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  Tibetan Tea Culture  

 Tea to Lamas

All Tibetans, including lamas, consider tea essential.

Every morning, lamas attend a morning mass held under the auspices of the sutra teacher. This is followed the consumption of buttered tea and a roasted highland barley dish known as tsamba.

At noon, they gather in the sutra hall of the Buddhist school of the monastery to pray and recite Buddhist scriptures while drinking tea. This ceremony is much the same as the morning Mass, but is held on a smaller scale.

In the evening, lamas gather in Khang-tshan organized according to where they are located to pray and drink tea in a fairly informal setting (kamqa in Tibetan).

It is very common for benefactors to visit monasteries, where they offer tea porridge to lamas while presenting them with the titles of the Buddhist scriptures they wish the lamas to recite for them. There are also senior lamas studying for Geshi (a Buddhist academic degree equivalent to a PhD) who also offer tea porridge to the lamas of the whole monastery.

 Two kinds of tea

Buttered Tea

Buttered tea is an indispensable part of Tibetan life. Before work, a Tibetan will drink several bowlfuls of this tangy beverage. The tea is also always served to guests.

To prepare buttered tea, a little freshly-brewed brick tea with the tea leaves removed, a lump of butter, and a pinch of salt are put into the wooden "tea churn" with some boiling water and then churned for a minute or so until the tea is well mixed. The resulting liquid is poured into a kettle, heated, and then served. Tea churning is a daily ritual. When prepared, the tea is transferred to a kettle to be kept warm over the fire.

With butter as the main ingredient, the buttered tea is a very warming drink and a good antidote to the cold, so it is especially suited to high altitudes.

According to the Tibetan custom, the buttered tea is drunk in separate sips, and after each sip the host refills the bowl to the brim. Thus the guest never drains his bowl yet it is constantly topped up. If the visitor does not wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl, except for a small amount. In this way etiquette is observed and the host will not be offended.

Milk Tea

Tibetans like drinking tea. Besides salted buttered tea, sweet milk tea is another popular alternative. Hot boiling black tea filtered is poured into a churn, and then fresh milk and sugar are added. Vigorous churning turns out a light reddish white drink. There are many teashops in Lhasa serving the sweet milk tea.

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