Mongolian Tea Culture
Mongols are tea connoisseurs even though they don’t grow tea and they are not famous for their tea culture. Let’s dig into more about the relationship between Mongols and tea.
About tea variations, there is no complicated and complex thing about it. There are two basic varieties:
-”Bor tsai” which means Brown colored tea or Black tea as you know. This type of tea is mostly consisted of tea and water, sometimes with salt. Tea can be any type: green, herbal or black.
-”Suutei tsai”, meaning ‘Milk tea’, is made with mostly cow milk, water, salt and infused with tea leaf. Any tea leaf from the mentioned above is usable. Well.. the ‘Suutei tsai’ is milk added version of Brown colored tea. Oh, By the way, the “tsai” means tea in Mongolian.
You know.. as Britons have their High tea or Afternoon tea, Mongols have their almost meal like tea called “Hiitstei tsai”. Hiitstei tsai is a modified version of black or milk tea. If we really dig into our “modified tea” variations, the result might differ for more than 20 types depending on the region, ethnicity or tribe. We have ghee milk tea, milk or brown tea with sheep fat fried millet, meat tea, Kazakh tea, Reindeer people tea, Gobi tea and Herbal tea, etc… The list is endless... Our tea variations are like a dish that can fill up a man’s stomach well. Our widely-used term “tsailstgaay” (“let’s have tea” in English) sometimes means “let’s have lunch” due to the characteristics of our complete meal-like tea.
When “Tea” first appeared among Mongols:
From some of the historical evidence, it’s noted that tea has been consumed by Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries. The main source of income of Kublai Khan's Yuan dynasty was tea and even the Khan loved tea. Some of the resources say that the tea we use now has been inseparable to Mongols:
“Presumably it was the Mongolian Yuan dynasty — the dynasty of nomads, who conquered highly-developed China — that conduced the appearance of loose-leaf tea. All sophisticated ceremonies were alien to them, everything had to be simplified. Rich of vitamins and healthsome substances the tea perfectly complimented the ration of Mongols, which consisted predominantly of animal and fatty food. However, they were unwilling to spend much time on its preparation. By the way, this was one of the periods when Mongols induced adoption of Chinese tea culture by many nomadic tribes of Asia. With closer consideration you will find out that they prefer to drink a brick tea, which they break and put into the pot. Some boil it with milk, some — with meat stock, all of this being the echoes of soup tea period.”
Tea and Religion:
There is also a shred of written evidence that Mongols have been consuming tea due to Tibetians’ influence since around the 1500s. In other words, tea came with Buddhism. Tea was perceived as “Идээний дээж” or “Ideeny Deej”, meaning “food above feast” due to the ritual “Manz Barikh” -having an afternoon tea was something significant that it had to be practiced by Tibetan monks who brought Buddhism to Mongolia and still been practiced too. At that time, Mongols were worshipping and learning all these Buddhist rituals and tea became considered as the thing above feast.
Tea: Wife and Hospitality:
There is an unwritten law that when a guest visits any family here, the guest is obliged to be treated with tea first. In other words, tea is perceived as the reflection of Mongol family hospitality. The incomer must drink the tea offered by the host family or, if the visitor doesn’t want to drink all, at least he or she should have a sip from it. If the guest is not offered tea, the host family is considered as “Tsai ch ugui, tsarai ch ugui ail” which means the host family is either lazy or stingy. On the other hand, you can simply consider or define the family by their tea.
A day of nomads starts with the wife’s first tea making in the morning. After making a tea, a wife must do the ritual “spraying of tea” to the steppes and nature before she gives to her family members. This ritual is a sign of worship and respect for “father” sky and “mother” earth. A wife does this ritual by taking about 50-100 ml of tea (there is no rule for the volume) and spray or offer all to nature. Once the ritual is completed, she starts giving the tea first for her husband and, continues from oldest to youngest.
I would like to end the article with this: “Mongols are tea connoisseurs even though they don’t grow tea and they are not famous for their tea culture.”
Let me share with you a recipe of very common tea that me and my family make:
You will need:
Approximately 2 liters of water
1 bag of black or green tea
Millet or white rice
Mutton or Beef
Flour (preferably all-purpose)
1 liter of cow's milk
Instructions: Boil together the tea bag, salt and 2 liters of water. When the water boils, let the tea bag infuses well with boiling water for about 10 minutes.
At the same time, slice the meat and sheep tail 5mm thick.
Wash and clean thoroughly the rice type.
Put your pot on the stove with a high-heat for around 4 minutes. When the pot becomes hot, add the sliced sheep tails for 4 minutes or until the sheep tail loses half of its size. The hot pot’s bottom will be covered with full of fat and this is the time to add your cleaned rice.
After adding the rice, nicely stir the rice for 5 minutes on high heat. Then add the prepared meat and flour then mix it well. The bottom of your pot will get a nutty brown color.
If you get the brown color, add the well-infused boiling tea to your pot and let it simmer till the rice is ready to eat.
If all the ingredients are done and taste or saltiness is ready to eat, add the milk. Boil the pot once, then your hiitstei tsai is ready to serve!
When you serve, make sure everybody gets sheep tail, meat, rice and tea well. Also, we always serve the first bowl of tea to the oldest man in the family.