Gur Gur Chai Or Butter Tea – A Specialty Of Ladakh

In fact almost all Ladakhi household prepare Gur Gur chai and consider it’s consumption to be customary and healthy. The tea is a specialty in the Himalayan regions of Tibet and China. The unique feature of the tea is the yak butter used as one of the ingredients.

The name Gur Gur has been derived from the local Ladakhi language which is the traditional name for the utensil used for churning butter. The taste of the tea is incomplete without the addition of the specially churned butter from the Gur Gur. Tibetans also call it as Po Cha or Cha Suma. The Chinese sometimes name it as Suyou Cha.

The History of Gur Gur Chai

Gur Gur Chai originally belonged to the Tang dynasty way back in the 7th century. It was not so prominent then and was mostly circumference within the royal family members. The tea became famous and earned popularity during the rule of the Phagmoda kings and the Sakya hierarchy from 13th century onward. Slowly and steadily it entered the Himalayan regions of Indian and attained great deal of acceptance by the Ladakhis. The health benefits of the tea was the main reason of attraction along with its refreshing nature from the chilling cold weather of the mountains.

The Essence of Gur Gur Chai or Butter Tea

The Tibetans or the Ladakhis consider it as customary to offer butter tea to their guests before or after meals. Almost all families consume the tea daily even before starting off their day. It is considered as a source of energy for work and the daily household chores.

The tea is essentially served in small bowls. But it is not poured at once for consumption. It is basically refilled after taking one sip from the bowl, thus keeping the bowl always full. The customary method of serving maintains the flavor and taste of the tea. Normally the tea is served with a traditional snack called Tsampa. The Tsampa is a special dish made of roasted barley or wheat flour. It either is mixed with the butter tea or served separately.

The Preparation

The Butter tea of Ladakh is specially prepared inside a Gur Gur. It is a cylindrical shaped churning utensil made of varied kind of materials like normal plastic or to the extensively carved wooden ones with brass fittings. The traditional method of churning the mixture involves the wooden cookware present in many old households of Ladakh and Tibet.

The tea is made from high quality tea leaves, boiled for almost half a day till it turns dark brown in colour. The solution is then stained and poured into a cylindrical container with butter and salt. The butter is usually prepared from Yak milk, the common animal domesticated in the Ladakh region. The mixture is then shaken well to make it sufficiently thick but possible to pour into a cup. Once the desired thickness is attained, the tea is poured into jars or tea pots and served in small bowls for drinking.

The next option is to boil tea leaves sufficiently to turn the colour to black. Salt and baking soda are added to prepare the mixture. After staining the mixture is poured into the Gur Gur  and topped with lumps of butter. It is then thoroughly churned to achieve the proper thickness and flavor. Once done the prepared butter tea is transferred into tea pots made of copper. The copper pots are generally kept on a brazier to keep it hot for consumption. Alternatively you can use a bowl made of wood and stir the mixture rapidly to prepare the tea. In the modern times, people use blenders to churn the mixture instead of the wooden Gur Gur.

The Benefits of drinking Butter Tea or Gur Gur Chai

One of the main ingredients of Gur Gur Chai is butter. Though there is a common prevailing opinion that butter increases the fat content of the body little do we know about its benefits for the human body. It is rich source of vitamins and minerals essential to control heart ailments and respiratory diseases. Studies have also proved that intake of moderate quantity of butter increases the digestive capability of the human body. Prevention and recurrence of thyroids are also one of the health benefits of butter consumption. People suffering from arthritis and eye problems are said to be benefited from butter intake.

Next time you visit Ladakh, do not forget to sip in a hot brewing butter tea. In fact it is a wonderful experience to be immersed into its flavor while enjoying the panoramic landscape of the Himalayas. Your mind and body is sure to be refreshed with its amazing taste, offering a relief from the cold weather outside. Its heavenly to wrap yourself into a blanket and slowly enjoy the Gur Gur chai while being encircled by the mystic beauty of Ladakh. Your body will be rejuvenated and refreshed with the delicious butter tea.

Featured Photo of ‘Tea with butter.’ by Jose Camões Silva under CC BY 2.0

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