Myanmar’s Tea

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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.

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Some Shan rice tofu salad, served with free tea

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.

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Lahpet hmwe

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.

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The rattan filter cork

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Lahpet thoke, with beans, tomatoes, cabbage, and peanuts

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.

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Some Mahkyipe (မိုက်ချီပဲ့) leaves

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.

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The resulting liqueur has a farmy, sweet potato-ish acridity

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.

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The lane of teashops in Taunggyi’s Night Market

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:

pouman

Pouman (ပိုမှန်): literally ‘plain,’ this is the default ratio of tea to evaporated and condensed milk, not too sweet, not too creamy.

hkyopaw

Hkyopaw (ချိုပေါ): from pouman, this has less evaporated milk, giving it less richness

pawsein

Pawsein (ပေါဆိမ်): from pouman, this has less condensed milk, making it less sweet

kyasein

Kyasein (ကျဆိမ်):  this has no condensed milk and less evaporated, making it the strongest variation

hkyosein

Hkyosein (ချိုဆိမ်): this has the most amount of condensed milk, making it very sweet

kyasein-moutak

Moutak (မှိုတက်): with a light sprinkling of ground coffee beans. Usually for coffee, this way of serving can be for any of the above (this is Kyasein moutak). Because of the coffee this is the most stimulating form of milk tea you can find.

kyasein-bokye

Boukye (ဗိုကျဲ): with clotted cream, like moutak any of the above can be served this way (this is kyasein moutak)

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Moutak Boukye (မ်မှိုတက်ဗိုကျဲ): with clotted cream and coffee bean sprinkles, this is hkyosein moutak boukye 

kyauk-pataung-geit-sone

Kyauk pataung geit sone (ကျောက်ပတောင်းဂိတ်ဆုံး): the sweetest version of all (I’m told it translates to ‘the gate of sweetness’), it contains even more sweetener than hkyosein. It isn’t too common in city teashops, served mostly in villages.

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Thunyaunghkyey lahpet-ye (သုံးရောင်ခြယ်လက်ဖက်ရည်), three coloured milk tea. Just as strong as kyasein but as sweet as hkyosein, it’s the most photogenic tea I’ve had. I only ever had it in Yangon.

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