To the Tibetans, tea is a beverage just like coffee to the westerners, so it could say that tea is indispensable for the Tibetans' life. However, in the Tibetan-inhabited areas, there is almost no tea production at all and almost all tea has to be imported from other parts of China. The teas traveled along the ancient Tea Horse Trail. Tibetans are addicted to tea drinking and because of the harsh climate and high altitudes, they have created their own unique way of drinking and preparing tea. The most popular forms of Tibetan tea are Buttered Tea and Milk Tea.
One of the stapes of every Tibetan meal, Buttered Tea is Tibet's most popular drink. According to traditional Tibetan medicine, buttered tea makes Tibetans strong and able to live long lives. It is also believed to warm the body, fight hunger, and aid in digestion.
Butter Tea is made of only a few simple ingredients: yak butter, brick tea, salt, and water. Butter Tea has a strong salty flavor and many first-time drinkers find it to taste more like broth than tea. Buttered Tea is served to guests, and for distinguished guests serving them with the newly-made Buttered Tea immediately upon making is considered to be the highest courtesy, since Buttered Tea tastes best when it is hot. Buttered Tea making is a time-consuming and complicated process. Brick tea is boiled until it reaches the right flavor, then the leaves are removed and the tea is put into a wooden churn with boiling water, salt, and yak butter. The ingredients are churned until well missed and the resulting liquid is poured into a kettle where it is reheated and then served.
Milk Tea, or Sweetened Tea, is another popular tea amongst Tibetans. It is an imitation of English tea and Indian tea, but its brewing process is unique to Tibet. Tea, milk, and sugar are all boiled together at the same time. By cooking it in this way, the tea has a distinctly Tibetan flavor. Tibetans have been drinking Milk Tea for over 100 years.
Besides Butter Tea and Milk Tea, many Tibetans also drink tea made without added ingredients. No matter what kind of tea is drank extra is usually made in stored in thermos bottles for later consumption, but freshly made tea is the best. Tibetans have developed their own unique customs when drinking tea. Teas are drunk from unique bowls instead of cups. Each person has his or her own bowl that no one else is allowed to use, and women's bowls are always smaller than their husbands. Tea is a very important part of every Tibetan life.
When a husband has to go away for a period of time, his wife will daily make tea for him in his own bowl to wish him a speedy return. In Tibet, tea serves many purposes. It is a symbol of hospitality, a sacred offering, and a meal itself. And while sipping tea, bowls used to contain the tea should be flawless and when offering a bowl of tea to another, both the giver and receiver use both hands not only to avoid spilling but as a sign of respect. When visitors come, the host will present them with tea before sitting down to chat and will continue refilling their guests' bowls continuously. If a guest stops drinking tea and allows it to get cold, the host will dump out the tea and refill it with fresh tea. It is important never to refuse tea. Drinking and presenting tea has become an integral part of every Tibetan's life. It is interesting to note that according to Tibetan customs, when a woman gives birth, her relatives visit with tea on the second day if the woman has a son or on the fourth day if she has a daughter.