black tea!
More importantly, this description serves as a sort of explanation of the concept of children’s trick-or-treating, since Halloween is still sort of a new concept and the imagery has not been fully integrated into the collective iconography in the way that a rabbit and the moon represent autumn and moon-viewing or the way a kadomatsu (門松) arrangement of bamboo signifies new year’s. In this way, the copy sells the product as a Halloween product, but also sells the concept of Halloween as something fun for children and adults alike.
If you live in the US, you can still buy Imokurikabo-cha at Lupicia’s US locations and online store as “Sweet Autumn.”* Sure, it lacks the pun in the name (the cha in kabocha squash is written with the kanji for tea, 茶 [cha]), but I’m sure it’s just as delicious. Also, if you don’t like one of the ingredients in this blend, the いしやきいも (ishiyaki-imo, stone-roasted sweet potato) or “Sweet Potato Pie” black tea and the 栗 (kuri, chestnut) or “Chestnut” green tea are also quite good.
Stay tuned for more Halloween in Japan!
*It doesn’t seem like the Australian store is selling this tea; perhaps because it’s spring in Australia?
More “Documenting Halloween in Japan”