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 :-)