Exploring the Symbolic and Socio-cultural Meanings of Yak Butter Tea in Tibet
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Tea has asserted its place as a popular beverage around the world. Yak butter tea is a daily drink for many Tibetans especially those living in Southwest China. the drinking of tea, its customs and rituals incorporate distinctive characteristics reflecting the different values, ethnicities and cultures that consume tea. From a gastronomy perspective, yak butter tea has relevance to Tibetan identity, ethnicity and cultural heritage. However, in more recent times, globalisation and industrialisation have impacted upon the meaning and making rituals associated with yak butter tea. Consequently, this research is timely because it will explore the traditional constructs of the tea, and then enquire into how those traditions and production methods have changed in the face of globalisation and industrialisation. To achieve this goal, this research uses qualitative description and thematic analysis within three in-depth interviews conducted with four experts in Shangri-La, China. Those experts include two academic Tibetan cultural experts, a yak butter tea supplier and a long-term consumer of yak butter tea. Their views and experiences have provided a compelling understanding of yak butter tea within Tibetan culture. It was found that Tibetan yak butter tea is not just a drink, it is an actant materiality reflecting much more than just a hot beverage. As a symbol of Tibetan culture, yak butter tea has undergone change. Convenience has created a mind-set change for many Tibetans because their traditional drink can be made from a sachet, in minutes. Convenience has circumvented the tea traditional production method and, in doing so, reduced its efficacy as a symbol of traditional Tibetan identity.