THE HISTORY OF TEA IN MYANMAR
Tea and Myanmar share a rich history. It is believed that Myanmar’s first tea was cultivated on the Shan Plateau, six thousand feet above sea level during the Bagan Era.
One of the earliest stories I heard in Yangon is that tea originated from Myanmar! The tale goes that the original tea tree still grows today in the northern hills of the Shan State.
Admittedly this yarn was weaved to me by a mysterious Australian over a few too many whiskies in downtown Yangon. By the end of the evening we had put a plan in place to head north and find the lost tea, however, sadly he slipped off into the night never to be seen again. Who knows maybe one day I will come across him searching in the hills of Northern Myanmar.
A more conventional legend has it that King Alaung Sithu (AD 1113-1167), whilst on a royal tour to Namshan, a small provincial town in Northern Shan State, gifted a handful of tea seeds to the local Palaung people. Due to the favourable climatic conditions, termed 'little Switzerland' by the British, the tea thrived. Today, tea bushes continue to flourish in Namshan and the surrounding regions.
The royal connection was sustained. King Bo Daw Phayar was a strong supporter of the tea industry and King Thibaw – Myanmar’s last king – was also involved in the trading of tea leaves.
Another theory suggests that tea was introduced to the region through the ancient Tea Horse Road 'Cha Ma Dao': a trade route from the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China to Tibet, winding through Myanmar and Bengal.
The route was initiated to facilitate the trade of tea bricks from China in exchange for Tibetan mountain horses. However tea leaves were sold casually along the way, eventually becoming an essential part of the region’s economy. Buddhist monasteries along the route were generally responsible for regulating the distribution of tea in their corresponding area.
Sadly with the development of modern roads in the last half a century the Tea Horse Road has been plunged into oblivion, now overgrown and slipping away with those who once knew it. We hope to walk this famous trail one day before it is truly Lost.