Our tea is farmed in the hills of Pindaya, Shan State, where we work with smallholder farmers who possess exceptional tea growing knowledge
TEA AND MYANMAR
Tea and Myanmar share a rich history. It is believed that Myanmar’s first tea was cultivated on the Shan Plateau, 6000 feet above sea level during the Bagan Era. 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, the tea thrived. Today, tea bushes continue to thrive 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: 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.
TEA CULTURE IN
As a significant part of Myanmar’s agriculture, tea has become embedded in Burmese life to such an extent that today it can be said to be the national beverage. Tea is drunk before, during and after meals, offered when receiving guests and even eaten as a meal or a snack.
Perhaps the most distinctive quality of Burmese tea culture are the teashops. Be it roadside tea shops, standalone stalls or outlets housed in concrete structures, you are never that far from a cuppa in Myanmar. Tea shops are conspicuous on every street, in nearly every corner, by every roadside, in both rural and urban settings.
In truth, it is very hard to avoid tea in some form when going about your day in Myanmar.
Teashops are the bedrock of social life in Myanmar. From the crack of dawn until twilight, the Burmese spend hours at a time in teashops: gossiping with friends, chatting laughing, reading newspapers and playing on phones. Artists have sat in the teashop to create masterpieces and political activist have congregated in them to debate and pontificate. It was not for nothing that the former US Ambassador said that in Myanmar “all important words” start in teashops.
Teashops are usually busiest in the morning for an early breakfast and after 5PM when most people finish work.
There are plantations in Nam Kham and Kyauk Mae in northern Shan State and Manton, Nam Sam, Yat Saut, Pindaya, Ywar Ngan, Pinlon, Lae Char, Mai Kai in southern Shan State. The altitude ranges from 1200 metres to 1800 metres above sea level and has an annual rainfall of 1000 mm to 1600 mm.
Tea is currently grown in various different states of Myanmar. The total tea plantation area is estimated to be around 70,000 – 80,000 hectares (175,000 – 200,000 acres) with an annual production of 78 million kg of green leaves.
Myanmar’s tea is mostly for domestic consumption. It was exported to Germany for the first time in 2016 and today small quantities of green tea are being sold across its borders to neighbouring China and Thailand. Of course, now it is available in the UK as well.
Most tea cultivation takes place in Shan State. This is where the best tea is grown. More than half of Shan’s total output is from the Namhsan area. This is a mountainous region with steep slopes that forms a natural drainage system - vital for tea plantation.
The production rate of tea is 350-500 Viss per acre. Viss is the Myanmar unit of mass equivalent to 1.6kg. This translates to approximately 560-800 kg per acre. Tea is harvested from April through to November but the best quality leaves are those collected between late March and mid-April. This period is known as Shwe Pyi.