I have always been curious about Tibetan butter tea. I knew that many people said it was hard to drink and an acquired taste, but it’s just a sort of milk tea, right? How bad could that be?
While in Yunnan Province I had my chance. Yunnan borders Tibet and there are many Tibetan people living there. When I saw a restaurant advertising it, Ryan and I decided to order a cup to split. We got it, sniffed in carefully and then took a teeny, tiny sip.
Yep, it was gross all right.
Butter tea is made up of black tea, yak milk, yak butter and salt. The Tibetans drink this all day long. According to custom if you are a guest in a Tibetans home you will immediately get a cup of this tea to drink. As soon as you take a sip, the cup (or often times a small bowl) is immediately refilled so you always have a full cup. When you’ve had enough you leave the cup untouched. Then, on the last second before you get up and go you are suppose to drain the whole thing, leaving an empty cup.
I’m not sure I could down the whole thing as taking even a little sip was hard. This tea was salty, and it was hard to swallow. Have you ever gargled warm salt water when you’re sick and swallow a little? That’s basically what this tea tasted like. I was expecting it to be thick and creamy because of the milk and butter. It was, slightly, but the salt really cuts right through it and it seemed almost as liquid-y as a normal cup of tea. Did I mention it was very, very salty? Cause it was.
Of course the Tibetans aren’t crazy. The tea has plenty of benefits for those living in a place that is both the top of the world and numbingly cold. The butter in the tea acts as a natural lip balm to prevent, or help, chapped lips and the milk and butter not only warms you up, but is a high calorie food for energy. I read somewhere that some Tibetans drink up to 40 bowls a day!
Luckily we didn’t have to follow any rules of decorum in the restaurant and we quietly set the almost full cup of tea to the side, not to be touched again (except to reach past it to the other drink we ordered, a sweet drink made out of lime and sugar!). I’m glad I tried butter tea but I don’t think I’ll be doing it again any time soon.
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