By Jess Hodges
Tea plays a central role in the life of many nations but few have made it a matter of such importance as Tibet.
We've all heard tea with rancid Yak butter and to the Western pallet it doesn't exactly sound appealing. In Tibet however it is a daily essential with some people drinking around forty cups a day.
The tea is made in a special churn, a hollow section of bamboo with a fitted plunger or piston. Freshly brewed brick tea is added to the cylinder along with yak butter and salt, after a couple of minutes of churning the tea is transferred to a kettle which is kept warm over a fire for consumption throughout the day.
It is always offered as a sign of hospitality and is served in bowls, it should never be refused. You both start and finish drinking butter tea with a full bowl because it is traditionally refilled between each sip making it even harder to keep track of how much of the drink people consume.
The butter provides a vital source of easily available calories, necessary in the cold, high altitude conditions and it also helps to prevent chapped lips, acting as a protective layer against the high winds. Butter tea is an integral part of meal time, as well as being rich enough to almost be considered a soup on its own, it is vital to the consumption of tsampa. This is a blend of flours which is mixed with the tea to form a dumpling or sometimes a porridge and is a staple food in many parts of Tibet.
As well as butter tea the Tibetans also enjoy milk tea, a drink similar to the tea commonly served in the west but prepared in a unique way. Tea, milk and sugar are boiled together to produce a distinctly Tibetan result. Plain black tea is also enjoyed
There are a lot of traditions surrounding tea drinking in Tibet. Each person has their own bowl which no one else is permitted to drink from and in many families when the husband is away the wife will continue to make tea for his bowl to hurry his return.
All in all, tea drinking in Tibet is a complex and fascinating ritual to rival that of any other country in the world.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
By Jess Hodges