We have not offered coffee from Myanmar (formerly Burma) for many years now. In fact after the one offering we had from all the way back in 2000. Much has changed of course but along with the tides of politics, we see different initiatives to improve the quality of Myanmar coffee, and make it more available.
The region has produced Robusta type low-grade coffee historically, and when there was no access to the Specialty market, arabica was picked and sold locally. Myanmar was a unique origin when we first offered it, and still is. We offered Myanmar at the time because it was unique, had great body, and is very nice in darker roasts. It was no show-stopper though.
Our first-hand experience with Myanmar coffee rates the cupping results on par with mild Brazil coffee, soft acidity and most of the cup character being about the roast level.
Sadly, Myanmar has been under authoritarian rule until recently, and with glimmers of independence and transparency, has lapsed back into uncertainty. There were great civil rights questions looming in relation to the military powers and the ruling elite. One might assume that consuming products from Myanmar might prolong the despotic rule, and in some cases this might be true. We didn’t ask these questions back in 2000 when we had our first Myanmar coffee, which came from Royal coffee if I remember right. I wish we had, because an export good like coffee in 2000 likely came from the military, and funded the military or some form of corruption.
But this was the same case in Timor, where money from the organic coop directly aided the coffee farmers and circumvented the occupying Indonesian powers. Later we had Myanmar from a coop called Golden Triangle, after the coffee region encompassing 3 Asian nations. It was supposedly a USAID project…
Mandalay and Shan State produce the majority of the coffee in Myanmar, but recently other regions (Chin State and Kachin State) have also started growing coffee.. In Mandalay, most of the farmers own large estates, and produce washed coffee. Shan State producers are almost exclusively smallholders, most of whom own less than a hectare of land.
Several groups are at the forefront of Myanmar’s specialty coffee movement, including the Mandalay Coffee Group (MCG) (a wet and dry mill, export company, and consortium of 50 estates estates in Mandalay), Amayar (a wet and dry mill and exporter in Ywangan owned and operated by Daw Su Su Aung), Shwe Taung Thu (a consortium of 19 villages in Ywangan who produce naturals almost exclusively), and Behind the Leaf (a wet and dry mill and exporter in Pinlaung).
We have not yet traveled to Myanmar, so the images are courtesy of the supplier Atlas coffee.
The Rohingya are an ethnic minority group, who largely live in Rakhine state. Rakhine state is in the west of Myanmar and shares a border with Bangladesh. Most Muslims in Myanmar come from the Rohingya ethnic group. The Rohingya have their own language and culture and many live in Bangladesh, on the other side of the border. The Rohingya in Myanmar view themselves as Burmese and say they have been in Myanmar for generations. The Myanmar government view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and do not recognise them as citizens of Myanmar.
The crisis is the latest manifestation of a turbulent relationship between the Rohingyas and the Burmese government. In February 2017 the UN published a report condemning the actions of Myanmar’s army against the Rohingyas. By August 2017 nearly 800,000 Rohingyas had been displaced and were temporarily living in Bangladesh. The conflict continues and up to now no solution has been found.
Recently, general restrictions on rights and free expression has been at stake, and greater civil disturbance in protest has been in the news. Unrest always hurts farmers, through land conflict, lack of security, and disrupting the market for their product. We hope to see this pass, and enter a stage of progress for the farmers, and the non-farmers, of Myanmar.