Tibetan sweet teahouses hold the same significance in Lhasa as Sichuan hot pot does in Sichuan. Tibetan people have a preference for sweet tea, some even considering it a daily necessity. This obsession can be compared to the allure of milk tea for girls or the dependency of smokers. The origin of Tibetan sweet tea has various theories. According to my predecessors, Tibetans adopted sweet tea from India and Nepal, where it is a popular beverage enjoyed daily by most households.
Sweet tea is also commonly served to guests and can be found in numerous teahouses across the streets. People who have experienced foreign countries claim that the taste and strength of Tibetan sweet tea differ from sweet tea in those places, although the tea leaves used to make it are the same. Specifically, black tea leaves are essential for making sweet tea, as no other type of tea can be substituted.
Known as “Ja Ngamo,” Tibetan sweet tea is a representation of Tibetan culture. This delightful blend has been cherished by Tibetans for centuries and has garnered global recognition among tea enthusiasts. The allure of authentic Tibetan sweet tea lies in its traditional brewing methods and captivating flavours.
The Timeless Allure of Authentic Tibetan Sweet Tea: A Fusion of Tradition and Flavors
Tibet does not produce black tea; it was imported from India and Nepal. These countries produced various types of black tea. Sweet tea was introduced to the Tibetan plateau through trade and businessmen. It is a common beverage in Yadong and Gyantse towns, which are near India, and its consumption habits are similar to those in India and Nepal. The history of sweet teahouses in Tibet dates back more than a hundred years. In the past, only a few teahouses sold sweet tea in Lhasa and Shigatse.
In the 1940s, Lhasa boasted renowned teahouses like “Bo Gamchung,” “Yaden Ren,” and “Mu Jangsha.” These establishments, often named after individuals or families, did not typically display their names. “Mu Jangsha,” managed by Mu Jiangxia, a Han descendant, stood out as the most popular teahouse. It specialized in serving sweet tea and provided snacks such as biscuits.
The teahouse drew in vendors and ordinary citizens as customers, but the nobility rarely frequented these establishments. Beggars frequently performed and solicited money here, while tea enthusiasts gathered for entertainment through singing and dancing. Tibetan sweet tea is a cherished and valued beverage that symbolizes the warmth, hospitality, and cultural richness of Tibet. Its preparation is a treasured tradition passed down through generations, seamlessly blending tradition and flavours.
At that time, a popular song flew out from the teahouse and sang: “Mujiang Xiali, a sweet teahouse, there is Qiaoli Norzin Saldon, please don’t be sad, come to you right away.” In the past, few people entered the teahouse, and those who went were considered unruly and treated differently.
Nicknames and sources of news
People who frequent teahouses and construction sites are skilled in creating and using appropriate nicknames. In Lhasa, before the Cultural Revolution, teahouses were privately owned. However, during the Cultural Revolution, like other industries, sweet tea houses also existed as communes or cooperatives. At that time, the teahouses had names like “Xiangyang”, “Yuejin”, “Yugong”, and “Guangming”, each reflecting the characteristics of the era.
Whether in the past or present, Tibetans who enjoy humour rarely refer to teahouses by their actual names. Instead, they use amusing names based on the obvious features of the teahouse. One such teahouse is called “Loudi Teahouse”. They serve both tea and meat buns, and on the day of its opening, all the meat buns were found to be leaking. Since then, people have affectionately referred to this teahouse as “Loudi Teahouse”.
Another teahouse named “Gorgeous Snot” boasts a two-story house adorned with painted beams, pillars, and exquisite murals. However, the tea served in this teahouse is disappointingly light, earning it the nickname “gorgeous snot”. During the cooperative period, there was a teahouse known as “Mo Teahouse” due to its staff predominantly consisting of elderly women. This tradition has been preserved both in the past and present.
Additionally, there is a sweet teahouse called “Lugu Teahouse”, but it is commonly referred to as “Nari Teahouse” in Tibetan, due to the owner’s dark complexion. The highly popular Woeser Gaamchung Teahouse in Lhasa is reminiscent of the commune or cooperative era, with “Gamchung” translating to a small box. Despite its initially modest size, the teahouse remains bustling with customers.
During the 1980s to early 1990s, when television was scarce in Lhasa, teahouses served as the main source of news from different countries and regions, where people would gather to hear intriguing stories. Sweet teahouses also served as a hub for various second-hand businesses. These cultural phenomena continue to exist in our lives, shaping the essence of sweet tea culture.
Unveiling the Exquisite Delicacy: Exploring the Authenticity of Tibetan Sweet Tea
Lhasa’s streets are filled with a variety of sweet teahouses, including well-known places like Lubutsang Hotel, Woeser Gamchung Teahouse, Ani Tsangku Nunnery Teahouse, and Lugu Teahouse. What sets their sweet tea apart is the high-quality milk powder they use, which provides a pleasant sweetness without causing discomfort. A popular saying suggests that true travel experiences involve dining at local establishments where the language is unfamiliar.
So, whether you are a Tibetan from another region or a visitor from the mainland or foreign countries, when you arrive in Lhasa, take a moment to visit a teahouse, enjoy a cup of sweet tea, and converse with the friendly locals. Speaking Tibetan is not necessary, as holding a cup of sweet tea makes you a valued companion.
Longbu Tsang Boutique Hotel
It is a hidden gem. It offers Nepalese sweet tea, steak, pizza, and a variety of Western, Tibetan, and Chinese dishes. The restaurant also showcases the art of the Guge Dynasty. It is a must-visit for tourists and those seeking an authentic Lhasa experience.
Gamchung Tea House
Meanwhile, the bustling Teahouse in Woeser Gamchung is filled with locals. Customers disinfect their cups, place money underneath, and savour their tea as the teahouse aunt serves and collects payment. Refills are provided as long as there is money on the table. The menu includes Tibetan noodles, fried potato chips, and rice bowls, in addition to a cup of tea priced at one yuan.
Ani Tsangku Nunnery teahouse
This is Lhasa’s only teahouse run by nuns. We can worship first and then enjoy tea there. The teahouse may appear worn-out, but it serves as a place for both worldly and spiritual practice. There is only a partition between the Buddha and the secular world, and daily sounds and disturbances pass between them. Despite this, they practice and achieve independently. There are no waiters, it’s self-serve. Order at the window and the cashier nun will guide you to collect your food. Find a seat upstairs after getting your food.