Myanmar’s TeaPosted: October 12, 2016
As a tea lover, I find Myanmar to be one of the many forms of paradise. Tea is deeply ingrained in the country’s many cultures, and it is served in ways unique to the place.
Generally, tea is served for free in restaurants – it is so common it’s just called yeh nwe hkyin (ရေနွေးချမ်း, ‘hot water’). This tea is usually green, but it is also common for it to be roasted (making it redder) and mixed with some lahpet hmwe, a mysterious leaf whose English or Latin names still evade me and which has a distinct creamy pandan fragrance.
Unlike the Japanese or the Chinese, Myanmar has no issues with exposing their tea leaves to sunlight, which means the tea can acquire a strong, grassy astringency. Here in Shan State it evokes for me the wildness of the mountains. Teapots are also often covered with a filter cork made of rattan to keep the leaves from coming out, but this also lends a woody taste to the resulting tea.
Myanmar is also the only country where the leaves themselves are regularly eaten. Lahpet thoke, a salad made with picked tea leaves, is a common snack served in teashops as well as in homes, and has many variations.
There are also distinct ways of drinking tea for each ethnicity. So far I’ve encountered two: the Intha way of roasting tea, with Lahpet hmwe and sesame seeds, and the Akhar’s infusion.
The Akhar would drink tea by boiling it with eight leaves of a fruit tree called Mahkyipe. It is regarded as a medicinal tonic, carried over from Chinese traditional medicine. That one must use eight leaves is fascinating – I’ve never encountered numerology in tea before.
But one of the things I found remarkable about Myanmar’s tea culture is the milk tea. Actually a largely Indian influence, milk tea nevertheless plays an important part in Burmese socio-culinary culture. Teashops serving milk tea proliferate throughout the country, serving as meeting places for people where alcohol-serving bars would be in other cultures.
It is also in Myanmar that I have seen the greatest variety of milk teas. I had encountered a total of ten variations to milk tea, which is served after boiling for hours (making it perfectly strong) creamed with evaporated milk and sweetened with condensed milk.
Below are the variations: