It has many names: Mongolian Tea, Siberian Tea, Badan, Chigir Tea, but all of them refer to the one-of-the-kind naturally, on the plant, fermented leaves of Bergenia crassifolia. Yes, that's right, the leaves ferment themselves on the live plant! Every other tea in the world is fermented by humans.
So, let's talk about this wonder plant.
Bergenia crassifolia, commonly called Leather Bergenia or Pig-Squeak (because it's large leaves can make a pig like noise when rubbed together), is a large-leaved (to 8" long by 7" wide) evergreen perennial that is native to rocky cliffs from northwest China to Siberia. Lavender pink flowers usually bloom March to early May, however, they can bloom as early as December in warm winter climates, hence the additional common name: Winter-Blooming Bergenia.
Bergenia's very thick and tough leaves can survive even the most severe winters. These frostbitten leaves undergo natural self-fermentation and become dark and dry. Those are the leaves that are collected for the Mongolian Tea when the snow melts in the spring.
Regular teas made of Camellia sinensis are classified as black, green, white, or oolong tea based on the degree of fermentation. Of these, black tea is the most or fully fermented tea. If Mongolian Tea were a regular tea it would have fallen under the "black" category. However, it's an herbal tea, and unlike conventional teas is naturally caffeine-free. So, if you are cutting down on caffeine but miss that strong morning brew Mongolian Tea is exactly what you are looking for.
In folk medicine, this tea had been used traditionally used for ailment of urinary, gastrointestinal, skin, pulmonary, hepatics, gynecological, inflammatory and infectious diseases. It aids the bleeding gums and is believed to have an overall positive dental effect. Besides, the taste is gentle and pleasant.
From ancient times Mongolians drink tea differently from other countries of Asia and Europe. The Suutei Tsai (means "milk tea") is the most consumed drink in Mongolia. It is also known as Mongolian Salted Tea. This tea is served with nearly every meal. The Suutei Tsai is served in small bowls as opposed to mugs. The tea is made with tea, milk, water, and salt. Yes, salt!
The tea is usually brewed in large batches. Instead of steering the tea Mongolians lift it out with a ladle and let it splash back. This brings enough motion into the liquid in the flat pan on the yurt stove. In the end, they season the tea to taste with salt and strain into a teapot. Instead of buying Suutei Tsai powder, you can easily make fresh and delicious one at home.
Whether you are looking for the benefits of Bergenia, or for an exotic tea to try, or just feel tired of your usual English Breakfast, Mongolian Tea is a must.