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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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.

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