tibetan butter tea

In 2004 the Dalai Lama came to Toronto to perform a Kalachakra and I attended for part of the week-long event. Aside from being a memorable spiritual experience in my life, it was a great cultural experience. I got to embed myself among hundreds of Tibetan expatriates for days—they must have made up about 80% of the participants. At lunch time, we had spicy Tibetian momos (dumplings) and after eating, and also during breaks, long lines formed at the various butter tea stands.

Each batch of butter tea finished quickly and it took forever to brew another batch of the salty and slightly oily tea, or so it seemed when I had to wait. I think it resembles a soup stock in flavour and richness more than it does even a milky tea or latte. The butter is churned right into the milk and apparently the longer it’s churned, the more flavourful it is. At first taste it was strange and them almost immediately after, appealing in how soothing it was. It offset the lingering heat of the cayenne in the momos. Because it is served and savoured while very hot, even the last sip is warming and it gave me the feeling that it was a perfect digestif. It probably wasn’t. Still, my first impression stuck and I love this tea best after a spicy meal. It will warm you more than any other hot beverage on a rainy, cold day too, I promise.

Tibetan Butter Tea

*Yak milk is traditionally used to make butter tea in Tibet. Water buffalo milk is sometimes found in urban centres. You can experiment with goat milk and butter vs. milk and butter from cows if you wish. Use the most flavourful you can find.

1L (4 c) water
2 tbs loose tea or 2 bags of plain black tea (the best Orange Pekoe you have, for instance)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs unsalted butter*
1/2 c whole milk*, room temperature

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, then lower the heat to a simmer, add the tea and steep until strong, about 5 minutes. Remove or strain the leaves from the water or discard the tea. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt and butter until dissolved and then add milk. Using an immersion blender or a standing blender, blend together until the tea is frothy. Serve hot.

Makes 2-4 regular servings or 6 small cups of tea.

This story and recipe appear in FAT, Issue 012 of Le Sauce Magazine.