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History

Yak Butter Tea: The Original Bulletproof Beverage

Enjoying Yak Tea
Enjoying Yak Tea
Tea pot used by monks during prayer service outside monastery
Tea pot used by monks during prayer service outside monastery

A few years ago, “bulletproof coffee” ran the gambit of sensational drink recipes with proven health benefits. Add a little butter and your favorite natural oil to your morning brew to train your body to burn fat stores as energy instead of valuable proteins, and voila- bulletproof coffee. This recipe eventually translated to teas, and cafés across the Western hemisphere added bulletproof drinks to their menus.

There is, however, a culture across the world that has had their own bulletproof tea for centuries. Known as the national drink of choice in Tibet, Yak Butter Tea has a history that predates any Western health buzz.

The Original Bulletproof Tea

Dating back to the 7th century, butter tea (po cha) was a daily ritual for many families in the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Bhutan, India, and most famously, Tibet. Each morning, workers in cold climates would be served a bowl of yak butter tea- made with black tea (pu erh), salt, yak milk, and yak butter. The thick, soup-like mixture would be prepared and made for guests and family, and would be refilled constantly through the morning ritual. If a guest no longer wishes to drink the tea, the custom is to leave the bowl filled until time of departure, in which the guest is expected to drink the entire bowl until empty.

The tea is best suited for cold, high-altitude climates, as it contains high-fat caloric content that the workers needed to face the brutal climate of the Himalayas. Tea bricks are kept in the village, and mixtures of yak butter tea will be kept warm for days, churned and served as-needed. With yak butter being a large source of income for many Tibetan villages, butter and milk curds are often kept for guests and workers, while many families will make their tea with a powdered concentrate that is easier and cheaper to store. The butter churns that were historically used to make the yak butter tea have been replaced with electric blenders, modern churns, and tea bags/powders that more easily dissolve into a hot water mixture.

Modern Health Benefits

Weight Loss and Energy

With diets like the Paleo Diet and Ketogenic Diet touting the fast-fat-burning and high-energy benefits rising to the top of the health trends, bulletproof drinks became a mainstay for the avid dieter looking to convert unwanted fat into more productive energy without giving up their favorite drink routines. When carbohydrates are hard to come by (by culture or diet choice), the body will move to other natural energy resources in the metabolic process. By consuming large amounts natural fats instead of easy-to-burn carbohydrates, the body will start breaking down fat as a main source of energy, leaving you fuller and reducing the crash between meals while depleting unwanted fat deposits.

Having a high fat and calorie content provides an excellent source of energy when carbohydrates and proteins are not as common in the system. Tibetan monks and workers use the energy from the mixture to weather the harsh mountain climates and create warmth through heightened metabolic rates. Drinking a few bowls of yak butter tea will give your body an extra defense against the elements!

Note: With every health and diet choice, be sure to give your body time to adjust, and be certain that the change is right for you.

Digestion

Yak butter tea is traditionally made with bricks of aged Pu Erh teas, using the only fermented tea as its base. The fermentation process allows the tea to retain positive enzymes and bacteria, much like a natural probiotic. These enzymes have been known to help cleanse the blood and digestive tract of toxins that build up over time from food processes and acids that we consume on a daily basis. The healthy bacteria aids in digestion by binding to fatty acids, and keeping the intestines happy and productive.

The body needs fat to absorb nutrients and properly digest foods. That’s right- the human body requires a certain amount of natural fats and oils to have a healthy digestive process. Each time you ingest fat, the gallbladder is triggered to produce bile, a natural emulsifier that helps to dissolve and absorb foods as they move through the digestive tract. The natural oils from yak butter also help to stimulate muscle movement in the small and large intestines, keeping the natural flow of food and nutrients moving through the system.

Antioxidant Absorption

Adding milk products to coffee and tea is known to reduce the otherwise positive effects of the drinks by up to 28%. Being naturally plant-derived, tea has many benefits from the caffeine and antioxidants provided by the nutrients in the leaves. Next time you add milk or cream to your tea, remember that you’re potentially negating the health benefits of the drink.

Yak butter tea, however, has only trace amounts of the milk proteins that make antioxidants harder for the system to absorb. In fact, since it is higher in natural fats and oils, the butter actually assists in the absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants that are necessary for the digestive tract to properly function.

Give in to Curiosity

While yak butter tea is more function over form, modern-day bulletproof beverages still provide many of the same ancient health benefits that Tibetans have been maintaining for centuries. If you’re just plain curious, give yak butter tea a try- it’s definitely an interesting drink worth having at least once!