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What Is Tibetan Butter Tea? (butter tea recipe)

If you’ve never been to the Himalayas, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of butter tea. Outside of the Asian mainland, butter tea is considered an exotic drink.

Butter tea is a traditional tea-based beverage consisting of strong black tea churned with yak butter and salt. Unlike many sweetened teas, butter tea is a savory and salty tea. Tibetan yak butter tea is an important cultural drink for the nomadic people of Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, and India.

Even though you may never have tasted butter tea before, it’s a tea you should try if you’re looking for something rich and new. Read on to learn more about the origins of butter tea and how you can replicate this ancient recipe at home.

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yak butter tea in a bowl on a colorful towel

Where Is Butter Tea From?

Butter tea is originally from Tibet, serving as an important ritual beverage for the Tibetan people for hundreds of years.

Through trade with nomadic merchants from nearby regions, the practice of making butter tea spread to regions such as western China, northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan. This drink is especially popular with nomadic tribes since the Tibetan brick tea it’s traditionally made from is transported easily. 

Why Do Tibetans Put Butter in Their Tea?

To tea drinkers outside of central Asia, the idea of putting raw butter in a cup of tea might seem appalling. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Tibetans and other Asian natives who swear by butter tea attribute several health benefits to drinking it.

It is considered especially helpful for those who have to perform hard labor or work in cold weather. 

It reminds me of the current bulletproof coffee craze, where people who are intermittent fasting start their day with a hot cup of coffee mixed with grass-fed butter. Or the low-carb diet or keto diet habit of morning coffee with MCT oil.

Like many tea services, it also features heavily in Tibetan social rituals. This goes from formal religious ceremonies to special occasions, and casual get-togethers. Butter tea is especially important in birthday celebrations and Sherpa funerals, and is often served in front of the guests.

Who Invented Butter Tea?

While it’s nearly impossible to know the exact, its invention is most often attributed to Tibetan monks. Butter tea serves an important role in the food-based rituals that the monks perform, and it is also a meal that is light but nourishing for these ascetics.

The combination of yak butter and tea is thought to bring a greater mind-body balance than consuming either of these ingredients separately. This balance is considered beneficial for those who are seeking spiritual enlightenment.

What Is Butter Tea Made Of?

The exact ingredients of butter tea may vary depending on where in the world it’s being served. However, the traditional way involves these ingredients:

●   Pu-erh tea: Pu-erh tea is a special type of fermented tea that is comprised of tea leaves compressed into a large brick. This fermentation causes the tea to have a somewhat smoky and pungent flavor compared to other teas. The tea specifically used in Tibetan butter tea is a type of pu-erh tea from a region called Pemagul. 

●   Yak butter and yak milk: Rather than butter and milk from domesticated cows, Tibetans make authentic butter tea using yak butter and yak milk. This main ingredient has a stronger flavor than cow milk and butter. However, outside of Tibet, cow milk (or cream) and cow butter are common substitutes. 

●   Salt: Salt is added to butter tea to add some depth of flavor to the butter tea. The amount of salt added to the tea can be adjusted according to taste.

All of these ingredients are churned together in a special butter tea churn with boiling water to make butter tea. In modernized parts of the world, the butter tea churn can be replaced with an electric blender.

What Does Yak Butter Tea Taste Like?

Butter tea has an unusual and unique flavor you won’t find in any other tea. Regarded as somewhat of an acquired taste by many travelers, traditional Tibetan butter tea with yak butter and milk is described as having a savory and mildly rancid flavor.

Butter tea made with cow milk and butter also has a savory taste and smooth mouthfeel, but it tends to be more mellow and subtle than authentic butter tea.

po cha is yak butter tea

Is Butter Tea Good for Your Health?

Butter tea is considered good for your health by Tibetans, though you’ll need to be careful how much whole milk and fresh butter you consume in your butter tea if you’re concerned about weight loss.

This is a high calorie beverage intended for people living at a high altitude who are performing hard work in the cold, so it has a lot of calories.

Here are a few of the health benefits associated with butter tea:

●  Energy boost: Butter tea is considered a good form of liquid energy for Tibetan sherpas and other nomadic peoples who spend a lot of time outdoors doing physical work. Butter tea can be a good way to perk up if you’re exhausted or need a way to consume some additional calories to boost your energy levels.

●  Digestive health: Butter tea is associated with good digestive health in regions of the world where it’s regularly consumed. This is most likely due to traditional butter tea’s inclusion of fermented tea, which serves as a potent probiotic that can help populate your digestive system with beneficial bacteria.

●  Vitamins A and E: While butter may not always fall into the category of healthy fats, butter is a good source of vitamins A and E, which are necessary for skin health, good vision, and immune function.

Butter tea can be a soothing drink, especially in stormy or cold weather when you need a savory alternative to sweet hot cocoas or ciders. The texture of this drink almost gives it the feel of a light soup, so it’s great for a cold, blustery day when you’re not craving something heavy to eat.

What is Po Cha?

Po cha and butter tea are the same thing.  “Po cha” is the Tibetan word for butter tea.  Butter tea is also known by the following names:

  • Boe cha, 
  • Cha süma, 
  • Goor goor cha, 
  • Cha suskan

No matter what you call it, it’s still the same mixture of tea, yak butter, and salt. 

How Do You Make Butter Tea at Home?

Butter tea can be made by brewing a pot of strong tea (black tea is a good substitute) or fermented puerh tea, then adding it to a blender with 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt, two tablespoons of butter, and 1/3 cup of milk.  Then blend until frothy.

While this may not be exactly like the tea you’d have in Tibet, it’s a delicious imitation. 

Believe it or not, if you want the real deal, you can purchase jarred yak butter online.  

Tibetan Butter Tea Recipe

yak butter tea in a bowl on a colorful towel

Tibetan Butter Tea

Yield: 1 serving

This take on the traditional Tibetan butter tea uses grass-fed butter and milk instead of yak butter and milk.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces strongly brewed tea (pu-erh is traditional, but black tea works)
  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • Pinch of Himalayan salt

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to a blender and process until frothy.
  2. Serve immediately.

Notes

This butter tea recipe replaces the traditional yak butter and milk with dairy products. But by all means use yak butter and milk if available!

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This Tibetan Tea Is a Tibetan National Treasure

If you’ve never had butter tea before, make it a point to try some the next time you have some tea, milk, and butter on hand. If you’re feeling adventurous, try tracking down some yak butter and pu-erh tea for a taste of the real thing. This rich, creamy Tibetan drink may become your new favorite on a cold winter night!

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