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Teas of the World: Myanmar Teas

Having recently received some samples of teas from Myanmar, I wanted to look a little further into this part of the world of tea. So, here goes.

Left to right: green, roasted green, first flush green, and black teas (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
Left to right: green, roasted green, first flush green, and black teas (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The country of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) borders the Yunnan Province in China, from whence pu-erhs and other teas such as Golden Heaven Yunnan come. The tea grown there is the Taiwan style oolong, the same as grown in several provinces of China (Zhejiang, Fujian, Sichuan, Yunnan, etc.), other Asian countries (Vietnam, Thailand, etc.), and even New Zealand, as well as older tea trees similar to the assamica varietal.

The story of tea growing in Myanmar starts with Indian immigrants who are said to have brought the plants and/or seeds with them (some set up tea-shops known as kaka hsaing). Tea is grown mostly in the states of Shan and Kachin, where it is dry-roasted in a pan before adding boiling water to make green tea.

Tea quickly became an accepted part of Burmese culture and daily life. They would drink the tea and also eat it as laphet (pickled tea) as part of a dish known as laphet salad that includes things like fried garlic, peanuts, pickled ginger, sesame oil, and dried shrimp. (See a recent article on this blog about pickled tea.) Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist, and tea is the national drink with lahpetyei hsaing (tea shops) in almost every village and city, open from early in the morning until late at night, serving as social hubs and gathering places. Most people drink lahpet yeijo, a tea in the Indian fashion (brewed and sweetened with condensed milk).

They also harvest tea leaves to send to Yunnan Province in China where they are used as the surface layer leaves on pu-erh cakes but are also sold as new label loose leaf shengcha varieties.

Myanmar, as it is now known, was one of the destinations on the famous Tea Road (often called the Tea-Horse Road, since horses were usually the pack animal of choice, with yaks being a close second). This and the other roads went to Beijing from other tea growing Chinese provinces carrying the best teas to the Emperor, and into Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Tibet, Lhasa, Nepal, India, Vietman, and Europe (thru the Mediterranean Sea). The Burma Road, a highway about 680 miles long that was completed in 1938, runs through mountainous terrain from Lashio, northeast Burma northeastward to Kunming, China, has an extension running east through China from Kunming and then north to Chongqing, and was later joined to the Ledo Road going to Ledo, India. While now in disrepair, the road was a great facilitator for transporting goods to market (sadly, it was also used for transporting weaponry in China’s war with Japan). It is still a link, though, from Yangon, Myanmar, to Chongqing.

The samples I got are a black tea, a green tea, a roasted green tea, and a first flush green tea. Hubby and I will very likely not be pickling any of these, but we will be diving in with gusto. It pays to know a little more about such things first, and this bit of knowledge certainly has us eager.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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