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.
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. (See the notes below for alternatives you can use.*)
- 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.
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 🙂
*Note on the Kind of Tea to Use
Thomas Kasper from Siam Teas suggested to us that a better choice for this modern version of this recipe might be a darker tea.
As Thomas notes in an email to us:
“I just read your recipe on Tibetan butter tea. Is common black tea, such as from Lipton tea bags, really a good choice for the basic tea to prepare Tibetan butter tea? Originally, it was “dark tea” (post-fermenting tea) that got to Tibet on the tea-horse road, which is not at all like what we call “black tea” today. What we call black tea today, has always been called “red tea” (“hong cha”) in China, while dark tea is referred to as “hei cha” instead. Both the processing and the resulting taste and other properties of these two
types of tea are very different from each other.
At the time of the tea-horse road, however, the processing of what we call black tea today wasn’t even invented, not even in China.”
It has been suggested by a few others, as well, that in the absence of hard-to-obtain tea bricks from the Pemagul region in Southern Tibet, a good alternative could be Pu-erh tea bricks from Yunnan in China, or just a Pu-erh tea.
Tibetan Home Cooking
Bring joy to the people you love by making your own delicious, authentic Tibetan meals