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A taste of China / Food & Drink

Mongolian milk tea and its emotional roots

By Xinzhu Xiao

October 1

Mongolian milk tea is a traditional Mongolian beverage. To Mongolians, milk tea is not just a drink, but a culture and an expression of emotion.

Mongolian milk tea is a traditional Mongolian beverage. To Mongolians, milk tea is not just a drink, but a culture and an expression of emotion.

Lai Xiao, from Ongniud Banner in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, wakes up early and cooks milk tea for her family. Like many other Mongolian women, cooking Mongolian milk tea is one of her daily tasks.

Lai Xiao cooks Mongolian milk tea every morning for her family. [Photo by Yang Yuewei/]
When Lai Xiao was a little girl, her parents went out for grazing, so she was raised by her grandmother. Her fondest childhood memory is drinking a cup of hot milk tea made by her grandmother, paired perfectly with a pure Mongolian fried bun.

Lai Xiao’s grandmother was quite good at singing. Influenced by her, Lai Xiao decided that she would work in the field of culture and arts in the future.

In her 20’s, she achieved her goal. She joined Ulan Muqir, a traveling folk art troupe that perform in the grasslands, and has danced for the last 24 years in the troupe. Multi-talented, each of Wulanmuqi’s team members can sing, dance, and play musical instruments. They not only give brilliant performances on stage, but also do labor work helping out on farms. Last year, she was awarded as a national first-class actress.

Lai Xiao performing balancing bowls on her head. [Photo by Lai Xiao/]
When she recalls the years with Ulan Muqir, she said that the living environment was tough, but it was the happiest time of her life. “When we traveled to a new pasture, the local people were so hospitable and provided us with free food and accommodation. When we visited a herdsman’s yurt, we always were served with a hot cup of milk tea”, she said.

The ingredients of Mongolian milk tea are typically water, milk, tea and salt. A simple recipe might call for one quart of water, one quart of milk, a tablespoon of green tea and one teaspoon of salt. Adding roasted millet to the tea gives it a slightly earthy, nutty taste, while a small amount of dried milk cake provides richness.

Mongolian milk tea. [Photo by Yang Yuewei/]
The taste of home-made Mongolian milk tea varies from family to family. “Milk tea is the taste of home for Mongolian people. It is not just a beverage, but also the emotional root of Mongolian people. I believe that Mongolian milk tea culture can be handed down for generations to come”, Lai Xiao exclaimed confidently.

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