Tibetan Tea Culture at The Roof of The World
Tibet, known as the roof of the world due to its high altitude, averagely over 3500m, enjoys distinctive tea culture. For hundreds of years, Tibetans have developed the habit of sipping tea. They can eat nothing except drinking tea. Let’s travel to Tibet and experience the unique Tibetan tea culture at the roof of the world.
Tibetan tea culture consists of two traditional tea types. These are butter tea and sweet milk tea, which are found only in Tibet. Tibetans enjoy other types of tea as well, such as green tea, milk tea and boiled black tea. Many travelers heartily enjoy the peaceful environment of the local tea shops where they can relax and soak in the culture with an up close and personal experience.
Butter tea is the most popular one. Drinking 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, butter tea is a very warming drink, providing lots of caloric energy and is particularly suited to high altitudes. The butter also helps prevent chapped lips.
Butter tea is also used for eating tsampa by pouring onto it, or dipping the tsampa into it, and mixing well.
According to the Tibetan custom, butter tea is drunk in separate sips, and after each sip the host refills the bowl to the brim. Thus, the guest never drains his bowl; rather, it is constantly topped off. If the visitor does not wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl. In this way etiquette is observed and the host will not be offended.
The cups for drinking butter in Tibet are usually made of silver; some are made of gold. Tibetan people also use wooden bowls to drink tea. The wooden bowls are also set with gold, silver or copper. Furthermore, some Tibetan teaware is made of jade. The gorgeous and expensive jade teawares are handed down from generation to generation in a family. The teawares are also regarded as status symbols in Tibet.
Tibetan Tea Cup
Tibet tea drinking has many rules. One such concerns a ritual performed by guests at another’s house. The host will first pour some highland barley wine. The guest must dip his finger in the wine and flick some away. This will be done three times to represent respect for the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The cup will then be refilled two more times and on the last time it must be emptied or the host will be insulted. After this, the host will present a gift of butter wine to the guest, who will accept it without touching the rim of the bowl. The guest will then pour a glass for himself, and must finish the glass or be seen as rude. Tea drinking and its accompanying rules have a long and important history tied directly to respecting others. Therefore it is wise to ask advice from your Tibet tour consultant about the proper etiquette for your specific situation.
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