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Traditional Yak Tea (Butter Tea) and Today’s Teapot

Traditional Yak tea or butter teaYak tea or butter tea is a time-honored drink in the Himalayas, particularly in Tibet. Called po cha, this tea is also well-loved in the hinterlands of Bhutan, Nepal, India, and China. These areas are home to the yak, the hairy bovid that provides yak butter. Yak butter is the distinguishing ingredient of this highland tea.

Yak Tea and its Customs

Though not as formal or as ritualized as the Japanese tea ceremony, there is a prescribed etiquette to be followed when yak butter tea is drunk in the Himalayas. The tea is always offered to guests; it would be a serious breach of good manners not to do so. Tibetans drink a lot of it during the day, so households keep an available supply. At any given time.

Yak tea is taken in separate sips, and it is customary for the host to refill a guest’s cup after each sip so it is never empty. When guests do not want additional tea, they do not refuse their host’s refill. Instead, they desist from sipping until the time they leave and just before they go, they finish the entire cup of tea.

At any given time a Tibetan family will have several pots of yak butter tea warming on the kitchen stove. However, when an honored guest comes, a Tibetan host will prepare a fresh pot to honor him or her. When women give birth, their friends and family bring them a pot of butter tea. Tea is brought on the first day if a boy was born, and on the third day if the baby was a girl.

How Traditional Yak Butter Tea is Made

Making yak butter tea is a long and laborious process. One way of making it involves boiling tea leaves for half a day, until the brew turns a dark purplish brown. It is then poured into a long cylindrical churner. Salt and yak butter are added to the container and the mixture is churned until it becomes thick. The tea is then transferred into clay pots and kept warm on top of a stove.

Another way of making yak butter tea is to add tea leaves, a handful at a time, to a pot of boiling water. The tea leaves are allowed to soak until the water turns a deep brown. Salt is added to the tea, the mixture is strained, butter is added, and the tea is churned. Once the proper consistency is reached, the tea is poured into copper pots which are kept warm.

Today’s Butter Tea Version

Brewing today’s version of butter tea is radically simplified. You can simply boil six cups of water and allow two tablespoons of good strong tea to soak in it for 15 minutes. Strain the tea, add 2 generous tablespoons of butter and ¼ teaspoon salt. The modern version of butter tea also makes use of cream or milk. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until well mixed.

Authentic yak butter tea is an acquired taste, and many people who try it for the first time are unable to associate it with regular English or Japanese tea. However, the modern version of butter tea has allowed more people to appreciate the quaint mixture of tea, salt, and butter. This lowland urban form of the traditional yak butter tea allows the addition of cream and uses milder regular butter instead of yak butter. This version is certainly more acceptable to the conventional palate while still being faintly reminiscent of what yak tea has meant to generations of tea drinkers in the Himalayas.

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