Butter Tea — Recipe to Make Tibetan Tea: Po Cha

For most people, Tibetan butter tea — po cha — is an acquired taste, since it is salty rather than sweet, and has a completely unexpected flavor.

Many non-Tibetans don’t care for it much at first, but come to love it when it is associated with warmth on a cold day and good times spent with Tibetan friends, or the adventure of travel in Tibet or Tibetan communities in India or Nepal.

If you would like to explore more of the wonderfully comforting, unusual flavors of traditional Tibetan food, please see our Tibetan Home Cooking eBook and video series.

Some non-Tibetans find it helpful to think of it as a sort of light soup rather than as tea.

This way, your mind isn’t so shocked when you drink it! Anyway, the recipe is very simple and easy to try.

The Traditional Way of Preparing Butter Tea

In Tibet, the traditional process of making butter tea can take 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.

For the butter and milk, Tibetans prefer to use butter and milk from the female of the yak species, which in Tibet are called dri, than cow’s milk or butter.

Often mistakenly called “yak butter” and “yak milk,” these have a more pungent flavor than cow’s milk or butter, with a taste closer to goat milk or cheese.

 
How we Make Butter Tea Outside Tibet

Lucky for us, it is much easier to make butter tea outside of Tibet.

You can use any kind of milk you want, though we think the full fat milk is the best, and sometimes we 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.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of water
  • Plain black tea (2 individual teabags, like Lipton’s black tea, or two heaping spoons of loose tea)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
  • 1/3 cup half and half or milk

Materials needed: One churn, blender, or some other large container with a tight lid to shake the tea up with.

This po cha recipe is for two people — two cups each, more or less.

  • First bring four cups of water to a boil.
  • Put two bags of tea or two heaping tablespoon of loose tea in the water and let steep while the water is boiling for a couple of minutes. (We like the tea medium strength. Some Tibetans like it lighter, so would need only one tea bag. Others like it stronger, so would use 3 tea bags.)
  • Add a heaping quarter of a teaspoon of salt.
  • Take out the tea bags or if you use loose tea, strain the tea grounds.
  • Add a third to a half cup of milk or a teaspoon of milk powder.
  • Now turn off the stove.
  • Pour your tea mixture, along with two tablespoons of butter, into a chandong, which is a kind of 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. (We use a plastic churn that we have not seen for sale anywhere, but most Tibetans use a blender.)
  • 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.

Important note: Serve the tea right away, since po cha is best when it’s very hot.

Since the taste is so unusual for non-Tibetans, it might help to think of it as a very light soup rather than as tea :-)

 If you’d like to see a free video of Lobsang Wangdu showing you how to make butter tea, just sign up for our Tibetan culture newsletter in the box below.

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If you would like to explore more of the wonderfully comforting, unusual flavors of traditional Tibetan food, please see our Tibetan Home Cooking eBook and video series.

This series focuses exclusively on authentic recipes that are commonly cooked in Tibetan homes, and includes the most beloved dishes that have been passed down in Tibetan families for hundreds of years.

You can learn how to bring joy to the people you love by making your own delicious, authentic Tibetan meals tonight.

Download the eBook and video series now — it’s genuinely a bargain :-)

These are the recipes you get in Tibetan Home Cooking, each accompanied by a step by step video:

Breads

  • Tingmo: buns
  • Amdo balep: Yeasted round loaf
  • Logo momo: Fried/steamed bread
  • Numtrak balep: Deep-fried bread
  • Balep korkun: Pan bread

For Veggie Lovers

  • Shamey momo: Steamed vegetable dumplings
  • Shamey balep: Fried pies with vegetable filling
  • Shameytse: Cabbage and shiitake mushrooms
  • Shamey mothuk: Vegetable dumplings in soup
  • Trang tsel: Fresh salad

For Meat Lovers

  • Sha momo: Steamed beef dumplings
  • Labsha: Radish and beef
  • Sha balep: Fried beef pies
  • Thukpa gyathuk: “Chinese” style noodles
  • Shaptra: Fried beef
  • Sha mothuk: Beef dumplings in soup
  • Rutang: Beef-based soup
  • Shaptse: Beef with cabbage
  • Shamdrey: Beef + rice + potatoes
  • Drothuk: Beef porridge

A Little Something for Everyone

  • Thentuk: “Pull” noodle soup
  • Pa: Tsampa with butter tea
  • Sepen: Hot sauce
  • Po cha: Tibetan (Butter) tea
  • Thukpa bhathuk: Soup with small hand-made pasta

Sweets

  • Dresil: Sweet rice
  • Bhatsa marku: Buttered small hand-made pasta

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By Lobsang Wangdu

 

Comments

  1. Bob Gould says:

    I’ve been drinking butter tea most mornings for several years. I take a break during the really hot months of summer. I store butter in the fridge for 12 months to age it. I only use that aged butter during the coldest months. Most of the time I just use fresh butter. I make a pot of tea then put the salt and butter in an old plastic jar. Then add the tea and milk, screw the lid down tight and shake. Make sure the lid is tight or it may spray out. I use a plastic jar because I get a better seal than with a glass jar. I find it promotes healthy digestion when drunk on an empty stomach in the early morning. Butter and tea both have many beneficial health effects.

  2. lol, that they prefer to use the milk from the female Yak. Do the males lactate as well?

    Thanks for sharing a great recipe!

  3. So glad to have found this post. My daughter and I are reading a book called Daughter of the Mountains. They drink the butter tea throughout the book, so we’re excited to try it.
    Thanks!

    • Thank you Shauna, that’s nice to hear :-) Butter tea is an acquired taste for many non-Tibetans ;-)

    • Madeleine Keller says:

      I am a fourth grade teacher reading Daughter of the Mountains with my class. It is great to see that someone else is sharing this wonderful story of Momo and her quest for her dog. Is anyone else reading it, as well?

  4. Elena Khandro says:

    Love it!!! Once I started I couldn’t stop… Addictive….!!! My younger brother lives in a monastry in Nepal & I showed off the recipe to their fellow monks& nuns, they loved…thanks for the recipe, you guys are fabulous…

  5. Mary Furlow says:

    I do have a question. This made more than I wanted to drink at once and no one else in my family will drink it. Can I store it in the fridge and just heat and blend it again the next day. I wouldn’t want to keep more than 1 day. Do you think it would still be good?

  6. Mary Furlow says:

    I really liked the tea! I love hot tea but usually with honey and milk. Oddly, although this was salty, it was a lot like my regular tea. I love to try new foods and drinks, especially ones that are good for your health. Thanks for a wonderful recipe. I’d love to try the real tea with the yak milk and butter.

  7. Hi! I made this for my social project (I’m doing Tibet for a nation study). My mom and I tried it out today for an experiment. Would it taste the same if we used less butter? It had a really strong taste, and we were thinking of using a little less butter so that it would be weaker. Is this a good idea or would it ruin the taste?

  8. Vladimir says:

    Hi! This is a delicious recipe, thank you for sharing it. I have a question–I tried to make this simpy by melting the butter and mixing it in my cup, is there a reason why a blender is used? A blender makes cleaning extremely difficult!

    Thank you!

    • Hi Vladimir,
      It’s pretty much up to you, but Tibetans always blend/mix it to better combine the ingredients. But one thing Tibetans are is flexible, so if you prefer, melt it in the cup!

  9. Wow what a gem! Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  10. I like it when individuals get together and share opinions.
    Great website, continue the good work!

  11. Jim Riches says:

    Loved it was delicious!

  12. I read quite a bit of fantasy and lately I have noticed a trend in foreign tea drinks. Usually when so many unrelated books point me in a direction it means something new, fun, and delightful to try. Thank you for the background and recipe – I will be trying this tomorrow!

  13. Patricia L Kramer says:

    Would Like to try the tea

  14. That sounds really gross . I wouldn’t try that any day it looks like yak butter tea.

    • You are not alone, Amanda. It is exactly like yak butter tea (which is really dri butter tea), but without the dri butter since most folks outside of Tibet can’t get the right butter. Tibetan butter tea is definitely an acquired taste.

  15. hadjera algeria says:

    hello, i heard for butter tea from documentaries and from you .Thank you very much but you should add more photograph and video that can help people over theworld recognise the tibetian culture the video is more praticly .

    • Thank you for writing to us. Did you know that if you sign up for our Tibetan culture newsletter that you get a video showing you how to make the butter tea, along with other videos. (You can sign up here: http://www.yowangdu.com/sign-up.html ) Also if you go to our YouTube channel, you will find many of the videos that go along with our posts on the blog. All the best to you, and thank you for the feedback. We love hearing from our readers :-)

  16. Hello. I registered and I wish to view your video on Butter Tea and how to make it. May I have the link to watch the video? Thank you.

  17. Thanks for the recipe via Twitter! I have linked to it in the blog post by Linus Hammarstrand, More Tibetan Tea, on TeaParty.nu.

    All the Best,

    Martin Lindeskog

  18. 2011-10-08 13:04
    Thanks for checking in Elizabeth. Lobsang has had a lot of traditional po cha and never tasted himself what he thinks is sour or rancid, unless the butter was kind of old, which sometimes happens in Tibet if people don’t have a way to keep the butter fresh through the year, but people of course prefer fresh butter. Probably the closest you can get to the traditional taste is to use dri butter (butter from female yak), and the kind of brick tea that you get in Tibet. Hope this helps :-)

    2011-10-08 09:44
    I understand that traditional po cha has a strong sour or rancid taste. Does anyone know if we could use buttermilk to get a closer taste to traditional tea?

    2011-09-29 05:38
    Thanks for the great tips, Rashid! :-) The baking soda idea sounds intriguing.

    2011-09-29 05:35
    I first had butter tea at the chai shop between Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj in 1980. Loved it!

    Smokey teas like Lapsang Suchong work best. For Westerners, go easy on the salt; use unsalted butter, and add salt to taste.

    Hint: add the very smallest pinch of baking soda; it brings out the red color of the tea, and adds a mineral-lake-salt tang that you’d get in the high country.

    2011-09-04 12:47
    Thanks for writing, Thupde. Definitely, butter tea is not the most healthy drink, with pure butter :-) But definitely warms you up in cold weather and fun to drink with a bunch of Tibetans :-)

    2011-09-04 01:54
    I’m not Tibetan (not in this life anyway) but I love it, though I probs wouldn’t love it as much with rancid ingredients either!
    Hate to spoil your butter tea party but I’ve heard His Holiness has said that butter tea can be bad for one’s health. Nowadays we are not in the cold of Tibet working our ehem legs off. We’re mostly sitting at desks in slightly less cold climates, so that should make sense, right? Anyway moderation must be key. The Middle Way!
    Enjoy!

    2011-09-01 06:07
    Thanks for writing jopg and rd,

    Yes, rd, you’re right, the point is just to mention the different names. Many people call it “yak butter” or “yak milk” which is fine in common usage, but not really accurate in terms of the Tibetan language, since we should be saying “dri cheese” and “dri milk.”

    2011-09-01 04:29
    Thanks for this recipe! I’m off to try it in a few minutes.
    By the way, the article specifies that the Tibetans use milk and butter from the female yaks, rather than the males. This seems rather obvious; was the intent just to mention the different names for female and male yaks?

    2011-07-26 07:56
    Thanks so much for the feedback Amanda :-) Good lesson there on the blender since the tea is so hot. Glad a mason jar worked :-)

    2011-07-25 21:11
    Wow – this has to be one of the best things I’ve ever drank in my life! I love savory things (a southerner who doesn’t like sweet tea, even) and this was just wonderful. I cut the recipe in half – 2 c water, 1 tea bag, a little less than 1/4 t salt (I’ll probably add more next time) and 1 T unsalted butter. I had to shake it up in a mason jar, though, because I poured it into my blender and when I pressed the button, the lid popped open and sent scalding tea all over my arms and my kitchen! Even with the loss of about half my tea, I had plenty to enjoy. If you haven’t tried this, do it! :)

    2011-05-31 07:44
    :-) Gab, you’re definitely not alone — it’s an acquired taste. It grew on Yolanda after years of associating it with happy Tibetan gatherings.

    2011-05-31 05:34
    It tasted absolutely rank! I’m glad I tried it though, a description I read of it in a book said this, “although some foreigners claim to like yak butter tea, they cannot possibly be telling the truth”. Another book about tibet said, “We never cared much for butter tea [after living for 7 years in tibet!] which is usually made of rancid butter and is generally repugnant to europeans”. I’m sorry but I would have to agree. I think you need to be a tibetan to love this!

    2011-05-17 07:35
    Renee, that sounds great. There’s nothing better for cold weather than Tibetan food and drink! :-)

    2011-05-16 05:56
    I’m doing a project on the Potala Palace, and in my research I came axccross butter tea and this recipie. I’m so glad I tried it! I added about a teaspoon of sugar to the batch and it balanced out very nicely. Spring around here in Chicago just went from quite hot to wet fall, and this tea is the best thing to regulate your inner thermostat. Cheers!

    2011-01-11 09:21
    Lyn, this is a great idea for the monks.(They would probably also love some sweet tea — look for a Indian chai recipe — that would do it.) A great, easy fast recipe to make that I bet they would love is the thentuk recipe on this site — wonderful on a cold day, and real comfort food for Tibetns :-) I hope you enjoy your visit with them and they with you!

    2011-01-11 00:23
    We are blessed to have 7 Tibetan Monks visiting. It has been unusually frigid and I hope this tea gives them warm, nurturing comfort.

    PT: Any kind of salt is fine. We usually use Morton’s salt, but sometimes use sea salt, so anything you have on hand should be good. Thanks for the comments!

    2010-12-24 15:01
    I’m interested in trying to make some of this, good article! You make mention of what kind of milk you think works best.. However is there any specific kind of salt you feel one should use for best results? For example, iodized or not, sea salt or average table salt? Thanks!

    2010-12-23 08:13
    This is how I prepare Lapsang Souchong. The smokiness of the tea pairs wonderfully with the butter and salt.

    Thanks, Syrena and Rashed. If anyone ever finds a way to buy yak milk, butter or cheese in the US, please let us know. So far we can only get dried cheese brought from Tibet by friends.

    2010-11-30 07:41
    My 11 year old daughter and I love this tea! Someday I would like to try it with the Yak milk & Yak butter…

    2010-11-29 19:27
    My wife and I had some today; it’s great! Thanks for the recipe.

    2010-10-07 09:52
    It’s great that you can drink this tea to help you when you work outside at night in the Swedish winter! Enjoy!!

    2010-10-05 03:58
    Hello Mr Wangdu.

    I am from Sweden.

    I saw a program about Tibet, called “The tea-road to the skies” and in this program they drank butter-tea.
    I was curious so I looked after a recipe and found this one. It was really good and to my surprise, after three cups of it, I was no longer hungry. I will use this tea this winter when I have to work outside at night. Since it´s so cold I think this tea might help a treat.

    Many regards Johan from Sweden.

    2010-10-02 12:44
    I’ve got to try this…

    2010-09-23 14:57
    love it!

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