Monday, February 9, 2009

Tibetan "Butter" Tea

Last month I posted about the Ba Bao Cha sample that I received from my tea friends Marty and Nicole. I also mentioned the Tibetan tea that they gave me and I promised to post about it in the future. Well the future has come and I'm feeling adventurous... so here goes!

Before I start writing about "butter tea," it should be mentioned that I've been a happy, healthy, and proud vegan for just over nine years now. I'm strict about my diet here in Seattle because great vegan food and farm fresh produce is so easy to find. (If you want to see how well I eat please check out my wife's blog!)

While I may be a strict vegetarian here at home, I am willing to be more open when I eventually visit remote destinations. One of travel's greatest pleasures is trying exotic and (usually) delicious new foods. It is also true that many foods and drinks possess important rituals or significant cultural meanings and a traveler should never offend his hosts or their customs. For example, I would not want to appear ungrateful if I was offered a steaming bowl of actual Tibetan butter tea. I'm not sure how much of it I'd be able to drink, but I'd try my best to appear thankful.

So here I am rambling on and on about food and travel (two of my favorite subjects) when I'm supposed to be writing about Tibetan butter tea!

First I did a little online research. The tea is traditionally made with salt and yak's milk butter and is sometimes called "pocha." It is drunk many times during the day and is as much a soup as it is a tea. I gather from online sources that Tibetans often drink brick green teas imported from Hunan province. The dry leaves are brownish green with lots of big woody stems and have a mild, earthy smell. Nicole told me that in Xining (the city in China where the tea was obtained) that this style of Tibetan tea is fairly common and inexpensive. Some sources stated that the Tibetans also sometimes use puer tea and black tea.

The dry leaf:

I cobbled together the following recipe using several websites and then I "veganized" it.

Vegan Tibetan Butter Tea
Serves One
  • Steep 10 grams of Tibetan tea in 8 ounces of boiling hot water for 10 minutes.
  • Add 3 ounces of hot soymilk, a pinch or two of salt, and a teaspoon of Earth Balance buttery spread.
  • Shake in a jar or martini shaker until frothy.
  • Serve hot, preferably in a wooden bowl.
The tea before I added the other ingredients:

I just made it and took my first sip! Man is it weird! This stuff is milky, thick, soupy and buttery. It has a light "barnyard" taste and leaves my lips feeling very oily.

After shaking all the ingredients:

Although it combines three of my favorite things: tea, salt and fat, I am ambivalent about this experimental brew. It would be a good thing to drink if you were hungry and you had a lot of hard work to do, but if you're just sitting at home bloggin' then you would be much better off with a nice oolong to keep you company.

*Keep in mind that my vegan Tibetan butter tea recipe has very little in common with the real stuff. I claim no expertise and have zero experience in this subject. I welcome any comments about real Tibetan tea from those of you who have actually tried it.


Susan and Brian Trunk said...

I've heard that butter tea is an acquired taste. I've never had it but never really felt compelled to try it. I think drinking butter is just a little much for me. I supposed I would try it once though if I was presented with the opportunity but probably wouldn't seek it out. We had yak cheese in Nepal and it is the one cheese in the world that I just couldn't stomach. I love all cheeses, especially stinky French cheese so it makes me wonder if I would be able to put down a whole cup of yak, butter, tea combo.

Terry said...

Great stuff Brett! I'll give it a go soon.

Anonymous said...

Hey I am glad that you got to experience this! Definitely the strangest brew I had in China! (very delicious though.. maybe because it reminds me of my time there.)

- Nicole

Luella said...

Forgive me if I don't understand why on earth you would call something "butter tea" and then say that it has "nothing in common" with butter tea.

Brett said...

Luella - thanks for the comment! Good question. I put the quotes marks around "butter tea" because I used Earth Balance (a brand of buttery spread). You are absolutely right to say that this has "nothing in common" with the real yaks milk stuff, that is why I felt I needed to add that last paragraph.

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Unknown said...

thanks alot for this, as a tibetan buddhist but also vegan I have been trying to find a way to make vegan butter tea to combine with my tsampa, again thanks!