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Buttered Tea of Tibetans

Tibetans reside in windy and snowy plateau and make a living by practicing livestock farming and planting dry-land crops. Their major food includes dairy products, beef and mutton, and highland barley. They seldom have melons, fruits, or vegetables. Tea is their secret to keep a healthy balance. Tibetan people have a saying: "It is better not to have food for three days than not to have tea for one day."

Tibetan people drink various kinds of teas, including the salt tea, milky tea, and buttered tea. Of these, the buttered tea is the most popular. The host always treats the guest with buttered tea to show his hospitality. It is said that the buttered tea was invented by Princess Wen Cheng. When she came to Tibet to marry the Tibetan king, she brought with her large amount of tea. As she was not used to local cow and sheep milk, she mixed tea and milk together and made the buttered tea, which has since been loved by Tibetan people.

The buttered tea is made through meticulous procedures. First, pound the brick-shaped tea or bowl-shaped tea into pieces and stew them in a cauldron for about half an hour. Then, pour the filtered tea soup into a specially-made tea-making tube, which is usually a half-man-tall cylinder the diameter of a bowl. Meanwhile, put proper quantity of butter and condiments into the tube. There are various kinds of condiments, including salt, sugar, sesame powder, peanut, pine nut, and egg, and they can be added based on personal taste. While the soup is still hot, stir it with a stick. The nonstop stir is to fully blend the butter and condiments with the tea. The buttered tea tastes the best when it is still hot.

Tibetan people have a set of protocol in treating guests with the buttered tea. After the guests are seated, the host will put a box in the middle of the table, which contains some tsamba kneaded with the fried highland barley powder and tea soup. The tea bowls are also ready for use. The host pours the buttered tea for the guests in order of their ages. The elder one gets the tea first. Then, the host warmly invites the guests to enjoy the tea. Tsamba is also offered. The host and the guests can happily talk while drinking and eating. According to Tibetan custom, one should not finish the buttered tea in one gulp, but should taste it in small sips and always leave some in the bowl. This represents the guest’s admiration of the host's skill in making the tea. After several rounds of filling, if the guest does not want more, he can politely pour the tea on the ground and the host will understand.