Visiting Lama Kaldan (actually Geshe Kaldan) was always an experience of Tibet. Having left Tibet in 1959 during the Chinese invasion, Geshe Kaldan spent many years in India before coming to Canada and settling for a time in Edmonton, where we met.
He offered Tibetan tea at his home, served out of a big tall thermos, thick butter tea. My first taste of this thick and dark oily liquid was not pleasant, so I thought that if I just drank it quickly he would think I liked it, and then we could visit. Not so fast – in his culture tea is poured into any empty cup. My finishing it meant that I wanted more! This happened three times until I realized all I needed to do was leave some of the tea in the cup. Still I had to refuse three more times.
Once when I was looking for something in his kitchen for him, I came upon a jar with butter in it. It was just sitting there, old butter, separated with the yellow oil at the bottom and the frothy white on top. A 1″paint brush was in this jar, and this he used to put the butter into the tea.
He showed me the Chinese black tea in a circular tin, and demonstrated how he broke off just enough to boil for the brew. Even though Lama Kaldan demonstrated kindly and patiently how the tea was made, I couldn’t ever develop a taste for it, there in an Edmonton condo. High in the mountains of Tibet, however, I know I’d have welcomed cup after cup of this invigorating tea-soup, and then welcomed it later, wherever it would be served, in Edmonton, Switzerland, London, India, wherever the Tibetan people settled after the Chinese invasion.
He threw his head back and laughed at the idea that Tibetan tea was made with yak butter, because the “yak” is the male of the species!
Here’s a recipe for Tibetan Tea that I picked up online here.
- Plain black tea (in bags or loose)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup milk or 1 teaspoon milk powder
Materials: One churn, blender, or large drink container with a tight lid.
This po cha recipe is for four people, more or less.
First boil five to six cups of water, then turn down the fire. Put two bags of tea or one heaping tablespoon of loose tea in the water and boil again for a couple of minutes. Take out the tea bags or if you use loose tea, strain the tea leaves. Pour your tea, one quarter of a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of butter, and a half cup of milk or a teaspoon of milk powder into a chandong, which is a kind of churn. Please see the picture, in which we are using a plastic churn. Since churns are kind of rare outside of Tibet, you can do what some Tibetans do, which is to use any big container with a lid, so you can shake the tea, or you can just use a blender, which works very well. Churn, blend or shake the mixture for two or three minutes. In Tibet, we think the po cha tastes better if you churn it longer. Serve the tea right away, since po cha is best when it’s very hot.
Perhaps I’ll make some, and while sipping, remember with gratitude the time I was able to spend with Lama Kaldan, learning about Tibet, and Buddhism, and the way of life’s changes.