Friday, December 13, 2013

According to the ancients: butter coffee & butter tea

Butter coffee + Butter tea  |  According to the ancients on afeathery*nest  |

When it comes to tuning in to trendy ideas or fads in the food or "life-hacks" world, there are two filters I pass them through: is it so simply smart as to be inherently intuitive? (E.g. less-mucked-with food must be better than mega-mucked-with food). And, is this something that our ancients did without a second thought? (E.g., there's a reason our grandmothers suggested chicken soup for a cold; or hearty proteins before a day on the farm; or slept according to the sun, even in winter).

+ + +

A few years ago when R was here visiting me in the depths of winter, we were to meet another couple in the East Village at a hole-in-the-wall sushi place (might seem like a recipe for disaster as raw dishes and hole-in-the-walls don't go so well together, but it was delicious!). Being who we are, we arrived way too early. Rather than freeze outside (hole-in-the-walls don't generally have bars to wait at), we went next door to a place called Tsampa to get tea. We figured a Tibetan cafe must have tea.

But the menu only had something called Butter Tea which sounded odd, but intriguing (I'll always be the person to order the dish with the least expected combinations), so of course I had to get it. It was amazing. Tea, yes, but with an earthy creaminess you don't get from milk, plus a little froth that was lightly flecked with salt. Tibetans use salted yak butter and drink this throughout the day to withstand frigid temps and long outdoor treks.

I completely forgot about how much I enjoyed it until a few weeks ago at yet another Tibetan restaurant, Cafe Himalaya, also in the East Village. Three years ago, after realizing we live in the same city but never see each other, two friends and I made a pact to meet once a month for a meal, but we added a twist: we made it an "Around the World" game of sorts, where we'd take turns picking a country and dine at a restaurant featuring that cuisine—in alphabetical order. We haven't made it work every month (sometimes skipping many), but we were at "N" last month and the gal who picked chose Nepal.

So on the first properly cold, nay bone-chilling frigid, day of the season we shivered our way over to this itsy bitsy place in the East Village, completely chapped and what was the first thing I stiffly chattered to the waiter? "B-b-b-butter t-t-t-ea, ple-e-e-ase".

+ + +

Back to the fad thing—if you read or follow any of the paleo or primal or bulletproof or whole health-type sites, you'll see that many of them are just now starting to capitalize on the nutritional benefits of buttered drinks.

Meanwhile, the Tibetans (and Ethiopians and Singaporeans), have been drinking this for years and years, happily and warmly. Some of the new proponents have the goodness to mention the origins of this fortifying concoction, but not all do. Remember how chai and yoga became mainstream popular 15 years ago but most people didn't even associate them with India? (That could have just been my Virginia town, though).

And what are some of those benefits?

+ The combination of tea and salty fat is thought to be ideal for the high, often cold altitudes of the Himalaya (or...Manhattan)

+ The fats boost your energy and cognitive abilities (your brain runs on fat)

+ Drunk first thing in the morning, it revs up your metabolism

None of this makes any difference, of course, unless it's good. And to me? It really does taste good, which makes the involved process of preparing it worthwhile. I use a combination of butter (for creaminess) and coconut oil (for silkiness) that together create a very lovely morning brew.

Here's how I've been making mine, both with tea (a chai from Numi) and coffee:

// Butter Tea / Butter Coffee
Makes one mug

3/4 cup    tea or coffee (however you take it, mine are always with milk)
1 tsp        unsalted butter (I use Ronnybrook, the local, grass-fed farm)
1 tbsp      extra virgin, unrefined coconut oil

Stir the butter and coconut oil into your drink and then using an immersion blender, whiz it all together so the fats are emulsified into the tea/coffee and it gets nice and frothy. You don't need to use both (and could use coconut oil alone if you don't want dairy), either way works just fine.

Note: Proper Tibetan Butter Tea uses salted yak butter, so if you wanted to have that same flavor profile, add a pinch of good salt or use salted butter (for the tea though, not sure you'd want salted coffee...)

One year ago: Out of the ordinary & How to embrace a gray Sunday & Monday meanders: 2


  1. this is so interesting because I am from Nepal and when I visited couple months ago, I saw that butter tea but didnt buy it.. how did you like Tibetan food? I hope you tried mo:mo.

    1. Oh, how funny! I really love butter tea...and clearly it's a love that has lasted a couple of years (and now I make it at home every day). For dinner I didn't have the momo because of the gluten situation, but I DID have the Thayma Thang soup + Shapta, both were delicious! Will check out your post :).


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