Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Yak Butter Tea

If you think about a typical smell of Sri Lanka you will surely say it’s cinnamon, in Tibet it’s the smell of yak butter. In the temples it’s used for lamps as well as for the yak butter tea.

My first butter tea I had 20 years ago in a small rooftop café overlooking the Barkhor with Jokhang. The tea tasted sour and stingy and reminded me of goat cheese.

Yak milk has a higher content of fats and so yields more butter than cow milk. And moreover yak butter contains more polyunsaturated fats than cow milk. This and the former storage problems (no fridge, temperature difference in a day from freezing to sweltering heat plus lack hygienic containers) let the yak butter get rancid and sour within a short period of time. This has changed.

A friend once told me, after drinking kumys (fermented mare’s milk) in Mongolia, that yak butter tea didn’t seem so appalling then. I drank kumys in Kyrgyzstan and liked it (and didn’t get diarrhea). And even 20 years ago I wasn’t appalled by butter tea.

Now, I even liked it. I had it in hotels as well as in rural areas. I think it has something to do with the quality of the butter and a general improvement in hygienics.

Normally the Tibetans use a butter churner in which they put tea, hot water, salt, and butter. Historically tea had been transported in bricks to Tibet. This custom started in the Tang Dynasty. Today also leaves of black tea are used. One can first cook a concentrate, which then is mixed with hot water. Please remember, that water boils at lesser temperatures in the high altitudes of Tibet.

How can you get a taste of butter tea in the West? Use a one liter of water and bring it to a boil, let it cool, put in 2 tablespoon of black tea like Assam or Ceylon tea, take out the tea leaves after the tea is strong enough, add 200 ml of milk, preferably goat milk, then put all into a blender together with salt, two tablespoons of butter and one teaspoon of creamy goat cheese. Blend well and serve immediately (to have a hot beverage and before your guests have a chance to flee from your home). No, actually you should have a wonderful drink.

It has a bit of frothy consistancy

Tea leaves and twigs

Interestingsly palm sugar or unrefined sugar (jaggery)
and also "normal" Chinese tea

At 9 o'clock you see butter, 
ready to being put into the tea 

Standing upright - butter churners

Large packages of butter on the desk

The thermos with butter tea 
in the main assembly hall



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