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Bukubukū-cha (Bukubuku Tea)


Photo: TARUMI Kengo

The ample foam rising above the teacup, the savory fragrance of roasted rice, the pleasant rustling sound of the tea whisk, the sizes of the tools, and more…all have a unique taste, a very Okinawa-like generosity. There aren’t any rules on how to make or how to drink the tea, it is a tea of warm friendliness, enjoyed with close people while chatting and relaxing together. Even the white bubbles on the cheeks or noses or the burps after drinking seem like part of the amusement. There are no manners, nor schools of art, like in the Japanese tea ceremony1. Bukubukū-cha seems to be the heart of Okinawa itself, representing this society that appreciates lateral relationships rather than vertical.
 This tea was often drunk at home in Naha during the Meiji, Taisho, and early-Showa era2, especially by women, on birthdays, or to celebrate a departure or other private occasions. At the market in Higashi-machi, one could see the bukubukū-cha hawked in a dozen or so teacups on a chiridē (a big tray) amongst the crowd of street stalls. Although it once utterly disappeared after the War, it has revived in recent years.

To prepare a bukubukū-cha, first boil some light-brown roasted rice for about 15 minutes to make a roasted rice infusion. Then blend it with Chinese tea and coarse green tea to make the chanoyu3. Pour the infusion and the chanoyu at the ratio of 1:2 into a large wooden bowl (bukubukū-zara) and whip it smoothly with a big tea whisk. After about 15 minutes of whisking, a white, fine, and rigid foam that would last for even an hour will form. The secret to whipping this abundant foam like the old days is to use hard water which flows down the calcic soil unique to Okinawa, rich in calcium and magnesium. Put a teaspoon-full of red rice in the teacup, pour the tea prepared on the side, pile up the well-whipped foam with the whisk like an ice cream, and sprinkle over with chopped peanuts. Do not use chopsticks or spoons to drink it, but swallow it lightly with your mouth open big, as if to bite into the foam. Foam may remain if you drink the tea inside the teacup too fast. If so, turn the cup to drink from where there is foam left, or tap on the cup to move it around. 

Bukubukū-cha is sometimes referred to as an “Illusory Tea”, and even in Okinawa, many do not know what it is exactly. We, the “Okinawa Traditional Bukubukū-cha Conservation Society” work to protect with care this wonderful tea with the consent of those who know the bukubukū-cha of the old times and to preserve and spread in the hope that it will be established again as a culture of Naha and other regions of Okinawa.
 The video Okinawa no Kokoro Bukubukū (The Heart of Okinawa, Bukubukū, 3500 yen) was produced by our society and clearly explains how to prepare and drink the bukubukū-cha. The author of Bukubukū-cha (published by Nirai) is Ashitomi Junko, one of the distinguished people who steadily collected references, re-analyzed the water quality of each region, and finally succeeded in restoring the original bukubukū-cha.

Editor’s Note:

  1. In the Japanese tea ceremony, people are required to prepare and present tea in a certain manner. Iemoto is a school of this art characterized by a hierarchical system and traditions to be brought down.
  2. About 1868~1936.
  3. The hot drink prepared as the base of the tea.