Butter tea: the quintessential Tibetan Beverage

This may sound suspicious for people who are coming across such a concept for the first time, which is why we are going to explore this topic with patience. Butter tea is a staple beverage within people living close to the Himalayan ranges which consist of settlements of the Mongolian-Tibetan descent. This is not so common within the Mainland Indian population who are used to consuming the quintessential Chai (sweet milk tea).

“Po Cha” in Tibetan translates to Butter Tea and is a popular drink that warms the body. It is not sweet at all, rather salty and creamy and buttery which is to be honest a very wholesome taste when one is surrounded by snow in the Himalayan areas.

Where did Butter tea originate and under what circumstances

Po Cha finds its origin in Tibet where Tea as a beverage was introduced around the 10th century. Butter tea was not so much a tradition as it was a necessity for surviving the cold while using just the bare resources that are available that those regions. The Po Cha is usually made using the black tea that is grown in a place called Pemagul in Tibet and the butter and milk from the yaks that are reared in the settlements. According to Tibetan medicinal knowledge it is a sacred medicine to mix tea with butter for sharpening the mind as well as the body of the person.

Unlike how places like Britian, china or japan follow a culture or a small ceremony surrounding the consumption of tea, in the Tibetan settlements; it is a simple yet an essential beverage. The settlements in Tibet, travelled from Tibet to Nepal and finally to India in different mountainous regions and brought along this humble recipe along.

Tribes such as the Sherpa and the Tamang Tribes in India along with the Tibetans still consume Butter Tea.

The origin of the Butter tea happened in Tibet and is eventually gaining popularity as a trend in an India where people only drink the Chai. It is pretty exotic for some who may have never in their lives entertained the possibility of adding salt let alone butter to their teas. But they say… there’s always a first time for everything… and once someone acquires a taste for the butter tea, 90 percent of the times they do not turn back to sweet tea. If at all you happen to visit Tibet in your lives be prepared to indulge in a lot of Butter Tea because when in Rome… do as the Romans do.

How non-Tibetans perceive Butter Tea

There are people who are not Tibetans and have absolutely loved the beverage when they were offered it on a cold snowy winter day because it does warm you up really well. I have also come across a lot of people who do not accept it to be tea at all, rather a soup made out of tea leaves which is absolutely hilarious to me but I do respect their perception at the same time, because there are a million ways to interpret anything in the world.

A very first personal encounter with Butter Tea

My personal experience with Butter tea, even though I come from a Tibetan descent was when at a young age we were out on a pilgrimage to Tso Pema in Rewalsar which is in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. This is a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists and the pilgrimage includes a hike to many important monasteries of the region where our Guru His Holiness Guru Rimpoche is said to have visited for mediation in the early days.

We had hiked about 6-7 kms uphill where we had come to the very first monastery on the way of the pilgrimage. As soon as the monks of the monastery saw us huffing and puffing in the cold breeze and hiking our way up to the monastery, they arranged some chairs on the veranda outside the monastery for us to sit and in the entrance handed us some empty paper cups and told us to settle down on the chairs and take a breath. So we sat on the chairs and instantly a little monk accompanied by his tiny little monk friend came rushing out of the monastery with a huge flask in his hand that was filled to the brink with butter tea. As we handed out our empty cups to him… he quickly started pouring a steaming hot beverage that looked like tea. Little did I know that this was something I would have never imagined because we had never drink tea as a child because our parents forbid us from drinking an adult beverage? But here, it was really cold and they told us to drink this warm cup of tea as much as we wanted to. I took a sip of the butter tea and I absolutely loved it. We then wondered if our parents had kept us away from this really wholesome beverage all our lives and that this is what they drunk every day after they came back from work. I thought to myself with glee that when I grow up I will be able to consume this yummy drink every day. as I reached to the monk with the flask, standing in the corner looking out for refills, he poured a lot of butter tea into my paper cup. I carefully walked across the veranda to a corner where no one would disturb me and I enjoyed every little sip of that butter tea.

The kind of tea leaves to use while making this tea.

Originally, the recipe involves the use of the “dark tea” which is a form of orthodox tea leaves that were left to ferment so as to achieve the distinct flavour and the nutrients due to the fermentation process. But since in today’s date it is highly rare to find such an ingredient, hence we instead use really orthodox tea with a strong flavour or the Black tea that you can find on www.neorigins.com .

How to make Butter Tea at Home:

Making butter tea when you are not in Tibet or not a Tibetan may seem difficult but in essence is actually pretty easy.

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups of water
  • Orthodox Darjeeling tea or Black tea from any brand on the neorigins.com website. A fistful of the loose tea leaves should be enough to obtain a dark flavoured tea water or black tea.
  • Half a teaspoon salt or you could use less according to your taste.
  • Two big table spoons of salted or unsalted butter
  • 2 and a half cup of full fat milk (any milk of your choice)

Procedure:

  • First bring the water to a boil.
  • Then add the loose tea leaves in the water. Cover the lid and let that boil for a good 5 minutes on a low flame so as to get a very strong black tea color as well as flavour.
  • Now add the salt and let that boil.
  • Switch off the flame and then strain the black tea into a container.
  • Now to that add the milk and let that boil so that it is really hot before adding it into a churner.
  • Now pour your tea in a churning vessel along with the butter. If you do not have a churner, use your grinder. Let the tea grind for a long time because the more the tea grinds with the butter, the creamier and wholesome it tastes.

Your butter tea is ready. Pour the tea into a large cuppa and enjoy this warming beverage on a cold winters day or night. This cup of butter tea should put you right to sleep if you have worked really hard the whole day and are feeling tired. If you do not know where to source your orthodox or black tea, head to the www.neorigins.com website to choose from the best varieties and brands selling black tea or orthodox tea leaves from the North East of India.

 

 

 

 

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