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Tibetan Butter Tea

Anyone tried it? Any good recipes?

My husband and I went to a local Tibetan Cultural Center on Sunday and I was intrigued by the bowl and pots used to serve Tibetan Butter Tea. All I could parse out was that it is sipped all day long like a broth in Tibet and is a long process to make.

I found this online and I'm intrigued:

Plain black tea (in bags or loose)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk or 1 teaspoon milk powder

Here's the link with history and instructions:

Anyone tried it? I'm going to give it a go some time this week. I'm very curious to see how a savory tea tastes for drinking. I might try a slightly sweet version too to see how I like that.

Thoughts? Advice on past experiences? Know where to find Yak milk? (Kidding on that last one - I know some of you probably DO know where to find it.)

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  1. Okay, it's not yak milk, but I read about this Tibetan culture and education foundation in NY and their project to help Tibetans make and export their cheese. This is a press release from the Slow Food website when they had a tasting in May:


    Doesn't it sound fascinating? I really wanted to go, but couldn't in the end. Doesn't look like they're distributing yet, but something to watch for.

    I had butter tea once--weird and unsettling for me, but kind of soothing too.

    1. Historical accounts of expeditions in Tibet and surrounding mountains talk about adding things like rancid yak butter and ground barley (roasted) to the tea.


      1. If you'll indulge my pedantry, you're really looking for nak milk. Yaks are, by definition, male animals. The female of the species is known as a "nak" or "dri." Ask any Sherpa.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Luwak

          Good to know! At the Tibetan Cultural Center they simply referred to it as 'milk from the female yak'....i suppose that would've made your toes curl, huh? Always good to learn.

          I'm fairly sure I'll be using milk from the now ;)

          1. re: krissywats

            I love the wit and sarcasm that was added to this reply. It made me want to give you a hug! I'll let you know as soon as I obtain the milk from a female nak.

        2. Yak butter tea in the Tibetan areas of Bhutan is foul--rancid tasting, surly an aquired taste.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            I've heard that rancidity is the key to Tibetan butter tea, a friend of a friend had been to tibet and had nothing good to say about butter tea.

            I'm working in Paro, Bhutan right now, occasionally our employees will make suja, but with fresh cow butter, and that way it is not bad at all. Can't say I'm too eager to try the rancid yak version, but given the chance I'm sure I would.

            1. re: babette feasts

              How do you like the emmadashi (hot chilies with melted cheese on top) and sun dried pig fat?

          2. I had this tea at a local Tibetan restaurant & it was one of the most disgusting thinks I've ever tried. Thick, slightly chunky, way greasy. Must be an acquired taste.

            On a related note, anyone try those Tibetan sweets that are simply sweetened dried nak/dri cheese (thanks for the proper terminology, Luwak!)? A tibetan acquintance (who actually cooks at a Nigerian restaurant--go figure) gave me some, and I kind of liked it. Slight cheesy taste, but sweet and kinda creamy.

            1. I've always heard that the butter was generally rancid back in the good old days in Tibet.

              1. I thought they used mare milk? maybe I am thinking of the mongolians

                shows you how much I know

                1. You know I had this once and I thought it was lovely, but now that I'm reading everyone's posts, I'm wondering if this place just gave me black tea with regular butter in it...it was not greasy, chunky or rancid tasting, I loved it. It was a tibetan restaurant in queens, forget the name...

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: prunefeet

                    From the link I posted, the way Tibetans that are not in Tibet make it is with very strong black tea, butter, milk and salt - no naks, no rancidity. It's still an every day drink in tibet, far as I can tell.

                    1. re: prunefeet

                      I had it during a homestay in Tibet and it wasn't rancid. It was interesting--greasy, but no worse than, say, goulash. I also kind of liked it. Wonder if it was dumbed down for the American tourist.

                      1. re: cimui

                        I had it with Bhutanese Tibetans. The Bhutanese and I agree, pretty foul.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Was it in a rural area? I wonder if rancid butter is more common in rural areas where there's less likely to be man-made refrigeration or maybe tastes are more traditional. Or maybe it was just that my host family had been warned about the strange taste preferences of foreigners (or that the last visitor they had hurled after drinking rancid tea).

                          In any case, what I think a lot of other folks object to in the case of non-rancid butter tea is the yak's milk butter. It tastes pretty different from cow's milk butter and is maybe a bit of an aquired taste (not unlike preserved plums, natto, or thousand year eggs).

                          1. re: cimui

                            The rancid taste is appreciated by yak butter tea drinkers. It is one of the few things I don't like. Pulque is another. I did, however, on various timies when offered, sit there drinking and grinning like a fool.

                            Love preserved plums, natto, and thousand year eggs.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Maybe, but from my (limited) experience, I would guess that most Tibetan expats don't drink rancid tea. I've only really known three Tibetans well enough to know what they put in their thermoses, though.

                              Cool--pulque really? Not to get too off topic, but I've beeen wanting to try that for a very long time. Did you have it fresh?

                              1. re: cimui

                                I'm not sure that Tibetan expats have access to yak butter.

                                Pulque--I think all of it is fresh (and ugly smelling slimy all in one strand with traces of someone's toothless grandma's chew that got the fermentation going in the first place).

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  toothless grandma's chew? that's definitely a labor of love, sam.
                                  you've given me a new quest: to find yak's butter in nyc. i bet it's out there somewhere.

                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I lived in both rural and urban areas of Tibet for three months and never encountered any butter tea made from rancid butter. Some butter tea is made from cow milk and butter as well. There is no reason that the butter would be rancid since in even the most remote areas I lived they made butter fresh pretty regularly. I also found that the amount of butter people added was completely dependent on taste, and some people even added more butter once the tea was already poured!

                                1. re: wren216

                                  Right you are. After several years, I guess it is jusst something I don't like.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    I have to say I am with you Sam, after several trips to Tibet, I still can not handle the yak butter tea there, it has a VERY strong flavor, that while I agree with Wren is not rancid, is in my very personal taste/flavor set of preferences, very rank, a bit like drinking perspiration!

                        2. re: prunefeet

                          Prunefeet, was it the Himalaya Tea House in Astoria? I love that place, and yes if you had the butter tea, it was regular butter. In case you have never been there, I recommend it. They have a great selection of tea and homemade dumplings (made fresh to order). It's between 33rd and 34th st and 31st Ave. You should give them a try if you already haven't!

                          1. re: Barsha K

                            Thanks for the recommendation Barsha, no that's not where I went, the place I went was in Woodside, and it was getting pretty much attention on chowhound at the time (maybe about 8 years ago). The most memorable thing to me was the butter tea actually. I would be interested your astoria place thouygh. I have rarely met a dumpling I didn't like.

                        3. Here in Bloomington Indiana we are blessed with a couple of Tibetan restaurants, believe it or not. Some of the Dalai Lama's relatives live here.

                          I've only had Tibetan tea once and I found it undrinkable.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jillp

                            What does a Tibetan restaurant serve besides tsampa, dumplings and yak butter tea?

                          2. I make people try it the first time I take them to my favorite Tibetan restaurant, but so far nobody's wanted to have it twice.

                            Maybe it's better when made with rancid yak butter.

                            1. Krissywats, I like your sense of adventure! If you want to start soft, there's a more easily accessible Kashmiri savory tea that I just remembered, made with cow's milk and black tea boiled with pistachios and spices. It's called shirchai and I'm sure there are many recipes on line. For the Tibetan tea, I'd use unsalted butter and, like your link said, blend the heck out of it to get rid of any lumps. If I were having it for the first time, I would probably decrease the amount of salt by a bit, too.

                              (If you're interested in savory teas, there's something that certain nomadic groups drink in north Africa that's also supposed to be interesting. I've never tried, but I'll try to find out what it is if you're interested.)

                              1. Tibetans do not prefer rancid butter in tea. In Tibet, with lack of proper storage, butter turns rancid.

                                One can cut back on butter, infact most of us now drink with slight taste of butter NOT to make it greasy. 2 Tablespoon is way too much.

                                For a litre of water (around 5 cups for you Americans), I would use half a tea spoon of butter, salt to taste, a tea spoon of Pu-erh tea, and enough cream/milk to give it a milk tea colour. Don't put too much milk as it sweetens the tea ... you get this nasty taste of sweet and salty. Boil the tea first -- 2-3 minutes; Sieve the tea leaves; add salt (taste); add butter; add half/half cream. Whisk or blend until slight froth develops (and no butter/grease floating). Enjoy! Great on cold days.

                                If you understand the climate of Tibet, preparation of tea in this fashion makes a whole lot of sense. Drinking this tea allows one to replenish fluid in a very efficient way. Tea is normally imported to Tibet from China. Tea bricks (Black tea -- Pu-erh) is traded from China. Since the quality is quite poor, it requires lot of boiling to extract all the tea. It is not uncommon in Tibet for people to keep the tea concentrate and make tea.

                                In Tibet, it is not uncommon for people to drink upwards of 20 cups of tea a day.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Tibet1

                                  Tibet I've read some comments about the whole butter thing. It makes perfect sense. As I understand, it gets very cold there, so I wouldn't mind sipping on such a drink all day long either. Thanks for sharing the recipe! I'm going to have to try it at home, now that winter is at our door step!

                                2. I have never tasted "salty tea" as it is called, but I have a friend who is a Nepalese Lama (this is actually an ethnic group of a priestly caste like Brahmins or Cohens, but not all Lamas are holymen like the Dalai Lama, she certainly isn't) and she says:

                                  you can use any milk, cow's milk, even powdered milk, but to get the correct taste you need fresh yak butter...she says the mature female yak is called dzomo in Yulmo, the Lama language, which is a dialect of Tibetan (also related to Sherpa), but the male and females are both Yak---the correct pronunciation rhymes with duck. She says the butter is not rancid, actually it is supposed to be very fresh and threshed in some kind of bag like a buttermilk.

                                  I think the yak milk is very fatty and rich, so maybe a real cream milk plus a fresh butter may work???

                                  1. Several years ago I spent a summer in McLeod Ganj/Dharamsala, India, teaching English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns. My first day there, the "head nun" offered my friend and I butter tea, made there at the nunnery. Nothing had prepared me for the taste - I was expecting a slightly richer version of English breakfast, but instead it was hot, somewhat greasy, and salty. We could barely finish our cups, but wanted to be polite. And then, of course, our (finally) almost empty cups were soon refilled to the brim in an act of observant hospitality. Over the course of the summer, I grew to tolerate the stuff, and I could see how you would want to drink it in the middle of winter on the Tibetan plateau. (But come on..... during hot steamy monsoon season?) Of all the things I am nostalgic for from that summer, butter tea does not make the list. Although I did bring home a butter tea maker as a "souveneir" - it looks like a butter churn, and is used to mix the tea and butter. I've never tried to use mine as anything more than a conversation piece, but I did get to "pump" the one at the nunnery, which was fun.

                                    1. In Tibet, my understanding is that yak butter tea is a very functional drink - the butter gives you a lot of energy/calories for the strenuous work that has to be done.

                                      1. The tea I was served in Tibetan areas of China outside of the TAR (in Sichuan province) was not for my tastebuds. Several times the hosts simply put a pat of butter in the bottom of the cup, then poured hot tea over it, melting it fairly quickly (sometimes a lump would float around for a while). This would eliminate the need to mash up the butter, as others suggested.

                                        1. A little off the subject of the tea itself, could you please describe for me the different vessels in which the butter tea was presented to you? I am attempting to do a research project on tea ceremonies, and am having a difficult time finding information about Tibetan tea vessels...ie, bowls, cups, squarish shot glasses. Thanks:D

                                          1. I had, (what I assume to be an "americanized" version), in a restaurant in the village last night of this tea. It may have been the heat of the day, it may be my tastebuds aren't used to the flavor...but for me, it was a little rough going down. I have to note, the waiter giggled as I ordered...and continued to eye both me and the cup with amusement. I did manage to drink about 1/3 of a cup though, and found it much more palatable with food. ( I was eating barley cake). I imagine in the cold of February...this drink may be more welcome. It was quite salty, and the butter left a sort of natural lubricant in and on my mouth. No need for chapstick! It won't be a while, but I will try it again...in the winter. Next year. The food though...was amazing. Earthy and wonderful!

                                            1. I have tried the real thing before. The tea they use in Tibet is much stronger. The recipe you are talking about says to boil 5-6 cups of water and use 2 tea bags. Unfortunately, that makes the weakest tea I have ever tasted. Also, when they make it in Tibet, they take a fist full of salt and put it in roughly a quart to a quart and a half of this tea.This recipe calls for 1/4 a teaspoon. So this recipe makes something that isn't even remotely similar to what the Tibetans drink.

                                              This drink does not taste bad, but it is very lacking in flavor in my humble opinion.

                                              1. The link for the butter tea you posted has changed and is now:


                                                In my experience, the butter tea in Tibet, with yak butter, and here in the Tibetan community in San Francisco, with cow butter, is more or less similar. In Tibet, I drank yak butter tea all over the place, from "fancy" restaurants in cities to many village homes in remote spots, and it tasted a little stronger than cow butter but not so much as to make it undrinkable for me. It was never rancid. The major trick for me for butter tea is 1. Not to expect it to taste like "regular" tea -- I think of it more like a thin soup. 2. Drink it right away as it's a lot more appealing hot. 3. Get good and cold and hungry and share it with some laughing Tibetans, and you'll think it's the yummiest thing ever.

                                                1. I've tried this at a Tibetan restaurant in Toronto. I'm sure it was adjusted to local palates somewhat, but I think the key is to not expect it to be tea. It really reminded me of oyster stew - you have hot salty milk, with melted butter on top. The tea was very much a background flavor.

                                                  1. use Pu-er tea. You can purchase Pu-er in tea bags at most Chinese grocery stores. Or they come in compressed form. A little goes a long way. steep the tea, tea should be quite dark.. but translucent. couple of tea bags should produce enough tea for 1 litre (or ~ 4 cups).
                                                    - pinch of salt to taste (it should NOT be salty)
                                                    - very little butter (a tea spoon is more than enough for 1 litre tea).
                                                    - add some milk/cream -- if you use 10% cream (half and half), then use about 1/4 cup.
                                                    whisk the tea until butter is completely incorporated...

                                                    As for Yak milk... well, as others have already waded in... female yak is Dri ... and a cross between a yak and a cow is Dzo (male) and Dzo-mo(female). Most common source of milk is Dzo-mo.

                                                    No, Tibetans do not prefer rancid butter. Due to poor storage, butter becomes rancid.