If you believe the nomads of Tibet, yak butter tea will help you sleep, increase your libido, and make you as strong as the beast it comes from. The creamy concoction is made with fermented pu’erh black tea, brewed with salt, and topped with fermented yak butter. Some butter melts into the tea; the chunky remains glug down to the bottom of the cup. Toasted barley powder and milk curds finish off the drink. The salty, fatty mixture can be an acquired taste. Some regions make it sweeter, while others ramp up the sodium content.
Those fats serve a particular purpose: to help farmers on the chilly Tibetan plateau go about their day. At heights that peak at over 17,000 feet above sea level, work is sometimes strenuous and always cold. The yak butter keeps its drinker toasty, or so the theory goes, with the energy to keep going and going and going. It’s filling enough that people often compare yak butter tea to soup.
That’s if you can afford it, of course. Yaks are not intensively farmed, and their own calves drink most of their dairy. As a result, poorer families often sell their butter and drink tea with plain milk.
Yak butter tea finds its Western copycat in Bulletproof coffee, the biohacking drink celebrated by entrepreneurs and time-optimizers. In the hands of the right spokesperson, Bulletproof coffee is a kind of ancient energy drink. It’s made with unsalted butter, though, which comes from standard cow’s milk. Tibetan butter-tea drinkers may wonder whether all those desk workers hope to be as strong as a cow.
Need to Know
Serving your guests yak butter tea is a sign of good hospitality in Tibet. If offered, don't refuse.
Where to Try It
Ganden MonasteryDagze, Lhasa, Tibet, China
The monastery kitchen sells butter tea as well as momos (dumplings.)