top of page

The power of Mongolian milk tea, does it set the gender equality?

When you visit to a Mongolian family you always offered by a milk tea without asking. This is a part of the culture. The husband receives part of the tea first because he is head of the household. Even when he is absent or away for a short time, tea is served in his special bowl and set aside before service continues. This first bowl of tea to the husband marks respect for his hierarchical position in the household, and sets the pattern of hierarchical domestic relations. The woman serves residents according to a hierarchy of age, gender, and social status, with guests (strangers) being served ahead of residents (intimates).

In rural Mongolia, in most households, the woman gets up early, before anyone else, to prepare tea for breakfast. Therefore, Mongol folk knowledge describes a housewife as a person who gets up early, prepares tea for the household, and performs subsequent tea practices (for example, tea libation, tea services). Consequently, people usually say that tea is the face of a woman, as one judges a housewife by the quality of her tea and tea services. As the morning tea preparation continues, most household residents and guests are still not up. In the ger (ger is a Mongolian traditional dwelling covered by felt and fabrics that nomads lived for thousands of years), the morning tea rituals are to mark the starting point of the day. This orchestrates the rest of the day’s activities.

The preparation of the most popular tea recipe (milk tea) takes about fifteen minutes. It consists of boiling water in a large pot to which tea leaves are added. After the tea has boiled, the woman adds fresh milk, lifting the ladle out of the mixture several times to mix the tea and milk. The more she ladles, the better the beverage gets. After ladling, she adds salt and then butter. It is the aroma of the tea that tells the woman when it is ready. Once the tea is ready and while still on the fire, she collects a sample that is considered to be the first and best part of the tea. It is sprinkled in a libation to nature and earth, poured in an offering to deities, the spirits, and the spirits of the deceased family members whose portraits and representations are kept on the family shrine. In other regions of Mongolia (for example, western Mongolia), part of this first sample of tea is also offered to the fire by pouring drops on the four corners of the stove. Tea offerings to deities and spirits are meant to guarantee lasting health and wealth through the success of everyday work. The ritual is particularly intended for the well-being of children. In the uncertain conditions of the Mongolian pastoral economy, women negotiate with the spirits and deities to guarantee conditions for success that lay beyond human control. It is only after the morning tea offering rituals that other activities of the day can begin. From inside the ger, it is particularly recommended that one drinks the woman’s tea before commencing any activities (for example, a journey) outside the ger. In drinking tea, one drinks the wishes (of good luck) she has for her household that morning. Her wishes, prayers, and good intentions are imbued in the tea she prepares in the silence of the morning; they are offered in tea rituals and extended to those who drink the tea. It is thus important that people start any activities of the day after drinking tea to guarantee success.

Moreover, tea offerings made to nature and the earth, to fire, deities, and the spirits, depict a woman in a ritual leadership position in a society where ritual power is predominantly patriarchal. In tea offerings, women negotiate their household well-being with nature and the earth, as well as with the spirits. This practice suggests a different and yet complimentary domestic leadership from a female position of power. A woman effectively controls some spheres of responsibility that contribute to their sole gain of power and privilege. It is only after the woman has performed tea libation outside the ger and served tea to deities and spirits on the family shrine that she serves household residents, following a hierarchical order starting with her husband.

Mongolians make 80 different types of tea depending on the region and tribes. The seven-dumpling-tea recipe is the most popular. To prepare such a potion, women add seven meat dumplings to the regular salty milk tea recipe, and it has a healing power and many other meanings to it. If you visit Mongolia, it is one of the must-try tea.

Source: Tea road to Mongolia. Gabi Bamana

6 views0 comments


bottom of page