Butter tea, also known as po cha (Tibetan: བོད་ཇ་, Wylie: bod ja, "Tibetan tea"), cha süma (Tibetan: ཇ་སྲུབ་མ་, Wylie: ja srub ma, "churned tea"), Mandarin Chinese: sūyóu chá (酥油茶) or goor goor in local Ladakhi terms, is a drink of the Tibetans and Chinese minorities in southwestern China. It is also consumed in Bhutan. It is made from tea leaves, yak butter, and salt.
Drinking butter tea is a regular part of Tibetan life. Before work, a Tibetan will typically down several bowlfuls of this beverage, and it is always served to guests. Nomads are said to often drink up to 40 cups of it a day. Since butter is the main ingredient, butter tea provides plenty of caloric energy and is particularly suited to high altitudes. The butter may also help prevent chapped lips.
According to the Tibetan custom, butter tea is drunk in separate sips, and after each sip the host refills the bowl to the brim. Thus, the guest never drains his bowl; rather, it is constantly topped off. If the visitor does not wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl. In this way etiquette is observed and the host will not be offended.
Butter tea is also used for eating tsampa by pouring onto it, or dipping the tsampa into it, and mixing well.
The concentrate, produced by repeatedly boiling tea leaves, will keep for several days, and is commonly used in towns. The tea is then combined with salt and butter in a special tea churn (Tibetan: མདོང་མོ་, Wylie: mdong mo), and churned vigorously before serving hot. Now an electric blender is often used.
While evidence of tea has been found in Tibet from before the 10th century, it did not reach its nearly universal status until about the 13th century, the time of the Sakya hierarchy and the Phagmodu kings. By the start of the rule by the Dalai Lama, tea had become a government monopoly. While it is now officially allowed to be sold by anyone, it still is mostly sold by government officials.
The highest quality tea is made by boiling the tea leaves in water for half a day, achieving a dark brown color. It is then skimmed, and poured into a cylinder with fresh yak butter and salt which is then shaken. The result is a purplish liquid that is about the thickness of a stew or thick oil. It is then poured into clay tea-pots, or jars, that resemble Japanese teapots.
Another method is to boil water, and add handfuls of the tea into the water, which is allowed to steep until it turns almost black. Salt is then added, along with a little soda if wanted. The tea is then strained through a horse-hair or reed colander into a wooden butter churn, and a large lump of butter is added. This is then churned until the tea reaches the proper consistency and transferred to copper pots that sit on a brazier to keep them warm. When a churn is not available, a wooden bowl and rapid stirring will suffice.
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- Mayhew, Bradley and Kohn, Michael. (2005) Tibet. 6th Edition, p. 75. ISBN 1-74059-523-8.
- Chapman, F. Spencer. (1940). Lhasa the Holy City, pp. 52-53. Readers Union Ltd., London.
- Das, Sarat Chandra (1902). Lhasa and Central Tibet. Reprint: (1988), Mehra Offset Press, Delhi.
- Kawaguchi, Ekai (1909): Three Years in Tibet, pp. 325-326. Reprint: Book Faith India (1995), Delhi. ISBN 81-7303-036-7
- Tibetan Marches. André Migot. Translated from the French by Peter Fleming, pp. 102-3. (1955). E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. New York.
- Forbes, Andrew ; Henley, David (2011). 'Tibetan Butter Tea' in: China's Ancient Tea Horse Road. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B005DQV7Q2
- Waddell, L. Austine. 1895. Tibetan Buddhism: With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism. W. H. Allen & Co., London. Reprint 1972: Dover Publications, New York. ISBN 0-486-20130-9. For a good description of how tea was served in monasteries, see pp. 191–192; 214-217 (with illustration).
- YoWangdu Easy Butter Tea Recipe
- Example of bowls from which Tibetans drink tea and further information on the bowls custom
- Tea with Changpas by Rangan Datta
- Traditional Butter Tea Recipe