Monday, November 17, 2014

Teaology 101: Time to yak about butter tea!

Perhaps you take your tea with milk and sugar. Maybe you enjoy it with honey and a squeeze of lemon. Maybe you’re a purist and like tea all on its own. Have you ever tried tea with butter and salt? Sounds weird, I know, but in certain parts of the world, Tibet in particular, the locals drink up 50 cups of this mixture a day. Wow, and I thought I was a heavy tea drinker! This strange brew is called Yak Tea, Butter Tea, or Po Cha.

Yak tea is the combination of a strong, smoky tea such as Lapsang Souchong or Pu-erh, yak butter and salt. This concoction helps nourish the Tibetans and provides the much needed calories to keep them energized throughout the day. Drinking yak tea is thought to keep the skin supple and even prevent chapped lips due to constant wind exposure from living in high altitudes. It is also believed to aid in digestion and help you stay alert.

To prepare a traditional bowl of yak tea, pieces from a brick of tea are crumbled into water and boiled continuously for hours in order to produce a thick, dark, bitter brew called chaku. This chaku is poured into wooden, cylindrical churns called chandongs. Yak butter and salt is added into the chandongs and then all the contents are churned for a while before being transferred into clay pots for serving. The result is a thick, oily, stew-like liquid. Tibetans normally enjoy their tea with tsampa which is a snack made of roasted flour and yak tea. The tsampa is eaten along with tea and even dipped into the tea.

Churn it, baby!

I actually had the chance to try butter tea while enrolled in my Tea Sommelier course. My instructor had a powder formula of the ingredients in a packet he purchased during his travels. All you had to do was mix it with some brewed tea. We used Pu-erh. It wasn't bad. It was definitely different and unusual. I recall it being very salty. Not sure if the packet had an expiry date on it, but I’m sure freshness would play a part in making a great cup of this tea.

Tibet is on my bucket list of places to travel, so hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to try authentic yak tea. However, you can try butter tea without having to travel halfway around the world. Stay tuned, I’ll show you how!

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