Making Tibetan butter tea

Making Tibetan butter tea: Po Cha

Ingredients:
  • Water
  • Plain black tea (in bags or loose)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup milk or 1 teaspoon milk powder
  • Materials: One churn, blender, or large drink container with a tight lid.

Tibetan butter tea , po cha, is the most typical Tibetan drink. People who know about Tibetans know what po cha tastes like. In Tibet many people drink it all day long because it heats them up.

In Tibet, the process of making butter tea takes a long time and is pretty complicated. People use a special black tea that comes from an area called Pemagul in Tibet. The tea comes in bricks of different shapes, and we crumble off some tea and boil it for many hours. We save the liquid from the boiling and then whenever we want to make tea, we add some of that liquid, called chaku, to our boiling water.

Lucky for us, it is much easier to make po cha outside of Tibet. Four main things are needed to make our tea. You need: any kind of plain black tea (both bags and loose tea are okay), salt, butter and milk or milk powder. (You can use any kind of milk you want, though I think the full fat milk is the best, and sometimes I use Half and Half, which is half cream and half milk.) Most Tibetan people who live outside of Tibet use Lipton tea, or some kind of plain black tea.

This po cha recipe is for four people, more or less.

First boil five to six cups of water, then turn down the fire. Put two bags of tea or one heaping tablespoon of loose tea in the water and boil again for a couple of minutes. Take out the tea bags or if you use loose tea, strain the tea leaves. Pour your tea, one quarter of a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of butter, and a half cup of milk or a teaspoon of milk powder into a chandong, which is a kind of churn. Please see the picture, in which we are using a plastic churn. Since churns are kind of rare outside of Tibet, you can do what some Tibetans do, which is to use any big container with a lid, so you can shake the tea, or you can just use a blender, which works very well. Churn, blend or shake the mixture for two or three minutes. In Tibet, we think the po cha tastes better if you churn it longer. Serve the tea right away, since po cha is best when it's very hot.

There are three ways to make tea: simple tea, milk tea and butter tea. The most common tea leaves are produced in the Han Land, as Fu Tea from Hunan, Tou Tea from Yunnnan and Ta Tea from Szechuan. Tibetan tea-drinking forms a special `tea culture'.

Simple tea is boiled tea without any additive.

Milk tea is also called sweetened tea. It is an imitation of English tea and Indian tea. However, tea, milk and sugar are boiled simultaneously, which gives it a distinct flavour.

To make butter tea, a Tibetan specialty, you put hot boiled tea and a dash of salt into a tall and slender churn, add a pat of butter, stir the mixture heavily until the tea and butter are well blended and ready to serve. Many non-natives find the taste of this tea a bit rank, but supposedly, once hooked, to go without it causes backaches.