Slowly being driven nuts trying to remember which SF story had mention of drinking tea with rancid yak butter.

Seems it was someone from the Himalayas the protagonist had befriended while at school/in training, but I just cannot place it.

The feel I have for it was the protagonist was leaving [school, training] and remembering two brothers there who drank tea with rancid yak butter, and shared it with him, but that's ALL I can dig out of my memory.

Feels like a Heinlein Juvenile, but I don't think it is. Maybe Frederik Pohl?


  • 2
    What about this story was scifi?
    – Valorum
    Mar 31 '17 at 22:23
  • 2
    Was it a novel or a short story? How long ago did you read it?
    – user14111
    Mar 31 '17 at 22:31
  • I guess practically any story set in the Himalayas would have people sipping rancid yak butter tea and chowing down on roast marmot. Can you remember any other particulars? You accidentally let on (with a pronoun) that the protagonist is male. Is he a very young man? Is that why it felt like a juvenile?
    – user14111
    Mar 31 '17 at 22:47
  • 1
    Any yetis in the story? Space aliens? Magic? Time travel? Computers? Did the story seem to be from earlier or later than 1960? Was it in hardcover or paperback? Was it a book club edition? Do you remember anything about the cover?
    – user14111
    Mar 31 '17 at 22:50
  • Feels like a young male - or someone just learning the ropes. Space travel likely involved, at least inter-planetary. Uh, pre-1960 seems to be when I read it, but not sure. No yetis, no magic.
    – Tom Losh
    Mar 31 '17 at 22:56

It's a recurring reference in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels:

Thief of Time (Discworld #26):

'More rancid yak butter in that?'

'Please,' said Lu-Tze, holding out his cup.

Night Watch (Discworld #29):

'Cup of tea, commander?' said Sweeper cheerfully.

'I don't want any damn tea!' shouted Vimes, struggling to his feet.

Sweeper dropped a lump of rancid yak butter in the tea bowl beside him.

  • Excellent answer ... except I've not read that novel.
    – Tom Losh
    Mar 31 '17 at 23:11
  • 3
    Pratchett arrives at the joke becasue tibetan yak butter tea is known for being chunky, oily, and sour making taste rancid to outsiders, many english explorers believed the it was rancid and wrote as much. (in some mountain regions they may not have been far off) Pratchett is making fun of this so other authors may have done the same or may have believed the old misunderstanding. The stuff is called Po Cha
    – John
    Apr 1 '17 at 0:45

The book is probably Rocket Man by Lee Correy (AKA. G. Harry Stine).

"My name is Tenzing Sonam of Sola Khumbu, Nepal. This is my friend, Posang Tharkey." He extended his hand. When I saw the alpine ice axe leaning against the foot of the bed, the problem was solved! I remembered the old photographs of the conquest of Mount Everest. These two boys were Sherpas!
With a grin, I asked, "Sola Khumbu is close to Everest, isn't it?" "It lies in the shadow of the Goddess Mother of the World, yes," Posang Tharkey answered. "What are you doing in New Mexico ?"
"We're Co-ops," Tenzing Sonam answered proudly. "Rocket engineers ?"
One of the first things they did was unpack some Tibetan tea. It wasn't the usual kind of tea I knew. It came in little bricks instead of powdered form. Then Posang got some butter, salted it, and treated Ham and me to an ancient Sherpa social drink; Tibetan tea with salted butter. I didn't like it at first, but later the taste grew on me.
"This is not truly Tibetan tea," Tenzing pointed out.
"In Sola Khumbu, we use rancid yak butter. But you don't have yaks here . . . only ridiculously fat cows!"
Frankly, I was quite happy that there were no yaks in New Mexico. Ordinary salted butter was good enough for me!

  • Fantastic! I don't actually remember reading this book, but I MUST have since THAT is the scene I was trying to recall. I also looked for info on the book and remember the cover art. Probably read it in the late fifties. Thank you!
    – Tom Losh
    Feb 13 '18 at 21:41

It could be Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Here's a Google Books glance at page 80, which talks about Tibetan butter tea, which "tastes worse than it sounds", according to the narrator:

Tibetan tea, you see, is not your ordinary Lipton's. To make it they start with a black liquid that is not made from tea leaves at all but from some kind of root, and it is so bitter you could use it for suturing. They pour a lot of salt into this brew, and stir it up, and then they dose it liberally with rancid yak butter, which melts and floats to the top.



Could it be Red Dust by Paul McAuley? I can remember hardly any of the story now, but the tea with rancid butter has always stuck with me. And there are yaks too.


Five hundred years after the Chinese conquered the Red Planet, the great work of terraforming is failing. The human-machine Consensus of Earth had persuaded the AI Emperor to follow the Golden Path into a vast virtual reality universe, leaving behind an ungoverned planet swept by hunger riots and the beginnings of civil war.

Enter Wei Lee, a lowly itinerant agricultural technician: rock 'n' roll fan, dupe, holy fool - and unlikely Messiah. After stumbling on an anarchist pilot hiding near the wreckage of her spacecraft, he's drawn into a revolutionary plot that has been spinning for decades. With the help of a ghost, the broadcasts of the King of the Cats, a Yankee yak herder, and a little Girl God, Lee travels across the badlands, swampy waterways and vast dust seas to a showdown at the summit of the biggest volcano in the Solar System. Not even the God-like Consensus can predict the outcome of his struggle to define his own destiny . . .

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