Long isolated from the western world, Myanmar’s coffee is as bold, diverse, and exciting as the land it grows on and hands that tend it. Robusta coffee was brought to Myanmar, then known as Burma, in 1835 by British Colonists. The coffee grew well but did not attract much attention outside of Myanmar. In the 1930s, Catholic missionaries tried again, this time with arabica beans planted high in the Shan Highlands. The arabica plants thrived in these soaring mountains, which can reach up to a staggering 19,295 feet (5,881 meters) above sea level, and rich volcanic soil. By the mid-1900s, there were small arabica coffee farms throughout the Shan States’ “hills”. Myanmar coffee failed to capture international acclaim in the 1900s but the legacy of these original arabica plants lives on in the extraordinary Myanmar coffee we celebrate today.
While the West may have been unaware of the exotic gems growing in the Shan Highlands, the Burmese government recognized the value of their plants. This pro-coffee nation continuously encouraged coffee production though it wasn’t until after their emergence from diplomatic isolation in 2011 that their coffee crops began to thrive. In 2014, USAID, partnering with Winrock International and Myanmar locals, embarked on a 5-year Value Chains for Rural Development project in Myanmar with the goals of improving food sustainability and increasing global competitiveness of Myanmar’s agricultural products. Coffee was one of the key agricultural products on this list. Working with women and indigenous ethnic tribes, who are the nation’s primary arabica coffee growers, was another priority. Since 2016, the first year Myanmar exported coffee to the Western world, Myanmar’s arabica coffee industry has consistently shone in cupping competitions and received rave reviews… from those who can get their hands on some beans.
Since 2016, Myanmar’s annual export of arabica coffee to the US, Canada, Europe, and parts of Asia has measured between 400 and 500 metric tons. That may sound like a lot of coffee but coffee loses, on average, 17.5% of its water volume when roasted. Four hundred metric tons or 8,819 pounds of green coffee only produces 455 one-pound bags of roasted coffee. That means Myanmar exports, at maximum, 568 one-pound bags of roasted coffee to the greater part of the arabica-coffee drinking world. That isn’t much!
Seventy-five percent of Myanmar’s coffee production is arabica and nearly all of it (~80%) is grown in the northing highlands, on small farms owned and managed by ethnic tribes. These small farm plots mostly measure less than one acre in area and are nurtured and harvested with traditional farming techniques: natural planting, natural pest control, hand-picked harvests, and natural processing. While a few wet processing facilities exist in Myanmar, most of the nation’s coffee is dry processed, meaning the coffee beans dry with the cherry pulp and skin still attached. Dry processing, also known as natural processing, gives Myanmar beans an extraordinarily unique melody of sweet, earth, and spice flavor tones.
Our coffee comes from Myaing (which translates into “tasty”) in Myanmar’s Shan Highlands, a vast mountain range that runs up to the foothills of the Himalayas. Grown 4,200+ feet above sea level in a cool, dry climate, in volcanic soil, these fantastically unique hand-tended catuai arabica plants are naturally-grown and tended by the Danu ethnic tribe. At Mills Coffee / TheQueenBean, we’ve roasted these magnificent beans to a full-city / Vienna shade to preserve their vibrant berry acidity and deep, sweet chocolate and spice notes. Full-bodied with a rich mouthfeel, Myanmar Myaing opens with bright berry notes before giving way to a textured base layered with notes of gentle dried fruit and delicately spiced honey. Wonderfully unique, these beans fuse a Kenyan’s elegant brightness with the exotic spice of a fine Sumatran. The aroma is a lovely melange of sweet spice and deep berry. As an added plus for caffeine seekers, dry-processed beans retain more caffeine than their washed, semi-washed, or honey-processed peers. To learn more about our Myanmar Myaing coffee, click here.