Thursday, May 2, 2013

The butter tea of Tibet & Mongolia


This is very much like the tea that is enjoyed in Tibet’s high altitudes and on Mongolia’s frigid steppes. (Sorry, couldn't find any yak or horse milk at Whole Foods.) 

Fat is both a necessity and a pleasure in both Tibet and Mongolia because of the cold, which is one of the reasons why butter is floated on the top of the local milk tea.

To take the place of some of that butter, I use whole cream instead of milk, and this way the fat does not separate. I then add just a little touch of butter's extra salty goodness since I live in sunny California and know that I really do not need another helping of fat in my diet. However, nothing beats the taste of premium butter, so I use one of my favorite brands to lend the tea that requisite zing. 

If you would prefer to have more of a “barny” taste here, try using whole goat milk and a good helping of goat butter. 

I tend to put more tea leaves in the brew—around 6 tablespoons—because I enjoy a really bitter edge. However, the amount of tea, water, butter, and cream you use is, of course, a matter of tasting and adjusting the amounts until you hit that sweet spot. And speaking of sweet, you can sneak in a bit of sugar to your cup if you have a sweet tooth; it’s not kosher, but if no one is looking…

Tea with boortsog (next recipe)
In Tibet, this tea is usually foamed up with a churn, much like the Mexican molinillo that is used to make hot chocolate, while in Mongolia the milk is foamed by repeatedly lifting up ladlefuls high over the pan and pouring it back in. This is pretty much the same concept as India’s “pulled tea” (teh tarik), where it is poured back and forth between two containers.

I've found that I can go high tech with a blender, though, and have a hot cup of butter tea with no muss, no fuss.

The butter tea of Tibet & Mongolia
Boeja and Suutei tsai
Tibet, Mongolia
Makes about 6 cups 

¼ cup (or so) Chinese fermented compressed tea (pŭ’ěr 普洱 or tuóchá 沱茶), broken up into smallish pieces
6 cups freshly-boiled filtered water, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon to ¼ cup best quality salted butter
A pinch of sea salt
1 cup heavy organic cream

1. Place the tea in a saucepan, cover it with boiling water, and let it soak for about 3 minutes to loosen up the tea leaves; strain out and discard the water. Cover the tea leaves with 5 cups boiling water, bring the tea to boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. After about 10 minutes, strain the tea into a blender.

2. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the tea along with the salt and cream. Blend the tea, starting on low and gradually increasing the speed to high in order to make the tea foam. Serve the tea in small bowls, preferably wooden. 
Tuocha and pu'er

Tips

Compressed tea can be found in Chinese tea shops and grocery stores. Pu'er (also sometimes written pu erh or pu ni) is usually fermented black tea, although sometimes you can find it in its green form, which is milder and equally delicious. Pu'er comes in flat discs, hard-edged bricks, and also crumbled up. Tuocha tends to be bowl-shaped. 

Both of these teas are aged, and the older they are, the more expensive they become.

I usually get the disc form which is easier to crack apart than the bricks, but I find the loose-leaf compressed teas lacking in flavor, so I never get those. I like to crumble up the tea myself and store it in a tin, which makes it more convenient to use. Keep this tea, as all teas, in a dry. airtight container.

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