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.
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.
- 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.
These are the recipes you get in Tibetan Home Cooking, each accompanied by a step by step video:
- 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
- Dresil: Sweet rice
- Bhatsa marku: Buttered small hand-made pasta
For free, you can get the video recipes for po cha (butter tea), thenthuk (“pull” noodle soup), beef drothuk, pa (tsampa with butter tea), and sepen (hot sauce) and others, when you sign up for our Tibetan Culture Newsletter in the box below.
By Lobsang Wangdu