How do you like your cup of tea? Do you prefer it served with a side of milk or a slice of lemon? In Bhutan, we like our tea infused with yak butter and salt. And if the idea of a savoury tea isn’t that appealing to you, wait until you try it on a cold day. The mix of butter and salt with tea works surprisingly well, and most tourist are happy to have a cup to keep them warm when they are out and about exploring our valleys in the winter.
What is Suja?
The Yak butter tea called Suja in Dzongkha, our national language is a staple drink that can be dated all the way back to the 7th century. Drank mostly in Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal, this tea is ideal for the cold weather found in the Himalayas as its high calory content gives the necessary energy to go for the day. But Suja is not just a morning drink, suja is also a social affair.
For most Bhutanese, tea is the “go-to” drink for any occasion and a must for celebrations like Losar (the Bhutanese New Year), weddings, and for religious events and rituals.
When being hosted, guests in Bhutanese homes are always welcome with a butter tea, alongside a snack named Zao, puffed rice roasted with butter and sugar. Some local manners may be observed when enjoying butter tea. The tea is served in a wooden cup, a phob, according to the age of guests, from old to young while the snack is presented in a wooden bowl, a Dhapa, or in a bamboo basket, a Bangshun.
We always drink our tea by first blowing a little on it, pushing the butter to the side, and therefore saving it, before sipping the tea. When never finish it all at once and keep the butter part of it in the bottom. This way we always have some butter in our cup when it’s refilled.
How to make Bhutanese butter tea?
Making authentic yak butter tea is a long and ceremonial process. First, tea leaves are added to a pot of boiling water. Once the water turns a deep brown, the tea is strained into a long wooden cylindrical churn called a Ja Su. Salt and yak butter are added to the ja su and the mixture is churned until the proper consistency is reached, and foam starts to form. The tea is then transferred into a copper pot and kept warm by the fire, ready to share with guests. Nowadays, cow butter has replaced yak butter as it is more widely available. People in the city also use a blender appliance to mix it rather than churning it manually.
If you want to give it try, this two-minute video from food blogger Tashi Choden will show you the modern way to do it. And if you want to try it, the Bhutanese with the snacks and cups, our Tea gift set has everything to get you started.
Is butter tea good for you?
Bulletproof coffee, a coffee boosted with unsalted butter and coconut oil, was inspired by butter tea. The inventor, Dave Asprey, got the idea when he went to practice meditation in Tibet.
Butter tea has some benefits in our circumstances. As the weather can get quite chilly in the valley, especially during winter, starting the day with a hot and steamy cup of Suja is really the best way to boost our energy and spirits. The butter tea fuels us with a rich content that can be quickly digested and absorb by our body, providing us with energy and heat in the cold weather. Also, after having butter tea, some lipids are left on the lip, preventing us from getting chapped lips. The fermented tea used to make butter tea is rich in tea polyphenols and various nutrients, such as vitamins, caffeine, as well as multiple probiotics produced by long fermentation time.
Butter tea is a great drink for people who live an active life in a cold environment. But enjoying too much of it while living the city life, may lead to weight gain and cholesterol as it is high in saturated fat. Like any good thing, moderation is key.