གསོལ་ཇ་ མཆོད་ | Solja Choe | Have Some Tea

(Src: chinaodysseytours.com)

If one has ever been to Dharamsala or any parts of India, at some point of the journey, one wouldn’t miss his/her eye beyond the rims of the most basic and necessary supplement regarded by every Indians -TEA!!

Be it in the wee hours of early morning, the after-lunch hours of a lazy afternoon or the bright starry hours of a long evening, tea is a favorite for all times in India and something that permeates all levels of the society.

And this fondness for Tea grow beyond the Himalayas into the rich plateau of Tibet. No wonder whenever a guest or a friend visits a family he/she is offered tea by the family and very often insisted to have more than one cup by refilling his/her cup to the brim whenever the tea is at its exhaustion.

However, Tibetans mostly enjoy drinking Bhoeja (བོད་ཇ་ : Butter Tea) also known as Ja Supma (ཇ་སྲུབས་མ་) – well blended butter tea with few pinches of salt which serves as a very good warm energy-laden drink considering Tibet’s topology.

Due to it’s high altitude, Tibet received its tea mainly from China & India. At ancient times the main route for tea transportation between China & Tibet was the ‘Ancient Tea Horse Road.’ This route stretched thousands of kilometers from Sichuan winding down through the narrow valleys and steep mountains, fording the harsh rivers of Yangtze, Mekong & Salween, marching several deadly snow-scoured passes and finally entering Tibet. As the name suggests, the route was the main passage for tea-horse trade with tea from China and sturdy horses from Tibet.

Ancient Tea Horse route
(Src: http://www.chinatrekking.com)

Due to the several month long perilous journey, the tea traders discovered a preservation method where the tea, at its crudest form, were compressed into bricks and transported on the horse back. The tea brick is known as Ja bak-chung (ཇ་སྦག་ཆུང་) in Tibetan.

Men carrying tea bricks by Ernest H. Wilson

It is said that during the reign of the early Yarlung King Pude Gungyal, the 9th in the throne, also known as Chatri Tsenpo, while taking a short rest outside his garden after laying ill for many days, a beautiful bird, never seen before, flew over before him with some strange twigs and sang. The king ignored. However, the next day the bird flew over again which prompted the king to attend to the bird where after tasting the twig it carried, he was surprised to find himself feel much relieved. The king, at once, ordered the finding of the twig to his minsters which led them to the deep woods of China. Thus, it is said tea originated in Tibet.

Yumbu Lakhang in the Yarlung Valley, Tibet by Fanghong
(Src: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Yungbulakang_Palace)

Not long ago, I remember attending a talk on the 1913 Tibet-Mongol treaty of Independence by Tashi Tsering la, director of the Amnye Machen Institute, where he explained the gravity of the political situation in Tibet then by highlighting how His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama later wrote, after his failed requests for help through Charles Bell, that not even a single cup of tea was taken by any of his ministers in the Kashag, also known as the council. Considering how Tibetans then, in average, took around 40 cups of tea a day, Tashi Tsering la underscored the extent of seriousness of the issue through this anecdote.

Drinking tea in Tibet, especially in Lhasa, has now expanded beyond the usual butter tea. Sweet tea has become the new coin of the realm. Growing sweet tea houses can be witnessed everywhere in Lhasa nowadays. More than just a tea house, they have become a hub for gathering and discussion on various pressing issues.

Sweet Tea House in Lhasa
Photo: High Peaks Pure Earth

A simple google search for tea houses in Lhasa yielded 321 search results (check the bottom of the figure)

A quick distribution of tea houses in Lhasa can be understood with the help of the following google search screenshots:

Spinn Cafe (རླུང་བསྐོར་ཁ་ཕེ་ཇ་ཁང་)in Lhasa, with its recommendation by the lonely planet and more importantly its presence in facebook & twitter covering important happenings in Tibet ;-), is becoming a favourite amongst the many.
[Website: http://www.cafespinn.com/,  Twitter: @spinncafe, facebook: pazu kong]

Spinn Cafe
Photo: Spinn Cafe 

With the growing assertion of the Tibetan Identity in Tibet through food, tea has now become a common denominator.

Bhoe ja amongst my friends in Dharamsala is also sometimes preciously hailed as the ‘Tibetan Latte’ 🙂

Laso! Ani jelyong, until the very next Special episode on the newly discovered mouth-watering Tibetan Pizza!! 😉


  1. གསོལ་ཇ།, http://ask.bodyig.org/?question/view/709.html
  2. Tsampa Eaters and Sweet Tea Drinkers: Tibetan Identity Assertion through Food, http://www.highpeakspureearth.com/2011/01/tsampa-eaters-and-sweet-tea-drinkers.html
  3. Ancient Tea Horse Road, http://www.ancientteahorseroad.blogspot.com/
  4. Ancient Tea Route, Wikipedia, https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Ancient_tea_route
  5. The road line of the ancient tea-and-horse trade road,  http://www.yellowsheepriver.com/~sc000012/2009/gudao_e.htm
  6. The Forgotten Road, Mark Jenkins, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/05/tea-horse-road/jenkins-text/1
  7. History of Ancient Tea-Horse Road, http://www.tibettravel.info/chamdo/tea-horse-road/history.html
  8. Butter Tea, Wikipedia, https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Butter_tea
  9. The Empire of the Early Kings of Tibet, http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/e-books/unpublished_manuscripts/survey_tibetan_history/chapter_1.html