Butter Tea — Recipe to Make Tibetan Tea: Po Cha

Po Cha: Tibetan Butter Tea
Po Cha: Tibetan Butter Tea

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 Po Cha

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.

(And if you’re interested in experiencing the real thing in Lhasa, you can learn how to visit Tibet here.)

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 🙂

Tibetan Home Cooking

Tibetan Home Cooking

Bring joy to the people you love by making your own delicious, authentic Tibetan meals

Updated on August 5, 2020. First published on November 11, 2011.

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Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. elizabeth monaco says

    I use a high quality irish butter and pu erh tea, along with himalayan pink salt. I have tried different teas, and even use lapsang souchong occasionally, for its deep smoky flavor.

  2. jon says

    hated the real butter tea, but have friends who are from bhutan serve it to me, never new butter tea can be made differently, got hooked😂

  3. Michael Sarazzain says

    You cannot make anything even remotely resembling the real thing unless you can score yak butter. It has a completely different taste than butter from cows or even buffaloes. Some things can simply not be replicated without the original ingredients.

    • yowangdu says

      Sorry, but we have to agree to disagree on this one. Butter tea is not a particularly spiritual recipe, and modifying a traditional recipe to make it work in our current lifestyle is a natural process. We do still make more traditional butter tea (using, however, cow butter instead of dri butter, as none is available here.) when we have more time and on special occasions. But Tibetan culture is not a static thing, and like all people, we have to adapt. It doesn’t make common sense to use the old methods at all times. But we love it if people do use the traditional methods, and kudos to you if you can do so!

      • Jongh says

        As a Tibetan man, I think it is great that Westerners are giving our culture a try. We find a certain joy when outsiders open themselves up to our traditions in anyway they like (being welcoming and accepting is big in Tibetian culture). Having lived in America for nearly 14 years since moving from Tibet, it is great seeing people trying out our culture…we Tibetans try not to take ourselves too seriously!

  4. Tyler Dean says

    Butter is actually extremely healthy, given it comes from a healthy animal. When yak isn’t available use grass fed butter. The idea that butter is bad is destroying our health. It contains healthy saturated fat which increases your *good* cholesterol and lowers your *bad* cholesterol. Your brain needs that fat. Not to mention the vitamin K2 which is the essential nutrient for making calcium work properly. Part of why the Tibetans are so healthy. Steer clear of vegetable oil.

  5. A says

    Dear Yowangdu,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to make this website! It is really interesting and informative. I came here in search of sources for a class presentation, but soon became distracted with the appealing recipes… I think I am going to try to make butter tea right now haha.
    Anyway thank you so much for your efforts and I hope to try the real butter tea some day! I want to learn much more about Tibet 🙂

  6. Nia says

    Hi, I recently had this tea at a Tibetan Restaurant in NYC and immediately became obsessed. It was so good! Thank you for the recipe. Does the salt measurement decrease if you are using sea salt? I know with other recipes, you would use a little less salt when using sea salt.

    Thanks!

  7. John Goelz says

    Dear Yowangdu, I was fortunate some years ago to go to Kham for the opening of a temple for a school. I remember rather liking the butter tea (hence I came here for a recipe). I also had in the main temple on the morning of the opening, a sweet rice dish that reminded me of an ice cream sundae. It was piled high and had nuts and raisins and was so delicious. I think it was one of the tastiest things I have ever had. I also saw your recipe for that. Thank you for making this all available. By the way, the experts are slowly correcting themselves and butter is once again good for your health. Salt also turns out to be better for you than the experts were once saying.

  8. Lydia Paul says

    I drink so much light delicate teas (which I oversweeten!) that I have to admit this sounds kind of horrifying, but I’m definitely going to try it asap! Looking forward to hopefully acquiring the taste for it!

  9. Sarah says

    Is this a tea that can be consumed everyday. I have been reading about different versions and definitely want to try this one. I just don’t want to over do it.

    • yowangdu says

      Definitely it can be consumed every day. Tibetans traditionally drink a ton of this every day, but of course the butter is heavy and maybe not so healthy, so best to take that into consideration 🙂

  10. Himalayan Chef says

    Gen-la, If we have access to real brick tea, what proportion of tea to water would be used to make “chaku”? And how long would one traditionally boil the tea for?

    • yowangdu says

      Great question. Normally in Tibet we would put the whole brick of tea in a huge pot (10 gallons, for example) and boil it all day, adding more water as the water boiled out so it won’t totally dry out, but not up to the top of the pot, so that gradually the water level goes down and you end up with about 2 gallons of really concentrated black tea. Does that help?

  11. Mohsin says

    Hi, I was going to try this butter tea. I have one question, do you add sugar in it too or is it against tradition to add sugar in the tea.

      • Vishnu Sharan says

        It is cooked but slightly hard rice fried in butter with added dry fruits, salt and spices for flavour!

        The name sounds like ‘pull’ (as in pull) + ‘a’ (as in arm) + ‘ow’ (as in wow)- so it goes ‘pull’-‘a’-‘ow’! Hindi is पुलाव.

  12. Ellis Dunbar says

    Good Morning
    My name is Ellis and I work with Ninja Goat Nutritionals. Once I read your article, I found great interest in some of your ingredients and knowledge about butter coffee. I would love to tell you about my business and how I make butter coffee.  

    Ninja Goat Nutritionals makes a product called fatCoffee, which is a quick and easy way to make butter coffee anywhere, anytime- and it’s made with 100% grass fed-butter and organic coconut oil. 
    Would you be willing to try fatCoffee and let me know what you think about it? I’d be happy to provide a sample, if you can send me your mailing address.
    Thanks for your time and hope to hear from you soon.

  13. Ken says

    I have enjoyed this type of tea for years since I tried it at a small Tibetan restaurant in Massachusetts, where they had apparently managed to acquire real dri (yak) butter. In the US, there are a few places (Wegman’s grocery stores, for one) where you can find goat’s milk butter, and this seems to give a lovely flavor to the tea, and I prefer it to cow’s butter when I can get it. I use an immersion blender to churn the tea, and a quick flick of the switch with the blades of the blender under the faucet and it’s clean again. For the salt I typically use Kosher salt – different types of salt are more dense than others, Kosher is very “fluffy” so I use up to a teaspoon per cup, where a half teaspoon of table salt should be plenty – or way too much for some folks!

  14. Patti Lounsbury says

    I have loved po cha for many years and like to use the equivalent of four tea bags of the best black tea I can find to make the base and use lovely Irish butter and whole milk to finish it out. Yum! I have to also tell you that, before she passed from this life, I used to share a fall or winter cup with my dog. She loved it also and would practically dance when she saw me making it and carry her special po cha bowl to me for her share.

  15. Melissa says

    I actually like butter tea, prepared the traditional Tibetan way. I have never traveled to Tibet, but when I was in veterinary school at Cornell (Ithaca, NY), there was a group of Tibetan diaspora who had a booth at our local farmer’s market. There, they served butter tea. It was perfect for the cold and snowy Ithaca winter.

    Melissa in New York

  16. Paul says

    This is an excellent recipe. Instead of a sealed container, I’ve used a whisk to mix the ingredients with good results. Of the po cha recipes I’ve tried, this one is my favorite.

    • yowangdu says

      Awesome, thanks, Paul. Great idea for the whisk. Sometimes Tibetans use an electric hand mixer when they’re making big amounts of po cha. (really big amounts, like for a community gathering).

  17. Oool Fjolkunnigr says

    Tashidelek Uncle;
    I have often had butter tea with monks and Tibetans in and around Darjeeling. Best ever was in a small wooden tea shop hanging in the mist over a cliff before Ghoom. Various inexpensive Darjeeling teas can be bought at local tea shops in the main market at a fraction of the price of shops up in the lanes near Chowrasta. Try for a slightly smoky tasting black tea. I noticed that sugar is often added as well. As I live in Bali butter is hard to get. A spoonful of cholesterol – free margarine approximates the taste and texture and is easier on the hypertension. A sprinkle of parmesan might improve the flavor for you. Om ah hum ha ho Hrih swaha. Nandi Ulu

    • Lorrie Watkins says

      Many dieticians now believe that butter is healthier than margarine that contains hydrogenated fat,(as most of them in America do).

  18. Virender aryan says

    Hi, from where I can get tea leaves for butter milk which is used traditionally in Tibet and kinnaur,lahaul

  19. Jim says

    I started drinking my tea — both hot and iced — about thirty years ago, so the taste of tea without sugar didn’t shock my taste. I also use Himalayan salt and unsalted butter. The bottom lines is: I had my first cup of Po Cha today and I love it. It will be my morning tea from now on. It there any reason not to make this with green tea, instead of black? Thanks for the recipe. I’ve wanted to try this for years. BTW, I’m also a Buddhist, following the Tibetan path.

  20. donna says

    Thanks for this. I’m vegan so I just used vegan butter and soya milk and it worked out great. I have it every morning now.

  21. 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.

  22. Laura says

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

    Thanks for sharing a great recipe!

  23. Shauna says

    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!

    • 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?

      • Craig Pennington says

        Fourth grade also brought us here! My son’s fourth grade teacher lent him No Summit Out of Sight — he loved it so much he recommended it to me. It also has a description of “Tibetan Salt Tea.” We are going to try this recipe (maybe with goat’s milk.)

    • Angela says

      This is the reason I am looking this recipe up. We too are reading Daughter of the Mountains and away to learn all we can of the culture.

  24. 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…

  25. 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?

  26. 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.

  27. Hannah B says

    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?

  28. 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!

    • yowangdu says

      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!

  29. Kelcie says

    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!

    • yowangdu says

      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.

  30. 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 .

    • yowangdu says

      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: https://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 🙂

  31. Virginia says

    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.

  32. yowangdu says

    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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