While butter tea usually confuses people unfamiliar with it, it has a rich and exciting history. It has been a staple for people living in the Himalayas for centuries and continues to be so.
What Is Butter Tea?
Butter tea has many names in different languages but is commonly known as po cha. It originated in the Tibetan Himalayas but is now widely enjoyed throughout Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India, western China, and Mongolia. Four ingredients are needed to make butter tea: tea leaves, butter, water, and salt.
The History Of Tibetan Butter Tea
While people throughout Tibet enjoyed tea as far back as the 7th century, butter tea didn't become popular till about the 13th century. Back then, pu-erh tea bricks were brought to Tibet from China along the Tea Horse Road. Butter has always been a staple in Tibetan cuisine, using local yak's milk. Nowadays, it is becoming more widespread to use regular cow's butter instead of yak butter because of the significant price difference.
The tea is not just a drink in the cold Himalayas — it's a necessity. The air is arid, thin, and cold. The locals often spend all day outside working, and the fat-filled tea helps keep them warm throughout the day.
Not to mention, the potent pu-erh tea gives tons of energy without the typical crashes that coffee causes and is a power punch of energy and healthy fats.
With the high cost of yak butter, authentic butter tea is served only on special occasions and when guests visit. Otherwise, people will substitute the yak butter for cow butter or milk.
People of Tibet believe in the medicinal properties of pu-erh tea. They believe that it helps with blood circulation, which is essential at high altitudes.
Traditionally, butter tea is a treat for several occasions and holidays throughout the Himalayas — for example, baby births, funerals, and during the Lunar New Year.
Monks highly regard butter tea as a staple at many Himalayan temples. The monks drink it to have sufficient energy and nutrition during long chanting hours.
What’s the Best Tea To Use For Making Butter Tea?
Traditionally the tea is made with Hei Cha. Hei Cha is robust, sweet, and mellow. It balances well with the rich creaminess of the milk and butter.
A great tea for making po cha nowadays is ripe pu-erh - a fermented tea common in China. It is earthy and pleasantly sweet. In addition, it has many great health benefits. Ripe Pu-erh is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to aid digestion. That's why it's such a great breakfast tea in the Himalayas. It gently awakens our digestive system while providing us with energy for the day to come.
Nowadays, many people turn to Indian black tea or even bagged tea instead of Chinese teas to cut down on costs. If possible, we always recommend using quality loose leaf teas for the best taste.
Other teas, like Chinese black tea (hong cha), is not recommended. Since Po Cha is boiled first, other teas may become too astringent from prolonged heat exposure.
How To Make Butter Tea - Po Cha?
Making Tibetan tea the traditional way is not so easy and requires some time. People of the Himalayas would wake up early, break off some pieces from the pu-erh brick, and start simmering the tea. Sometimes it's cooked up to a total of six hours. After the tea is ready, people use a traditional "butter tea churner" is used to make the butter tea.
The Traditional Way To Make Tibetan Tea:
- Break off several pieces from the pu-erh or hei cha brick using a tea pick
- Boil the tea in a pot with water anywhere up to six hours — the longer, the better*
- Prepare a butter tea churner with yak butter and Himalayan salt
- Strain the tea into the churner
- Churn the tea until smooth and creamy — about the consistency of melted butter
- Pour into cups and enjoy
*This potent tea brew can be kept for as long as a few days. It's used for making dozens of cups of butter tea throughout the day.
In the coldest regions, butter tea is the saltiest. Locals believe that salt helps keep them warm and habitually add more salt along with the dropping temperatures. In warmer areas, especially parts of India, the tea gets noticeably sweeter.
Easy Butter Tea Recipe (Using Good Quality Tea)
- Prepare 4 cups of water and break off a piece of the pu-erh brick or use hei cha tea leaves (about 6 grams)
- Bring the water to a boil and drop in the tea
- Let the tea boil for about 3 minutes (you can adjust the tea quantity and boiling time according to your preferences)
- Add ¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (or any other salt you may have)
- Strain the tea
- Add ⅓ cup milk and 2 tbsp butter
- Pour the butter tea into a jar with a well-fitting lid or blender and blend/shake until the tea is creamy and frothy (about 2 minutes)
- Pour into cups and enjoy!