By R.K. Prashar
Dharamsala, July 26 : Tea drinking is an age-old habit among Tibetans in this abode of the Dalai Lama. Not only do they drink different types of the beverage, they are also particular about the way tea is sipped.
Salted butter tea, made of Brick tea from China and Tibetan leaves, is hugely popular. The leaves are boiled in soda and poured into a cylindrical vessel and are then churned along with salt and yak butter.
Tibetans are known to drink this concoction several times a day.
Besides salted butter tea, sweet milk tea is another preferred beverage. For this, boiling black tea is decanted into a churn, and then fresh milk and sugar are added. Vigorous churning turns out a light reddish white drink.
Sweet milk tea is served in most shops on Lhasa roads. In Tibet, tea leaves are commonly produced in Hunan, Yunnan and Szechuan.
Tibetans also love adding herbs and fruit to their tea. These include ginger, and pepper. Herbal tea is believed to have therapeutic and medicinal properties especially for headaches and colds.
Tibetans can drink tea at any time of the day, and three cups is the minimum daily intake.
In the morning, Tibetans drink tea containing fried flour, milk and butter. After lunch, several bowls of tea are gulped down to beef up the stomach's digestive ability. After supper, the whole family usually sits around the table, drinking their all-time favourite beverage.
The community is also known to have a special 'tea culture' and pays close attention to sipping tea. For instance, bowls used to contain the tea should be flawless and the tea bowl held with both hands.
When refilling the bowl, the palm of the left hand should face the sky, and no tea should spill out of the bowl.
If Buddhist monks are invited to recite prayers at home, others should not touch tea utensils used by them.
There are many such traditions, which are observed till this day while drinking tea.
Tea is a must-have during an engagement ceremony as it represents everlasting ties. Further, when the bride reaches her husband's home for the first time, she should immediately make tea for her in-laws.
Tibetans say that one should gift tea while visiting a friend's house.
According to traditions, a guest should be served butter tea. And the guest, while receiving it, should hold the bowl with both hands without touching its brim.
All this can be widely observed in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has his government-in-exile. India is home to some 100,000 Tibetans, many of whom live in this hill town in Himachal Pradesh.