Posted in Kafevend Blog
Today's blog will be looking exclusively at tea, but not tea as we commonly know it. The serious walkers and climbers amongst us, those who are never deterred by the weather, no matter how inclement, will probably take a packet of sandwiches with them for energy, perhaps a bar of chocolate or some good old Kendal Mint Cake too for that all important sugar boost. Nevertheless, in some parts of the world conditions are generally so harsh that even the tea has been tailored to pack a calorific punch.
In Tibet and Nepal butter tea is the standard. Consumed all day long and providing extra calories to keep people going at high altitude and in very cold temperatures, butter tea, or po cha, is made with black tea crumbled from tea bricks and boiled for several hours. The resulting liquid is very concentrated so only a small amount is used at a time; to this yak milk and butter is added. Apart from butter, the other unusual ingredient is salt – forget the sugar boost; our body burns up the calories from fat much more slowly than those derived from sugar, which is more beneficial. Presumably salt goes with the butter to better effect, hence its use. Rather than being brewed in a teapot, po cha's component parts are churned together in a chandong; this helps to blend the yak butter into the drink.
Tibetans and Nepalese certainly aren't alone in their preference for a high fat tea. In Mongolia the everyday drink of choice is suutei tsai, meaning milky tea. Once again black tea crumbled from a block usually forms the basis, although green tea can also be used. Milk is an absolute must and butter, or sometimes fried millet, is often added too so as to provide that extra boost needed for a life conducted in the climactic extremes of the Steppe. The dairy element can come from a wide variety of animals: yak, cows, sheep, goats, horses even. Like po cha, suutei tsai also contains salt. Preparation does differ however, so while po cha is churned, suutei tsai is traditionally made in a pan on the stove and the tea is repeatedly scooped up and poured back into the pan from a height. And although Mongolians have traditionally sourced their tea from neighbouring China, Georgian tea has become very popular there in recent times. In fact Georgia's brick tea is virtually all exported to Mongolia.
Interestingly, while tea plants are cultivated on mountain terraces in both Tibet and Nepal, Mongolia has played a different kind of role in tea, though we do need to turn the clock back several hundred years to the time of the Mongol Empire. Founded by Genghis Khan in 1206, the Empire soon acquired a warlike reputation, but conversely it actually did much to stabilise the Eurasian region and promoted trade all along the Silk Road network, meaning that tea merchants could travel safely and expand their trade. Thus more people were introduced to the restorative powers and great taste of tea!