Overview of Tibetan Butter Tea
Tibetan Butter tea, also known as Po cha, is made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt. Butter Tea is most widely consumed by the people in the Himalayan regions of Nepal, India, Bhutan, and, most famously, Tibet. In fact, in Tibet, people drink butter tea every day.
Authentic Tibetan butter tea is creamy and rich in flavor. A bowl of warm and hearty butter tea in the morning will hasten your wake state and keep you going for the rest of the day due to the its high caloric energy.
The Legend of Butter Tea
The Ancient Tea Route was a trade link from Yunnan province to Bengal, to Tibet, and then to central China. It was through this trading network that tea bricks first spread across Asia from its origins in Pu’er County.
During the Song dynasty, Tibetans started to trade their ponies for Chinese tea through the Ancient Tea Route. To repel the Jin and the Mongols, the Song was in urgent need of horses for war, while Tibet was in need for Chinese tea for its digestive health benefits.
Tibetans began adding yak butter to their tea for a higher caloric energy intake due to the harsh daily activities in high altitudes. Salt was also added to bring out the flavor. The resulting tea, now known as the butter tea, became popular among Tibetan royalty and high officials, and then slowly became an essential part of Tibetan people’s daily life.
There is beautiful folk love story about the origins of Tibetan butter tea. Once upon a time there was a feud between two Tibetan tribes, Tribe Xia and Tribe Nu. The daughter of the Chief of Tribe Xia, MeiMei Cuo, fell in love with a young man from Tribe Nu called Wen Dunba. Unfortunately, Meimei’s father didn’t approve of their relationship and killed Dunba. During Dunba’s death ritual, the brokenhearted Meimei jumped into the fire and ended her life. Legend has it that after their deaths, Meimei turned into the leaves on tea trees while Dunba turned into the salt in a salt lake nearby. Every time Tibetan makes tea, tea leaves and salt will be mixed together, which symbolizes the reunion between Meimei and Dunba.
There are two ways to prepare this tea. The first method involves boiling the tea leaves in water, skimming the tea, pouring the tea into a cylinder with yak butter and salt, and shaking the cylinder to mix the ingredients together. Butter tea prepared with this method is purplish and has the thickness of a stew.
For the second method, black tea is steeped for several hours until it turns almost black. Salt is then added. The tea is then strained through a horse-hair colander into a wooden butter churn. A large lump of butter is then added. In order to get the desired consistency, the mix of tea, salt and butter is churned until it is more or less smooth.
Butter tea is often served with milk in decorative ceramic bowls.
Benefits of Tibetan Butter Tea
In Tibet, butter tea is commonly used as a digestive aid. The butter from the drink also helps prevent chapped lips, which is particularly important for Tibetan people due to their windy and dry weather condition. Moreover, butter tea is rich in calcium, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin K, which are significant elements for bone and cardiovascular health.