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coffee or tea?

I always read about guys climbing in the Himalayans and brewing tea to drink but never coffee. Why is that? Preference, or something else?

I guess it is because they're right next to tea country. I wonder what the highest tea grown is?

Coffee, I think, started in Africa and then went to S. America and then a guy with a burro...I could be wrong - I usually am.

There is a barley drink as well, possibly made with rancid butter or yak butter. Now that would be interesting.

We let you have tea once but you got angry and threw it in the sea.

Good Point:

We let you have tea once but you got angry and threw it in the sea

Tea is grown in Asia and the early climbers were British.

I like tea, coffee, hot chocolate and all of the above laced with alcohol.  I like to sit around fires with close friends and drink warm beverages and stare out into the night and look at the stars.

I suspect most climbers in the Himalaya drink tea because they are on an expedition team and the tea is traditionally prepared for them by the Sherpa. If they had to make their own, they might not make tea, but who knows.

Tea is(was) the drink of England, China, India, the Middle East. Coffee came from Mocha in Yemen to the world, before that the mountains of Ethiopia. I suspect that the English climbers introduced tea to climbing.

Tea is much easier to make in the bush, unless you make cowboy coffee.

I would respectfully disagree that the tea was introduced by the English, at least in this area of the world. Tea ceremonies and the importance of tea ages back into asian countries well before it did in Europe, and began over 5,000 years ago. Also, since the Himalayas are inhabited by Asian people's, I would suspect that the majority of the time, it is prepared by porters and Sherpa who are hired. With this in mind, the tea is likely prepared traditionally by the Sherpa and is frequently brought directly to the climber's tents, almost like a waiting service. This is at least what happens on major expeditions, but even smaller groups typically have hired help from Sherpa people.

The other side, I think, is that when immersed in the culture, most climbers want to take on the classic traditions that the native people are demonstrating. They take place in ceremonies to pay tribute to the mountain Gods before climbing even though most climbers don't worship those Gods or that religion. I suspect the same goes for the tea. They see Sherpa being successful on the mountain and enjoying the warm, delicious tea, so if they aren't given the tea by Sherpa who made it, they might try to make something similar because it's the norm.

When tea first went up the hill, it was at the insistence of aristocratic English climbers, bringing a little of jolly old England along for the climb.  Later tea was a drink of detente; a show of symbolic respect and esprit de corps shared with the hired porters.  Even today the tea taken on climbs is a nod to local customs; for example in Peru we customarily drink coca tea on our climbs – the local Quechua people who offer up their houses en route and are hired as mule drivers and tour guides get a sense of pride sharing their customs.

But tea also accompanies climbers where the tradition seems illogical.  Denali was first summated by local Alaskans, including a few sourdoughs that were more likely to be coffee drinkers, yet the three trips I made to Denali all drank coffee on the Glacier camps, but tea up on the mountain itself.  Perhaps the meditative ritual of dunking one’s tea bag is the attraction on a climb.  Personally I am inclined to think the prevalence of this custom is overstated, however.


Maybe high levels of caffeine don't play well with high altitudes? I wouldn't know myself, but given the dangers of altitude sickness and dehydration, it seems reasonable.

Also, cold black tea is still yummy and refreshing. Cold black coffee, well, good for you if you've acquired that taste, I sure can't.

On that note, who has tried the new Nescafe 3-in-1 envelopes? If, like me, you want milk and sugar in the camp coffee, check these out. Not horrible-tasting, incredibly convenient, powdered milk and sugar already in. For the rest of the day, I can enjoy black tea, but the sweet creamy morning coffee is, sadly, non-negotiable.

I really enjoyed coca tea in Peru and Bolivia and would drink it everyday instead of coffee if it were legal.  In a hotel there are cute little tea bags.  In the bush a cup of hot water and a few coca leaves.  I like to chew the leaves after the meal.  It is an herb and not refined at all.

Ed - the local Sherpa people who lived "on the hill" before Englishmen ever arrived, already drank tea. English didn't introduce it.

Yet another reason that Sherpa tea is better than the plain ol english stuff is that it is literally a meal substitute, often prepared by local Sherpa people with salt, and a butter mixture, that is very nourishing and allows them to eat a typical one meal a day. 

Now take into account the high number of calories climbers burn during expeditions, and it's easy to see why Sherpa prepare hot teas to warm climbers and nourish them.

iClimb said:

Ed - the local Sherpa people who lived "on the hill" before Englishmen ever arrived, already drank tea. English didn't introduce it.

The tea the initial English climber took was from their homeland, not the local stuff.  Kind of a hold over from the Colonial mentality.  Drinking the local stuff was a later advent, done both to lessen dissention between the climbers and the porters, as well out of curiosity and the desire to "go native."


Sage: Having had "sherpa tea" (Thanks Jeet!) I can tell you that, since the tea is almost half butter, it provides much more nutritional value than your average cup of joe...were I climbing a Himalayan peak, I'd take this into consideration when making the choice...

Wherever the English went, so went tea, at least beginning in the 17th Century.   The English climbers always brought tea. While iClimb is correct, that the Nepalese may have gotten some tea from China, it was expensive and used ritually, as was coffee originally. However, China held a monopoly on tea and it was difficult to get, until the English broke that monopoly and started growing tea in India. Explorers of all European nations frequently drank tea, as coffee was still relatively unknown, expensive, bulky, and not part of the tradition. So even though the Sherpa of today drink tea regularly in their own special way, you can thank the English, iClimb, for making tea easily accessible to everyone.

I suspect Ed, that those early English expeditions to the Himalaya, did use local tea, brought from India. "Why should we bring tea from England, when we have a whole bloody colony of it right next door to where we're going?" The mountains of Northern India still have evidence of the heyday of the English tea lords...summer houses built to escape the heat of the lowlands.

Erich said:

I suspect Ed, that those early English expeditions to the Himalaya, did use local tea, brought from India.

I guess I mis-stated my point.  I meant to say the English brought their tea customs, including their basic recipes, versus drinking yak butter or herbal teas.  It was a general observation about the style of English trekking of the time, be it the Hymalayas, African, or polar expeditions.


Ed, I agree. No doubt those early English expeditions brought canned milk for their tea. In the same vain, the English expeditions brought many things from home. Bonnington's book on the British Annapurna Expedition having a list of everything from cases of cigarettes, to Kendall Mint Cakes.

I've heard the traditionally prepared Sherpa tea is disgusting without an acquired taste.

It's salty and oily, flavors I don't normally associate with tea.

ppine said:

I really enjoyed coca tea in Peru and Bolivia and would drink it everyday instead of coffee if it were legal.  In a hotel there are cute little tea bags.  In the bush a cup of hot water and a few coca leaves.  I like to chew the leaves after the meal.  It is an herb and not refined at all.

 When I lived in La Paz, mate tea made with coca leaves was the best remedy for a headache or even altitude sickness. You would see a Chola (Indian) sitting in the market with a huge bag of coca leaves. The Indians used coca to fend off cold and hunger.

I was there a long time ago, before cocaine trafficking turned into a big business.

Erich, funny you should mention Kendall Mint Cake. I still use it in my travels. It is almost pure glucose, but in small quantities makes a nice treat and is unaffected by the cold. It is also great with hot chocolate.

North, do you have a source for Kendall Mint Cake in NA? REI carried it sporadically for many years. That last bit I have came with a Scots friend I paddled with last year. I have a couple of recipes for it, but still can't get the right consistency. Most of the three producers have similar ingredients, glucose, sugar, peppermint oil, milk and water.

I have not found a supplier in North America, but did locate some through They ship to Canada and to the Arctic within 3 weeks. It may not be the most healthiest of snacks, up there somewhere with bacon bars, but I have found that, during most of my trips, I can eat anything and come back more fit than when I left.

Guys, just PM me an address and I will send you a block of Kendal Mint Cake. The stuff is everywhere here.

Anyone using 'tea balls' for their tea outdoors? I have a collection of different ones but not the mesh ball, which I found to be the best diffuser. Tea bags are so handy, and decent quality in the UK, that I stopped using them; but I might go back to them as packing-out the bags is messier than just scattering the old tea leaves. (Plus I can read the next day's adventures in the leaves.) I guess a coarse-ground coffee would work in the mesh diffuser as well.

Mint cake used to be a staple on the treks and expeditions I participated in during the 1970s - 80s.  I lost my tolerance for mint cake on a two week plus north/south trans Sierra early winter ski trek, where the leader's policy required every team member to consume a complete cake each day, to assure we did run low on energy, due to the caloric demands of ski mountaineering.  I still can't even use mint flavored tooth paste thirty years later, so strong is my aversion.


Ed, I am sorry to hear that. But everyone has their aversions. Mine is Grossly Overpriced Raisins and Peanuts(Gorp). It gives me the willies whenever anyone offers it. And Teton Tea. Too much of both in the late sixties. Jonathan, I use an old Aunt's inherited tea ball at home. Tea bags in the bush. You had mentioned a need for maple syrup. We can do an exchange. I'll PM you.

Ed, I don't like it either, though I dislike peppermint tea, mint ice cream and so on. We carry a bar in our emergency bag for years as it is the only thing that will last that long, for various reasons.

Peanut butter is where you guys shine - putting it in ice cream is genius. I have just sampled some Unreal Candy - Unjunked, which was like a milder, more natural, peanut butter cup, and they were fantastic. I have had other natural PB candy from the US, lovely stuff.

Tea in the US supermarkets can be a bit crappy but it isn't that easy getting something more refined like a proper Earl Grey, even in the UK. Maple syrup is here now, even the carob-mixed stuff; I will do a swap for something with peanut butter in, Erich :-)

Traditions aside, one good reason modern climbers likely abstain from coffee is the fact that it is very acidifying, while Black & Green Tea's are alkalizing and will help to neutralize your system from accumulated acids resulting from high physical activity.

I start my day, everyday, with a cup of Black Tea, since I was a teenager. Same in the woods as at home but I do like my coffee in the afternoon.

I do have an assortment of Tea balls/diffusers since most the the really good tea's, I've a penchant for Chinese Yunan, come only in bulk/no tea bags. Although one of my favorite ways to prepare these days, if I'm making a large volume, have company, is to use my French Press that I have for coffee.

Anyone looking for a supplier for high quality & considerable variety or tea, try  I'm lucky to have a small shop nearby that imports coffee beans & tea from around the world. They buy the coffee beans raw and roast them themselves in the shop every Saturday morning. They do have a web site also.

September 22, 2020
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