Tongba: A Millet Based Alcoholic Beverage

October 12, 2023

A distinctive and traditional alcoholic drink called ‘Tongba’ (Millet beer) is native to the Himalayan countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and parts of India. This intriguing beverage delivers a unique drinking experience and has strong cultural and social importance in certain contexts. Tongba has a distinctive and rustic flavor with aromas of grains and the earth. The alcoholic content is on the lower side ranging from 2 to 5%. It is possible to drink Tongba socially and leisurely thanks to the hot water's gradual dilution, which is frequently done with friends or at gatherings.

The millet brew is typically passed from one person to the next once each has finished their portion. It is a warming and soothing beverage that is especially well-liked in the chilly highland areas where it was first discovered. Tongba is regarded as a sustainable beverage because it employs millet that is grown nearby and straws made of bamboo or metal, which lessens the environmental impact of current packaging and brewing techniques.

Ingredients: Fermented millet, starter yeast and water.

Special equipment: Tongba wooden vessel and ‘Pipsing’ straw.

How is Tongba made?

The ingredients for tongba are fermented millet grains, typically referred to as "barley millet." Prior to being dried and roasted, the millet is first steeped in water for a few days until it sprouts. It is then processed into a coarse flour known as "nep." Tongba is then made using this flour. A unique wooden container having a wide base called ‘Tongba/Dongba’ is taken and the millet flour along with boiling water are added to the container. The ingredients are mixed until it resembles thick porridge. The millet mixture is consumed using a unique bamboo or metal straw known as a "Pipsing". The consumer adds hot water to the container which dilutes the flavour and alcohol gradually. This method of leisurely and methodical sipping is essential to the Tongba experience. Although the duration of the fermentation process might vary, it usually takes a few days to a week. During this period, the millet mixture begins to ferment naturally, turning the starches into alcohol thanks to yeast and bacteria from the straw.

Current trends

Some locations produce Tongba varieties using a variety of grains, including barley and wheat. Although instant Tongba mixes and beers with Tongba flavors are now available in some locations, traditional Tongba is still quite popular. Another trend is the use of teabags and other liquors instead of the traditional hot water to give additional flavour to the millet drink.




By Varghese Johnson
Varghese Johnson is an assistant professor at St Joseph’s Institute of Hotel Management & Catering Technology Choondacherry, Palai-Kerala.
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Comment on this article

  • Dr Richard Pais, Bejai, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 16 2023

    Dear Varghese, Congratulations on your article, Tongba: A Millet Based Alcoholic Beverage. It is very informative and useful. Wish you all the best.

  • Rita, Germany

    Sun, Oct 15 2023

    Never heard of this.But seems to be intersting.Nowadays people prefer more natural things .Thank you for introducing.

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