Black Tea from the Himalayas
Tibetan tea is a unique beverage served in the region of the Himalayas.
This black tea is enjoyed by the people of Tibet and other minorities around the world.
What makes this tea so different and so special?
From the shape of the tea, compressed and not loose leaf, to the special ingredients that are added when brewing this tea, Tibetans make a cup of tea suited to their needs that is different to what you are used to.
This is savory national beverage that is both nutritional and full of traditional friendliness.
Come and learn more about this Himalayan brew!
What is Tibetan Tea?
Typical Tibetan tea perpetuates an art of brewing tea that has long disappeared: the art of boiling tea. It is also known as Tibeti or Zangcha in Chinese.
While the rest of the world moved on to infusing loose leaf tea, Tibetans still make their tea from crushing a tea brick and cooking or boiling the tea. Finally the tea is churned with other ingredients such as yak butter, salt, sometimes rice, orange rind and spices.
What is a Tea Brick?
The tea brick was a form of transporting tea that was typical of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618 – 709AD), which consisted of pounding tea leaves into a brick-like shape. This compressed tea cake made it easier for tea to be transported along the eastern trade routes.
Tea bricks were so prized that at times they themselves were used as currency by traders. Typically these bricks were made with Pu Erh tea or black teas such as Lapsang Souchong.
Compressed tea may still be found today in many different shapes: balls, mushrooms, bowls, and the more common cakes and bricks. Some bricks are pressed with decorative engravings, like real works of art.
To use a tea brick, Tibetans break it up in a mortar and then bring it to a boil with other ingredients.
Tibetan Tea Culture
The Tibetan ethnic group may be found in the Autonomous Region of Tibet, but also in some other provinces in China as well as the Himalayan regions of Nepal, India and Bhutan. And for these people drinking tea is an indispensable part of their daily diet.
Due to the harshness of the high-altitude region where air is thin and cold and the land is arid, so vegetables and fruits are hard to come by. Tea is therefore regarded as warming, nutritional and essential.
Tibetans themselves are said to brink many cups of this favored beverage every day and offer it to guests whenever someone comes to visit.
Drinking Tibetan tea is a fundamental part of Tibetan hospitality. A guest is always greeted with a cup of tea served to the brim, that you should sip a little and allow your host to refill your cup to the brim each time.
Drinking more than one cup of this is common and expected and it is actually considered rude if you drink less.
Finally, as you take your leave, it is polite to drink the whole bowl of tea so as to honor your host.
Tibetan Tea Varieties
There are different varieties of Tibetan tea according to what is added to the tea and what tea is used:
Butter Tea – (kyamir in Tibetan) the most famous of Tibetan teas, this is what is referred to as Po Cha. It is basically a staple beverage of brick tea mixed with butter (preferably from yak) and salt.
Sweet Tea – second most popular variety of Tibetan Tea, especially among the younger generations, living in India and Nepal. Much like Indian chai tea, but with fewer spices and with a different brewing method.
Black Tea – regular black tea with a small piece of butter on top of the tea. This beverage does not use brick tea.
Milk Tea – favored by children because this tea is weaker with lots of milk and little caffeine.
Mang Jha – special tea to be served in monasteries during religious ceremonies.
Tibetan Tea Benefits
Tibetan black tea may have some interesting benefits due to presence of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and amino acids inside each cup that you drink.
Gastrointestinal Aid and Weight Loss Tea
One of the best benefits this black tea may have for your health is its ability to improve your digestion and even help in the process of losing weight.
Black teas such as this may help improve digestion by reducing gastric acids that cause acid reflux and speeding up the process of breaking up foods in your stomach.
By boosting your metabolism, Tibetan tea may not only help with sluggish digestion but also aid with weight loss by making your body rid itself of unwanted wastes and fats much faster.
Tibetan tea is made using black tea leaves which are rich in polyphenols. These components are known for their potential benefits for the heart.
Drinking tea is said to be helpful more as a preventive measure than as a healing one, as black teas such as this one help to strengthen the heart as well as lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Although it may help prevent blood clot formation, which decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes or heart attacks, you have to remember that this tea is made with butter, so moderation may be necessary.
Tibetans love this tea because it contains a high level of caffeine and it is mixed with elements such as butter and salt that give them the energy needed to face the harsher conditions of the Himalayan Mountains.
Caffeine in tea works differently than that in coffee. It released into your blood stream at a slower rate and lasts longer in your blood stream as well. It helps you to keep alert.
Black tea also contains and amino acid called L-theanine, a relaxing compound which balances with caffeine to let you remain calm, but focused.
Immune System Boost
When you are sick, consider having a cup of black tea such as this one. It is rich in minerals and vitamins that help you fight off bacteria and viruses.
Drinking a daily cup of tea may help both fight disease and build up your defenses so that you do not get sick so often.
Fighting Free Radicals
Studies have been showing that free radicals, elements brought on by stress and environmental pollution can cause havoc to your immune system, with possible occurrence of tumors and premature aging.
To counter this effect, people have started ingesting beverages that are rich in antioxidants, which may be able to slow down or prevent the damage caused by free radicals. Teas such as this one are rich in these antioxidants.
Benefits of Butter & Salt
The most common recipe of Tibetan tea calls for yak butter and salt. Although not usually regarded as very healthy, there is some advantage to adding these ingredients to your daily cup of tea.
Tibetans find that adding butter to tea makes it more filling and nutritious. Its high amount of calories is said to help with endurance needed on a daily basis.
Salt and fat from yak butter replace the nutrients and minerals that are essential to live in the demanding high altitudes of the Himalayan region.
Tibetan Tea Side Effects
Caffeine side effects
One of the reasons why Tibetans love their tea is because of the energizing ability it has due to its caffeine contents. However, for those who are sensitive caffeine this may be more of nuisance than a benefit.
Headaches, nervousness, anxiety are a few signs that you may either be too sensitive to caffeine or are ingesting too much of it.
Difficulty sleeping and insomnia may mean that you need to stop drinking this tea later in the day or should go off it altogether.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your doctor ay advise you to skip drinking this tea during this stage in your life as it may harm your baby.
Butter side effects
Remember that butter may increase your cholesterol levels as it is rich in saturated fats.
Salt side effects
Typical Tibetan butter tea is mixed with salt, so be careful if you suffer from high blood pressure as too many cups a day of this tea may cause you problems.
Drinking Tibetan Tea
Drinking Tibetan tea is a part of daily life for many Tibetans both in Tibet and in other corners of the world. It is how they start the day in the high altitudes of the Himalayas.
For some this tea may be an acquired taste when you are not used to taking your tea with yak butter and salt, but it is definitely worth a try.
So if you happen to find this tea on the menu of a Tibetan restaurant or a Tibetan tea house, don’t miss out on the opportunity to try it and order a cup of yak butter tea.
Or why not learn how to make Po Cha (butter tea) at home?
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”In the Taste of a single cup of tea you will eventually discover the truth of all the ten thousand forms in the universe.”
- Attributed to Kyongbong Sunim, Ch'an (Zen) Master
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