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Tibetan Butter Tea: Get to Know the Most Favored & Essential Drink in Tibet

June,19 2024 BY Kham Sang 0 COMMENTS

It is often said that if you have not drunk the Tibetan butter tea, you are not considered to have been to the land of Tibet. As a special drink of Tibetan people, Tibetan butter tea is a daily essential playing an important role in Tibetan’s life. Read this passage to know what is Tibetan butter tea, its benefits, how to make and where to drink it and more.

What is Tibetan butter tea?

Tibetan butter tea is the most popular one among several kinds of tea in Tibet. Survey results show that up to 73.9% of Tibetans would choose the butter tea when it comes to tea drinking. Local Tibetans drink butter tea at least three times a day, and in some cases as many as a dozen times.

Tibetan butter tea can also be called Tibetan yak butter tea

Simply put, the butter tea is a traditional Tibetan drink mainly made by yak butter and strong tea, adding some salt and refined spices. It tastes like a kind of light soup, being a little salty. Generally, traditional Tibetan people eat Tibetan butter tea and tsampa together at their breakfast. Some other people living adjacent to Tibetans also have the habit of drinking butter tea.

tibetan butter teaTibetan butter tea tastes like light soup, being a little salty.

To know Tibetan butter tea, one need to first know the butter, the main ingredient of this drink. Not like the butter we normally see that is originated from cows, the butter in Tibet is the one extracted from yak milk or goat milk. Tibetan people like the yak butter most, as it has sweet flavor and excellent taste than the other one. In Tibet, one can see the yak butter anytime and anywhere, in every Tibetan family. Therefore, in most cases, butter tea refers to yak butter tea in Tibet.

Difference between Tibetan butter tea and sweet tea

In Tibet, butter tea and sweet tea are different drinks. The Tibetan butter tea is originated from Tibetan plateau, under the harsh conditions of severe cold and thin oxygen. It helps to keep warm and replenish the nutritional deficiency caused by the lack of vegetables and fruits in the plateau environment.

butter tea with tsampaThe Tibetan butter tea is a daily food usually consumed with tsampa.

The Tibetan sweet tea, on the other hand, was introduced to Tibet from India and Nepal at the beginning of last century. Sweet tea was quite popular among the upper class in Lhasa in the early days. It later became a daily routine for the Tibetan people. Lhasa sweet tea is made of black tea boiled juice, milk or milk powder and sugar etc., being sweet and delicious.

Is Tibetan butter tea good for health? (Benefits of Tibetan butter tea)

Tibetan people is deeply addicted to butter tea, since it has many benefits that are good for health. The Tibetan butter tea can help to cure the altitude sickness, drive away the cold to keep warm, and also prevent cracked lips due to the dry weather.

Tibetan medicine believes that drinking more butter tea in the plateau environment can strengthen one’s physique, and nourish the intestines and stomach, and energize the body. The butter tea has high calorie, so as to drive away the cold, suitable for drinking in highland areas.

 tibetan=Tibetan butter tea has many benefits like keeping warm.

The aromatic substances in the tea can dissolve fat and help digestion, especially for Tibetans living in pastoral areas on the Tibetan plateau, lacking fresh vegetables and fruits and eating beef and mutton as staples. Due to the lack of oxygen, people in plateau regions rely on tea to maintain the balance of water in the body and normal metabolism, and drinking tea can replenish the lack of vitamins.

Tourists coming to travel in Tibet are recommended to drink Tibetan butter tea, if you can get used to the flavor of it. It can help tourists from low elevation areas to acclimatize to the high altitude of the snowy land. But for those who have coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arteriosclerosis patients, the butter tea should be avoided.

How to make Tibetan butter tea?

The traditional way by Tibetan people

The traditional way to make Tibetan butter tea is time-consuming and purely handmade. The butter is extracted from the milk of yaks or goats. Tibetan nomad people refine the butter in a special way:

First heat the yak milk and pour it into a special wooden barrel. Then use the special wooden stick to pump the milk up and down, back and forth hundreds of times, so that the milk is separated from the oil and water. There will be yellow flat gradually forming and floating on the top of the milk. And we get the butter when the fat is scooped up and cools down.

When making the butter tea, Tibetans first boil the brick tea with water for a long time until it gets thick. Then pour the tea into the special butter tea barrel. Then add yak butter and salt, and stir all the materials in the barrel until the butter and tea blend together. Then heat the butter tea in the pot again, to finally get the hot and fragrant Tibetan butter tea.

See How Tibetan Nomads Make Butter, Cheese and Yogurt in the Video

Recipe to make Tibetan butter tea by yourself

If you want to make your own butter tea at home, you can make it in an easier way. Prepare the ingredients including brick tea (or Pu’er tea as alternative), yak butter, salt in the first hand. Here is one of the most convenient methods as follows:

1. First boil water in the teapot, and put appropriate amount of brick tea or Pu’er tea to boil. Then simmer slowly with low heat until the tea turns dark brown, when it tastes not bitter.
2. Put a little salt in the boiled strong tea, and it is made into the salty tea.
3. Put a piece of yak butter into the tea, so that it dissolves in the tea. Then we get the most simple Tibetan butter tea.
4. Depending on your own taste, you can also put the sugar, or peanut etc., to the butter tea, to make it more delicious.

How to drink Tibetan butter tea?

Tibetan people often use butter tea to receive guests. And when drinking the butter tea, there are certain rules and traditions. Generally, the tea is continually added while drinking, and one cannot directly finish the drink. When there is a guest in a Tibetan family, the bowl of the guest is always filled with butter tea.

Customs and traditions for tourists to know

1. When the guest is let sit at the Tibetan square table, the host will take a wooden bowl (or tea cup) to the front of the guest.

2. Then the host (or housewife) lifts the butter tea pot (hot water bottles instead nowadays), shaking a few times, and then fill the bowl with butter tea. When filling the tea, the bottom of the pot should not be higher than the table top, as a sign of respect to the guest.

treat guest with buter teaCustoms are followed when Tibetans treat guests with the butter tea.

3. Guest should not drink the tea immediately after it is filled. First chat with the host. When the host lift the butter tea pot again, the guest can pick up the bowl to drink slowly.

4. One should not drink the tea too fast. Leave half of tea in the bowl after your first drinking, and wait for the host to add before drinking for the next time.

Note: A warm host will always fill up the guest's tea bowl. If you do not want to drink, do not pick it up; if you drink half, and do not want to drink more, just leave the bowl to be filled by the host. When you are ready to say goodbye, you can drink a few more sips, but remember to not drain the whole tea bowl.

Where to drink Tibetan butter tea?

When touring Tibet, one can get to drink Tibetan butter tea in many places, like the traditional Tibetan restaurants. But the best place to enjoy the authentic Tibetan butter tea is in local Tibetan home. Especially, if you have the chance to visit a Tibetan nomad’s family, you can see the whole process of making the Tibetan butter tea in a traditional way, from extracting butter at the very beginning. If you are interested, we can help to arrange this unique experience of family visit during your Tibet tour. Just contact us for more details.


As one of the most important Tibetan food favored by locals, Tibetan butter tea also reveals the unique culture and traditions of Tibetan people. For tourists travelling to Tibet, it is beneficial to drink some butter tea to keep warm and adapt to the plateau environment. On the next time when you touring Tibet, don’t forget to have a taste of the butter tea, maybe you will fall into love with it.

Kham Sang

About the Author - Kham Sang

With fluent English skills rivaling a native English speaker, Khamsang often impresses our travelers with her gifted language capacity and deep understanding of Tibetan culture and history.

Professional, flexible, and attentive, throughout her 10+ years of guide experience, Khamsang has received zero complaints from her guests. Besides, as a mom of two lovely sons, Khamsang is also a devoted mother and loves writing expert travel articles to help travelers longing for a Tibet adventure.

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