Monday, 3 June 2013

Bhutanese Butter Tea

Yak Butter used in Bhutanese Tea (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

Tea is ritual. Preparing tea is a skilled tradition, drinking tea can cure illness, sharing tea is a form of celebrating friendship, and reading tea is a form of fortune-telling. There are two forms of tea that have always intrigued me: Moroccan mint tea and Bhutanese butter tea. Although I have no immediate travel plans to Morocco, my work will bring me to Bhutan in 2014. On the top of my Bhutanese to do list is tea-tasting. 

I began reading about Bhutanese tea this year in preparation for the International Society of Ethnobiology Conference in 2014. I learned that tea in Bhutan is different from tea I've heard about anywhere else in the world. What makes Bhutanese tea so special? Butter, also known as Suja. Butter is mixed into black tea with a little bit of salt. A fellow blogger, Dolro, posted some great pictures here of her family churning butter into tea. Dolro explained that the finished product is a creamy brown colour. 
Creamy brown butter tea (courtesy of wikimedia commons)
A friend of mine, Jigme Dorji, explained that butter tea is common all over Bhutan. On the other hand, Yak butter tea is only made by Nomad communities. I understand that the Yak is a very important being for Nomads. Yaks provide food, clothing, and are part of many nomadic rituals. Because I am in Bhutan for a conference, I may only get the chance to try regular butter tea, but I'll keep my fingers crossed in hopes to try tea made with Yak butter. 

So why put butter in your tea, besides the fact that it tastes good? Although I'm not entirely sure, one reason may be that butter tea is high in fat and important to keep people warm at high altitudes. In the Andean highlands mate de coca is another tea important to keep people warm at high altitudes. This Christmas I was feeling pretty cold myself after moving home from Costa Rica. In light of my new knowledge of butter tea I tried to make my own. I started putting coconut butter in my teas and indeed it warmed me up and tasted delicious. I'm sure there is a rich history of the origin of butter tea, if you have any leads please share them in the comments section here. 

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