Tea from Inner Mongolia is very different from traditional Han tea. Because of cultural difference and geographic factors, tea from Inner Mongolia has a unique appearance, a special background and a difficult making process.
Inner Mongolia belongs to central Asia, where geographically has huge areas of flatlands and meadowland. The major economic resources in Inner Mongolia area are stock farming. The inhabitants in this area tend to work outside home for a long time distantly. Also, because of changes of climate and food resources for the livestock, Inner Mongolia inhabitants are used to migrate from time to time. In order to store food stably, people at that area eat dry food such as tortillas or traditional flatbread. Through the development of food culture among Mongolian people, dry food significantly influenced the process of making Mongolian tea. As a result, a unique form of tea became in favor of Mongolian people and it became today’s Inner Mongolian tea, which is called milk tea.
Milk tea from Inner Mongolia is different from the milk tea people make in South Asia. Milk tea in Inner Mongolia is a real traditional drink. For convenient storing, people in Inner Mongolia dry tea leaves after they cut those leaves from the tea trees and store the leaves in the shape of a brick. Drying tea leaves not only is able to keep the smell of tea leaves, but it also keeps a lot of beneficial materials, such as amino acids, thus preventing the quality of tea from being damaged during the drying process. Drying tea leaves reduce their space so that the people can easily carry more tea leaves than they could when those leaves were originally loose leaf. It is important to the people in Inner Mongolia, because when they travel around it is convenient for those people to carry those leaves and they take up less space. One last key benefit that dry tea leaves bring is that dry tea leaves can be stored much longer so that people would not be worried about storing tea leaves too long during a travel.
When it is time for Inner Mongolian people to make actual tea, the very first process is to break the tea brick into small pieces and pick the amount needed. The reason for that is because people do not want to waste a whole brick once. When dry tea leaves are made into tea, it is no longer possible to be stored as long as when it is dry. The second step is waiting. Because tea leaves are dried and stored for a certain among of time, it is possible to take extra time to fully dissolve their elements into the water. When they start to look like actual tea, people add milk into the tea water, and that is the reason why Inner Mongolians call it milk tea. The milk added is not from a cow because many Inner Mongolians do not own a cow, and instead use horse milk and sheep milk. In fact, many people in Inner Mongolia like to add salt or butter into their milk tea to make it taste better.
Some traditional ways to drink milk tea or make use of milk tea are very interesting. For example, local people put rice cakes into the tea and eat before drinking. Milk tea offers a great feeling to the food, which is like sauces in Mexican dishes or soup in French meals.
Milk tea from Inner Mongolia has many functions and benefits to physical health. Not only does it quench one’s thirst, milk tea also warms one’s stomach and promotes digestion. Because of the love of milk tea among Mongolians and its benefits, Mongolian people recognize tea bricks as “Xiao Cao Ling Yao”, which refers to “panacea”. In ancient time, a piece of tea brick can be used for trading and its value is approximately equal to a livestock. Because of its great value, there is a custom in Inner Mongolia that people treat friends with tea bricks instead of meat of a goat or a cow.
Furthermore, tea drinking in Inner Mongolia has to follow certain orders. Firstly, people are seated with age order, gender order and social order. The host would share the milk tea to all guests from elders to the youngest. All guests should receive the teacups with right hand for respect. If you have no demand on drinking the tea, simply touch the cup with your mouth without drinking, and others would understand.