P is for Po Cha



Po Cha is also known as Tibetan Butter Tea

Tibetan Butter tea (Po Cha) is the indispensable beverage of everyday life for the Tibetan people. It’s good for many reasons –  keeping the body warm, allaying one’s hunger, aiding in digestion, promoting a healthy cardiovascular system, cleansing the body of accumulated lactic acid, rejuvenating inner strength and increasing stamina. The ingredients of Po Cha are butter, brick tea, and salt.

But why add the salt and butter?

Although not usually regarded as very healthy, there are advantages to adding these ingredients to a cup of tea. Tibetans find that adding butter to tea makes it more filling and nutritious. Its high number of calories is said to help with endurance that is needed daily.  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.

For most people…

Po Cha is an acquired taste, since it is salty rather than sweet, and has a completely unexpected flavor.  Butter, milk, and salt are added to brewed tea and churned to form the Po Cha. It has the consistency of soup. Traditionally, the drink is made with a brick of domestic tea and dri’s milk (a dri is the female counterpart to the male yak), then mixed in a churn for several minutes.

Drinking Po Cha (butter tea)…

Is a regular part of Tibetan life. Before work, a Tibetan will typically down several bowlfuls of this beverage, and it is always served to guests. Nomads are said to often drink up to 40 cups of it a day. Since butter is the main ingredient, it is a very warming drink, providing lots of caloric energy and is particularly suited to high altitudes.  The butter also helps prevent chapped lips.  Po Cha is high in calories and therefore energizing. The drink helps in resisting the cold and is very suitable for the alpine regions. It has a strong taste and aroma, yet refreshing at the same time, it is said.

The tea also helps dissolve fat and aids digestion, especially for herdsmen living in the pastoral areas, for their diets lack fresh fruits and vegetables.  To maintain their body’s water balance, they drink tea to sustain a normal metabolism since they lack vitamin supplements. In addition to the warmth it provides, butter tea may be an important part of cold, high-altitude diets. Above 10,000 feet, the human body loses water roughly  twice as fast  as it would at sea level, making the risk of dehydration high. The addition of salt to this tea helps Tibetans (and non-natives) stay hydrated in the cold Himalayan Mountains.

Making Po Cha…

The traditional way is a time – consuming process. Most recipes call for Pu-erh (brick tea) or Pemagul black tea. It’s then crushed and soaked in cold water and then it boils for multiple hours. This infusion is called chaku. Once the tea has steeped, it goes into a long wooden churn referred to as a cha dong. Then, butter, milk and salt are added and churned until thoroughly mixed.

The highest quality tea is made by boiling the tea leaves in water for half a day, achieving a dark brown color. It is then skimmed and poured into a cylinder with fresh yak butter and salt which is then shaken. The result is a purplish liquid that is about the thickness of a stew or thick oil. It is then poured into clay tea-pots, or jars.



Another method…

Is to boil water, and add handfuls of the tea into the water, which is allowed to steep until it turns almost black. Salt is then added, along with a little soda if wanted. The tea is then strained through a horse-hair or reed colander into a wooden butter churn, and a large lump of butter is added. This is then churned until the tea reaches the proper consistency and transferred to copper pots that sit on a brazier to keep them warm. When a churn is not available, a wooden bowl and rapid stirring will suffice.

Next…Pu Tuo Fo Cha

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