Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Yak Butter Tea

Tibetan nomadic woman making yak butter tea

We had traveled four hours through the plateaus and mountain passes in Tibet to arrive at Lake Namtso.  On our way home through wide open spaces, giant skies and yaks lounging across the road, we stopped at a random nomad tent to offer cross-continent greetings.  There is a custom of hospitality in Tibet, and we were assured to be offered the mysterious yak butter tea

Tibetan nomadic family's tent, made of woven yak hair

The nomadic life is closely tied with the yak.  The nomadic travelers use yak hair for tents, the yaks work the ground for seasonal farming, and the yak milk and meat are crucial protein and caloric sources.

We were welcomed inside the tent where a fire was going.  The weave of the yak hair allowed for the dispersion of the smoke. 

Grains of barley

Barley is another staple of the Tibetan nomad's diet, and barley flour is the main ingredient in tsampa, a paste or meal commonly made with yak butter and roasted barley flour.

I carefully observed our surroundings as our hostess made tea.  Set amidst the rustic home that blends into the landscape were things of value, color and beauty. 

Yak butter tea has many variations, but generally includes a hot and strong dark tea (often pu-erh), yak butter and salt.  Our hostess placed these ingredients into the churn (see image at top) and used it to emulsify the beverage.  (Given that water boils at a lower temperature at such elevations, the churning assists in the melting of the butter and the blending of the beverage.)  Along with the tea, we were served some cheeses (yak and perhaps sheep) and a handful of tsampa.  Our tsampa tasted a little sweet and so I think sugar was added to the barley flour and butter. 

The tea was brothy and salty.  It reminded me of a vegetable broth base.  I sipped my cup slowly and let the oily texture and flavors play in my mouth. 

Curiosity about one another ran in both directions.  ;-)  I saw very few people in the vicinity when we first arrived.  By the time for us to leave, the family had assembled.

I felt honored to be treated so kindly as a stranger.  I was nearly euphoric in this moment - the crisp mountain air and skies, the exchange of smiles and customs, the children behaving as children do, the colors and textures.  I still can hardly believe I had this amazing experience! 


La Tea Dah said...

This was a delightful post. What a pleasant opportunity to meet a precious family. Their hospitality was genuine and sounded quite delicious!

Rosemary said...

Truly amazing! Fabulous photos... beautiful prose to accompany them... thank you so much for sharing this experience!

Connie said...

What a great story,,,love the pics!

Marilyn said...

Thanks so much for sharing this experience with us. It truly was an amazing experience for you. These are the experiences that make traveling so very special. How I would have loved sitting here with you.

Angela McRae said...

All captured so lovingly in your words and photographs!

amherstrose said...

I was back in that moment with you dear Room Friend. Indeed, such an honor to be invited to share in this unique and intimate expression of hospitality. I often speak of this experience to people who ask me about the journey to Tibet and always have a difficult time verbalizing how this encounter with such a kind and generous family affected me.
For me, it had a deep and abiding sense of spirituality and ritual which spoke of ancient peoples and places.

Kudos to you for your wonderful words and photos.

Sending hugs to you,

Mary Jane

The Everyday Tea Drinker said...

I have truly appreciated your series of posts on Tibet.

This particular post makes me once again aware of how much possession-wise we have, and at the same time how much we may have given up in the process.

Beautiful pictures!

Allison said...

What an amazing experience! I've always wondered about yak butter tea (and if I'd have the courage to try it)! I love how the simplicity (as in spartan, not easy!) of the life of people outside of our culture makes every act of the day seem like a ritual and I love how simple daily things are held sacred. Awesome!

Anonymous said...

An amazing experience! I heard and read about butter tea before but never got the chance to try it.

relevanttealeaf said...

I am behind in my blog reading so am trying to catch up today. I so enjoyed this post from your trip to Tibet. How special that you were able to partake of yak butter tea, cheeses, and tsampa, thanks to the kind hospitality of the nomad Tibetan family. Kind hospitality transcends all cultural and economic barriers!

The Tea Enthusiast's Scrapbook said...

Hi Steph,

I have been trying to catch up on my blog reading today.

What a beautiful post! Special moments to treasure for a life time.

Thanks for sharing.