"We can eat nothing except drinking tea." For hundreds of years, Tibetans have developed the habit of sipping tea.
Source of tea
Although tea is, for Tibetans, indispensable, Tibetan-inhabited areas produce almost no tea at all. This is why, for instance, Tibetan horses were used to trade for tea produced in China's hinterland in ancient times.
In the 4th century, troops of the Tubo Kingdom captured some prefectures of China's hinterland. They found tea but had no idea how to use these "dried tree leaves." Gradually, however, they learned to make and drink tea. They even added butter to tea.
During the late Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China's hinterland, the Tang and the Tubo maintained good ties. Tang silk fabrics and tea were used to barter for Tubo horses and cows.
During the ensuing Five Dynasties, in the Song and Jin periods, the bulk of Hexi areas were seized by Tubo troops. Tubo horses were then traded for Han tea. In 1372, the Ming (1368-1644) court set up the Tea-Horse Office to cope with the growing need of the Tibetans for Han tea.
Tibetan way of making tea
The Tibetans are addicted to tea drinking. Such a habit has given birth to their unique way of making tea. Tibetans in the Amdo area love broad-leafed tea. They also love tea brick from Yiyang, Hunan Province. A tea brick, which is rectangular in shape, weighs two kilograms apiece. Such tea brick can withstand long journeys.
Tibetans mix tea with cold water in a teapot. It is then heated over a small fire. When the water takes on a brown color, good tea is ready. When served, most Tibetans love to have salt in their tea.
In some areas, the Tibetans love to put fruit, ginger, and peppers in tea. Such tea is believed to be curatives for headaches and colds. Some Tibetans love to have milk and sugar in tea. When brown sugar is added to tea, such tea is believed to be good for lying-in women.
Tibetan way of drinking tea
People of Gannan drink tea three times a day. In the morning, they drink morning tea containing fried flour, milk dregs and butter. After lunch, one often drinks several bowls of tea in order to beef up the stomach's digestive ability as well as to perk the person up. after supper, the whole family usually sits around the table, talking while drinking tea to their hearts' content.
Tibetans pay 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 lamas are invited to recite sutras in the home, others should not touch tea utensils used by the lamas.
Tibetan Tea Culture
Tea has a thousand uses for Tibetans. When one has guests, he or she will entertain them with tea. Parents and elders are often toasted with tea. When older persons, themselves, sit together, they sip tea, gossip, and often recite the Six Syllable Prayer. When going to visit friends, one's gifts should include tea.
When a couple becomes engaged, tea is indispensable because it represents ever-lasting ties to Tibetans. When the bride reaches her husband's home for the first time, she should go directly to the kitchen, where she will make tea for her par-ents-in-law.