DRINKS IN MYANMAR: ALCOHOL, BEER, TEA AND SOFT DRINKS

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS IN MYANMAR

In terms of alcohol, many Burmese drink strong local moonshine-like drinks made from sugar cane. Myanmar Beer, Mandalay beer, Thai-produced Singha beer, Singapore-produced Tiger beer, cheap local beers, and cheap beers brought in from China are popular in Myanmar. Imported wines, whiskies, beers are expensive.

Alcohol is frowned upon by conservative Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, but consumed widely, mostly among men. Myanmar Beer is most popular in the country. Other variants, including Mandalay Beer exist. However, many of such companies are government-owned and/or have links to the drug trade. Toddy juice is popular in central Myanmar, and is made from fermented palm sugar. An alcoholic drink popular in the Shan State is Shwe le maw, and is reportedly very strong. It is also possible to buy full strength Beer Chang imported from Thailand; exports to most countries are not nearly as strong. Beware of alcoholic drinks served in the far northern states. The locals refer to it as alcohol which does not burn when lit, and it is widely suspected to be an opiate concoction rather than a fermented beverage. [Source: Wikitravel]

According to Go-Myanmar.com: “Most Myanmar people, particularly men, love a drink – and they are more than happy to enjoy one (or more) in the company of foreigner visitors. During the day and early evening, it is always easy to find a restaurant or ‘beer station’ to sit down and have a cool, refreshing beer or glass of rum (albeit sometimes on a very small and shaky stool!). However, the concept and traditions of drinking in Myanmar are different to other parts of the world. Due to decades of poverty (meaning a lack of disposable income for much of the population) and frequent electricity electricity black-outs, nightlife does not really exist outside large cities and some luxury hotels in resorts; in general, finding anywhere outside these areas that is open after 9pm can be very difficult. But as locals get wealthier and more foreign tourists and business people arrive, things are slowly changing. [Source: Go-Myanmar.com **]

Beer, rum and whisky are the most popular alcoholic drinks in Myanmar, whilst locally brewed toddy is also generally available, and wine can be found in higher-end restaurants and hotels. Myanmar Rum, Mandalay Rum and Grand Royal Whisky are the most popular spirits, and are in fact significantly cheaper than beer on the basis of alcohol content. Locally made toddy (htan ye) is the preferred tipple of many rural people, and is usually fermented from the sap of the same palm trees used to make sugar. You might see this drink being distilled, and a few swigs are often given as a gift, on trips through the country. Myanmar’s only wines are produced in two vineyards near Inle Lake, which both make for fascinating and scenic visits. Western wines are only generally available in luxury hotels and resorts, and high-end bars in Yangon. **

Simple, open air restaurants that serve alcohol are called beer stations, and can be found on the streets of cities, towns and villages around Myanmar. They usually serve one of the country’s decent draught beers (see below), and are at the heart of Myanmar drinking culture; people come to meet, talk and engage in one of the nation’s favourite pastimes – watching live European football. Larger cities and some beach resorts have western-style bars – often attached to luxury hotels – that are sometimes open until later in the evening. Yangon has by far the largest choice, but it still lags behind more developed cities like Bangkok. **

Although women are entirely welcome at beer stations and other drinking establishments, the majority of patrons tend to be male, and local men and women rarely mix in the way they do in western countries. Most Burmese women -- married and single -- stay home in the evening. That's not to say Western women aren't welcome. It's understood that foreigners have different customs. Alcohol is much easier to access in the U.S. and has led to some substance abuse issues among (primarily male) Burmese refugees.

Some Burmese drink beer through a straw or at least they did when Paul Theroux wrote “The Great Railway Bazaar.”

Rangoon’s Infamous Pegu Club

Wade Guyitt wrote in the Myanmar Times, “It played host to British royalty, saw shocking racism and inspired a cocktail still served today. It also survived the battle for independence, the socialist era and the emergence of a new, democratic Myanmar. When the British conquered Pegu (now Bago) in 1852, they did so, according to one rather biased report, “in what may be called dashing style, while exposed to the fierce rays of a burning sun”. Nineteen years later, soldiers and officials in what was then called Rangoon found themselves looking for a place to escape those “fierce rays” and have a drink. Founded in 1871, their original watering hole appears lost in time. But they quickly grew in number, and their specially built teak-walled compound, completed in 1882, still stands today. [Source: Wade Guyitt, Myanmar Times, July 8, 2013 //\\]

“In the Imperial Gazetteer of India of 1909, the Pegu Club is prominently labelled. Bounded by Prome Road (now Pyay), Newlyns Road (now Zagawar) and Budd’s Road (now Padonmar), its location – north of the city’s built-up waterfront downtown, but south of the cantonment (or garrison) line which marked the edge of the developed city just north of Shwedagon Pagoda – afforded easy access to the barracks, parade grounds, prisons, lunatic asylums and burial grounds which marked the British view of Rangoon at the time. To the south was a safe shipping route for the empire; to the north, successive lines of “coolies”, elephants, and rifles defended against all comers. The map shows plantations and villages outside the lines but does not name them. For those tasked with seeing Myanmar culture brought to bended knee by any means necessary, anything beyond seemed the end of the world. As Rudyard Kipling recalled after his one visit to Rangoon in 1889 as a young newspaperman, the club was “full of men on their way up or down”. He had time for only two stops in the city: that “beautiful winking wonder” the Shwedagon Pagoda, and the Pegu Club. Both astounded him. “‘Try the mutton,’” he was told. “‘I assure you the Club is the only place in Rangoon where you get mutton.’” But what stood out most was the morbid chatter about “battle, murder, and sudden death”. Its casual nature (“‘that jungle-fighting is the deuce and all. More ice please’”) gave him his first glimpse of the wars colonialism waged beyond its walls. //\\

“One travelogue warned ladies should watch out for snakes upon exiting the club – living nearby: I can confirm this remains sound advice today. Inside, however, the club was the pinnacle of imperialist attempts to replicate England in foreign lands. Membership was open to “all gentlemen interested in general society”, the club’s rules stated, but in practice that meant whites only. “Rank, wealth, and birth had no relevance,” wrote Wai Wai Myaing in A Journey in Time, a family memoir. “The color of the skin was the only feature that mattered.” By 1910 the Pegu Club boasted 350 members, 25 of whom lived on-site. //\\

“The Prince of Wales came to dine in 1922. In “Burmese Days, “George Orwell reveals the garrison mentality of such clubs: “‘[N]atives are getting into all the Clubs nowadays. Even the Pegu Club, I’m told. Way this country’s going, you know. We’re about the last Club in Burma to hold out against ‘em.’” Orwell’s novel neatly skewers “those Englishmen – common, unfortunately – who should never be allowed to set foot in the East”. But set foot they had. The Straits Times commented on March 2, 1916, how “[a]t the Pegu Club in Rangoon you can meet lots of men who will tell you that if we had not made the usual mess in diplomacy and frontier dilimitation a considerable portion of Yunnan would be under the Union Jack”. The Pegu Club had become the sidelines from which the empire was run. //\\

“When the Japanese took Rangoon they took the Pegu Club with it. The club served as an officers’ brothel from 1942-45. The RAF tried restoring it to its former self after the war, but independence came in 1948, and on September 12 of that year the St Petersburg Times signalled the garrison was beseiged. “Last stronghold of the British ‘imperialist’ is the Pegu Club. A handful of old timers meet inside its teak-lined walls each day to sip brandies and bemoan the state of the world.” //\\

“Postwar, locals were allowed to enter the Pegu Club at last, but few did, perhaps because so little else about the place had changed. “Its long verandahs provided cool and silent shade,” wrote a Shan visitor in the 1950s, “while its polished teak bars never ran out of ice cold beer, Singapore slings, pink gins, or whisky. In the shadows were the Boys [Indian staff], still Boys even if they were 50 or 60 years old, who stood quietly in the background, always ready to anticipate a need and to refill an empty glass.” //\\

“By 1962 the whole country had become socialist. The Pegu Club was nationalised, and the Tatmadaw, the third military group to have eaten there, used it for an officers’ mess. When writer Paul Theroux visited in the early 1970s, he was turned away from the gate. He would have been allowed to look around, he was told, but a senior officer had just arrived to dine and, as Theroux wrote later, “The sentry bulged his eyes to illustrate how senior.” The clubhouse later became a pension office for the Controller of Military Accounts. While newer buildings in the compound still house government employees today, like many government buildings in Yangon after the capital shifted to Nay Pyi Taw the Pegu Club building itself is now empty. When I looked around recently a man and his dog were using the former ballroom as a quiet place to take a mid-morning nap. //\\

Pegu Club Cocktail

Wade Guyitt wrote in the Myanmar Times, “All this prognosticating was thirsty work, apparently, which explains why the club invented its own signature drink, the Pegu Club cocktail. The ingredients weren’t particularly local – gin and orange curacao, mostly – but it was served over ice, with a bit of lime, and therefore tasted both exotic and refreshing in hot weather. According to the 1930 cocktail bible written by Harry Craddock of London’s Savoy Hotel, the Pegu Club cocktail was “one that has travelled, and is asked for, round the world”. Little consolation that would have been to the Pegu Club’s members in the waning days of the empire. Or maybe, being alcoholic, it was. [Source: Wade Guyitt, Myanmar Times, July 8, 2013 //\\]

“In 2008, in trendy Soho, New York City, a new hotspot opened, paying tribute with true cocktail craftsmanship to the classic gin-based drinks which were otherwise going out of style. By calling her venue the Pegu Club, owner Audrey Saunders restored interest in the drink and the original club itself. Menus provide a history of the building; reviews and recipes posted online never fail to mention the drink’s colonial origins. //\\

According to Esquire magazine: “ Like all of its ilk, the Pegu Club had a bar, and like all such bars, this one had its house cocktail. Unlike the Muthaiga Country Club and the Ootacamund Club, though, the Pegu Club managed to insert its -- a delightful and refreshing combination of gin (naturally), lime juice, orange curaçao, and a couple of other thises and thats -- into the annals of mixology. As master mixologist Harry Craddock observed in 1930, the Pegu Club Cocktail "has travelled, and is asked for, around the world." We're not sure precisely when it was invented, but it had to be before 1927, when it turns up in Harry MacElhone's Barflies and Cocktails. [Source: Pegu Club - Drink Recipe – How to Make the Perfect Pegu Club - Esquire \\//]

Recipe for Perfect Pegu Club: Ingredients: 2 ounces London dry gin; 3/4 ounce orange curacao; 3/4 ounce lime juice; 1 dash Angostura bitters; 1 dash orange bitters. Glass Type: cocktail glass, Instructions Shake well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (You can substitute Grand Marnier for orange curaçao.) \\//

Beer in Myanmar

Burmese drink on average less than four liters a year—about 10 small bottles—of local brand beers. Many people in Myanmar regard beer as a luxury drink. In neighboring Thailand annual per capita beer consumption is 25 liters and in Vietnam it’s 30 liters. [Source: William Boot, The Irrawaddy, March 7, 2013]

According to Go-Myanmar.com: “Myanmar’s selection of domestic lager beers compare favourably with imported and ‘international’ brand beers; they have won European (Belgian) quality awards and are perfect for a refreshing cool drink in what can be a very hot climate. They come in 330ml cans, 640ml and 750ml bottles, and on draught, and include: 1) Myanmar Beer – the biggest seller and the favourite of most visitors to Myanmar. Comes in standard (green label) 5 percent alcohol and ‘Double Strong’ (white label) 7.7 percent. 2) Mandalay Beer – another popular and long-established Myanmar lager. Comes in blue label (5 percent) and red label (7 percent). 3) Dagon Beer – a newer beer, but widely available. 4) Spirulina Beer – finally, a more niche beer that contains a dietary supplement to ‘help you stay young forever’! Foreign brands such as Tiger and San Miguel are also available, but are usually more expensive. [Source: Go-Myanmar.com **]

According to the blog: outofofficetilaugust2012: Myanmar Lager Beer has a signature beer that is pretty good! A darker golden color, with a clean balance between bitter and sweet, and with malty and hoppy flavors coming through. It tastes a whole lot better when ice cold from draught than in a bottle (oddly) or from a can. It’s a little dearer than the others, but is worth it. Mandalay is a straightforward yet rather boring lager. Crisp, clean and rather watery. Another that is not unpleasant but just adequate. This beer can be found in most places outside Yangon, but most locals prefer the stronger version. Mandalay Strong Ale Beer: Not sure how the word ale can be used for this one. This is the better (and weaker) of the two leading strong beers. The sweetness overpowers any other detectable flavor, but it’s a firm favourite with the locals who aren’t drinking cheap rum or whisky. [Source: outofofficetilaugust2012 ==]

“Dagon Lager Beer is most usually found in draught form, and it’s rather nice. Named after a neighbourhood (or township, as they call them) in Yangon, this is a lighter, more Pilsner-esque beer to the Myanmar, but with a decent crisp bitterness and refreshing bite. Dagon Extra Strong makes most first-time drinkers give a little shiver and spasm after their first sip. It’s 8 percent strong and they haven’t tried to hide the alcohol taste. It rather comes across as a Myanmar beer with a double shot of vodka and a dollop of glucose syrup added. Anadaman Gold; Brewed by the Mandalay Brewing company, this seems to only come in cans, much to its detriment as it’s harder to ignore the metallic taste the can gives. However it does seem to be a decent brew, but not as ‘premium’ as the label would make out. ==

“Spirulina: Well I’ll be buggered – if it isn’t a healthy beer! This odd one is made by the Mandalay beer people and contains ‘anti-ageing’ algae from a lake in Myanmar, which provide the drinker not only with a healthy 7 percent alcohol, but a whole list of health benefits. It will reduce your cholesterol, improve your complexion and make you look years younger. Maybe they should replace free milk at schools with this beer. It starts off okay – strong and sweet, but as you get nearer the bottom – where the algae lurks, I presume – the bitterness gets more intense until right at the bottom where it’s so bitter it becomes a little wince inducing. Scores an extra mark for its health benefits and its novelty factor. ==

Kissing for Beer and 45-Million-Year Old Beer Made from Burmese Amber

CNN reported: When the Burmese want to get a waiter's attention they make a kissing sound, usually two or three short kisses. It's the sort of sound you might make if calling a cat. Walk down 19 Street in Yangon's Chinatown and you'll hear that kissing sound a lot. This narrow, pedestrian-only street is where the Burmese come to drink. Restaurants line either side of the street and chairs and tables are set out in front. The local brew is Myanmar Beer and it's cheap -- about 60 cents for a glass of draught. This is prime people-watching territory and if you keep an eye out you'll spot Yangon's hip-hop royalty on the prowl. [Source: CNN]

Gabe Oppenheim wrote in the Washington Post, Fossil Fuels Brewing Co. has fermented a yeast strain found in a piece of Burmese amber dating from about 25 million to 45 million years ago. The company has introduced a pale ale and German wheat beer made from the yeast. In April, at the World Beer Cup in San Diego, "we had one judge give us the highest marks, one just below and one who didn't like it," says Chip Lambert, 63, the company's microbiologist. "We learned that the issue was that in these competitions, you brew to match the traditional concept of the style, which these yeast just don't do." William Brand, the Oakland Tribune beer critic, says the ancient yeast provides the wheat beer with a distinctively "clove-y" taste and a "weird spiciness at the finish." The Washington Post Style section's summer beer critic pronounced it "smooth and spicy, excellent with chicken strips." [Source: Gabe Oppenheim, Washington Post, September 1, 2008]

Beer Wars in Burma as Rival Brewers Battle for New Market

William Boot, wrote in The Irrawaddy, “Burma is about to become a business battleground for two old brewing adversaries intent on capturing the region’s last great untapped beer market. One-time partners Carlsberg of Denmark and Thai Beverage of Bangkok, who fell out in a business dispute seven years ago forcing Carlsberg to quit the lucrative Thailand market, are both planning to brew and sell their brands in Burma. [Source: William Boot, The Irrawaddy, March 7, 2013]

The fallout between the two big brewers was acrimonious, leading to a court action in Singapore in which Carlsberg ended up paying US $120 million damages to Thai Beverage, which had unsuccessfully sued for $2.5 billion.Carlsberg has only just re-entered Thailand after an eight-year absence, teaming up with Thai Beverage rival Singha Corporation. Now the two firms will be competitors in Burma, where Bangkok-based Singha also plans to sell its beers.

“Burma is a brand new market for beer where per capita consumption is very low, not much more than 10 percent of the volume drunk in Thailand and Vietnam. Burmese don’t have a lot of disposable income so I think we are going to see some fierce competition with stuff like a price war as the competitors try to garner market share and knock rivals out,” said an industry insider in Singapore, who spoke to The Irrawaddy this week on condition of anonymity.

Carlsberg has formed a partnership with Myanmar Golden Star Breweries, which has links with the Burmese military. The Danish giant sought a joint venture with Golden Star 15 years ago, but human rights groups in Europe brought the firm’s links to the military to light, effectively blocking the deal. Carlsberg says its new partnership will initially involve distributing its brands in Burma, but there are also plans to build a new brewery.

Thai Beverage—also called ThaiBev—is owned by one of Asia’s wealthiest men, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, ranked in the world top 100 richest people by Forbes Magazine with over $11 billion. His company has gained a foothold in Burma by acquiring Singapore-based Fraser and Neave, primarily a non-alcoholic sporting drinks producer, but which includes Myanmar Brewery among its assets. Charoen now owns 55 percent of Myanmar Brewery, whose other major shareholder is the army-controlled Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.

“The two brewing companies will be banking on an economic boom in Myanmar [Burma] turning beer into an everyday commodity accessible to most adults,” the Singapore industry insider said. “The potential is big but it’s a business gamble, especially because there will be two large investors fighting for dominant market share which in the medium term will keep retail prices down and profits slim.” The arrival of the two major brewers in Burma might also lead to an injection of money into Burmese sport. Both Carlsberg and Thai Beverage are major sponsors of football teams in the English Premier League. Hot Toddies

Toddy juice (ta-YEI) is popular in central Myanmar, and is made from fermented palm sugar. An alcoholic drink popular in the Shan State is Shwe le maw, and is reportedly very strong. Beware of alcoholic drinks served in the far northern states. The locals refer to them as alcohol which does not burn when lit, and it is widely suspected to be an opiate concoction rather than a fermented beverage. The expression a "hot toddy" comes from Burma.

Toddies and hot toddies are rich and refreshing drinks made with sweet sap tapped straight from the stems and flowers of a mature toddy palms. The sap can be drunk fresh or it can be boiled down to form a kind of brown sugar called jaggery, a key ingredient in many Southeast and South Asian sweets. The "hot toddy" originally came from Burma.

Toddy liquid left to ferment for a several hours becomes toddy wine, which sells for about 25 cents a bottle and according to some tastes like Milk of Magnesia. It takes two bottles to get a decent buzz. These have to be consumed more or less right after they are purchased, after several hours toddy wine turns to sour toddy mush.

Palm wine---which in turn can be distilled into a potent spirit widely consumed in West Africa, Sri Lanka, India and Southeast Asia---comes from a palm tree as toddy. Toddy trees are prevented from bearing fruit by binding the open flowers and bending them over. The sap is extracted initially after three weeks and collected every month or so. A good toddy tree can yield 270 liters of sap a year.

Toddy Tappers

Toddy sap is collected once every three weeks or so by agile toddy tappers who climb the trees to collect the sap and sometimes move from tree to tree on lines like tight walkers, using a pair of ropes---one to walk on and the other to hold with their hands for balance.

To begin the tapping process a toddy tapper climbs a tree and beats the round fruit on the tree with a stick and later takes in stems and flowers of the tree to withdraw the sap. After that toddy tappers go from flower to flower every morning and evening with little pots.

Typically toddy tappers climb their trees with pot in the evening, tapping the tree overnight, and collect the pot the next day in a process not unlike collecting maple syrup, earning about $3.00 a day from collecting the tap from 16 trees. A good tapper can get a month's worth of sap from one flower. After the sap is collected it is boiled until it thickens and crystallizes into golf-ball-size lumps. Yeast is added to make inexpensive wine that is ready in a few hours to drink.

Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Fruit drinks are plentiful and delicious. Sometimes they are mixed with salt and served in plastic bags. Squeezed sugar cane juice and fresh coconut water are also widely available and good. Fresh coconuts are refreshing and hygienic. Drink it with a straw straight from the coconut. Sugar cane juice is squeezed from a metal press. The Burmese are big tea drinkers, but many foreigners consider fragrant black Burmese tea to be too strong, sweet and milky. Soft drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, Orange Crush and Fanta have recently become available. Burmese soft drinks are an acquired taste. The coastal areas serve toddy (palm sap) drinks.

Tap water in Myanmar is not safe to drink, likewise ice may be contaminated. Restaurants sometimes have poor sanitation and do not necessarily wash the cups properly. Bottled water is readily available at many tourist sites. As of August 2012, the standard going rate for a one bottle of mineral water was is 30 0ks. Golden Mountain is a popular brand of bottled water.

Myanmar soft-drink-maker Pinya's 10-product line is marketed under the brand name Max. Most of the company's ingredients are imported from Germany and the United States.

Paul Theroux wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar”: On every landing there is a temple, a soft-drink stall ("Dagon Pure Orange—Bottled in Rangoon With Distilled Water"), and a sugar-water machine which squeezes split canes in a contraption that resembles an old laundry wringer. Halfway up the hill I stopped, had a Super Soda, and examined some statuary in wire cages, life-sized plaster figures, brightly painted and horrific as a Tiger Balm ointment tableau: a supine figure sticking his tongue out at a crow perched on his chest and tearing bright blue intestinal coils, yards of shiny hose, from a gaping hole in the man's belly; another satisfied man with a cutlass, squatting next to a disemboweled deer. I slipped a coin into a cast-iron machine, and three figures in a window were set into motion: a clockwork man swept a path with a wire broom, a clockwork saffron-robed monk shuffled on the path, and a clockwork devotee raised and lowered his clasped hands to the monk. [Source: Paul Theroux, The Atlantic, November 1, 1971]

Tea in Myanmar

In Myanmar everyone—young and old, male and or female, lay people and monks—drinks tea. Drinking tea without milk and sugar is the usual custom throughout Myanmar. A lot of tea in Myanmar is produced in Palaung and Shan ethnic areas.

Tea is served at every social or religious ceremony or function. In every household there is at least one member of the family who likes to have a cup of plain tea as soon as she or he gets up from bed. The first duty of the house wife when she gets up is to boil water and prepare a pot of tea, not only for the grandfather, grandmother, father or husband, but for herself and her children. Guests who comes for a visit are offered a cup of plain tea. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Tea shops are found in every city, town, and large village. They are important social gathering places mostly for men. Tea shops are crowded with people young and old alike. Holding a cup of plain tea and slowly sipping it is regarded as a relaxing activity. People often do their business in roadside tea shops. Tea serves many purposes: social, economic and religious. Tea is such a popular drink in Myanmar tea drinkers like to boast “I don ' t drink water the whole day.”

Ben wrote on his blog Chowtime.com: Tea from the Shan state “is strong, really strong and is served with condensed milk and sugar. You know, I can’t drink coffee or tea after 3PM everyday. If I do, I can’t sleep. Here I am being presented a super strong tea at about 9PM. I had to drink it. That night, I slept at 4AM. Suanne can’t sleep too. [Source: Ben, Chowtime.com September 07, 2010 |||]

On the Yenwejan tea often served at restaurants, one traveler to Myanmar wrote: “Similar to Chinese tea, Yenwejan is usually provided free at restaurant tables. While not flavorful, it is boiled water, and so safe to drink. Dried tea leaves similar to Laphet thote's tea leaves (except these are wet) are added to the boiled water to give Yenwejan flavor. Be sure to order it with Laphet thote (Customary/Good combination). Myanmar's rich and creamy milk tea (very similar to that you find in India or southeast Asia) is an absolute must. This is normally to be had at cafes rather than restaurants (you'll see them packed full of people drinking milk tea). Milk tea is often served with samosas and other condiments which you will be charged for if you eat, and passed on to others if you do not eat them.

Palaung Pickled Tea

The chief crop of cultivation among the Palaung is tea. The tea shrub is indigenous to areas where they live and grows wild all over the hills while tea cultivation is closely associated with Tawngpang. Tea is abundant in places like Mong Long, Mong Mit, Mong Khe, Panglong and in the Petkang areas of Keng Tung State. Tea likes a high latitude, shade and dampness. Tawngpang is the most suitable place with such conditions. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The tea is made in two forms: 1) Neng Yam, or wet or pickled tea; and 2) dry tea. One needs skills and experience for picking, drying and curing of tea leaves. The leaves are steamed in a wooden strainer with a perforated bamboo bottom, which is placed over a large cauldron of boiling water. It is steamed for a few minutes just to moisten and soften the leaves so that they can be easily and quickly rolled with the fingers on matswhile another lot is being steamed. These steamed and rolled leaves are spread out on the screen resulting in dry tea. The picking seasons for the tea are: May to June, July to August, September to October and November, each of which has its name. The first picking is always the best and it is called Shwepyi (Golden Land). =

The making of the pickled variety is more complicated. The steamed leaves are heaped together in a pulp mass and thrown into basket and left until the next day. The baskets are then put into pits in the ground and covered with heavy weights placed on top of each. Inspection is often made to see how fermentation is progressing and sometimes there is re-steaming . Palaungs are the only tea growers who produce the "pickled tea, " which some of them call "salad tea." Palaung tea plantations are on steep hill-sides. It takes three years to get a crop, and after ten years or more the plants weaken and the output is poor. =

Much of the dry tea goes to different parts of Myanmar and some to Yunnan across the border in China. Pickled tea is transported down to Mandalay and Yangon for general distribution. Myanmar people like pickled tea more than anyone else and it has become a delicacy for them and is eaten mixed with a little oil, salt, garlic and topped off with sesame seeds. =

Coca-Cola and Pepsi in Myanmar

In 2012, Coca-Cola Co. made its first shipment in more than 60 years to Yangon. Before 2012 Myanmar was one of three countries of which Coke didn’t do business. The other two are Cuba and North Korea. Reuters reported: “Following the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Myanmar, Coke is working with local company Pinya Manufacturing Co to have Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light and Sprite distributed throughout the country. Rival PepsiCo Inc said that it had arranged to sell some of its drinks in Myanmar, setting the stage for an intense rivalry between the soft drink giants as they jostle for share in a consumer market just emerging from decades of isolation under military rule. [Source: Reuters, September 10, 2012]

In June 2012, Coke announced a $3 million grant from its charitable foundation to a non-governmental organization to support women's economic empowerment and job creation throughout Myanmar. According to a statement on the website of Myanmar President Thein Sein, Coca-Cola is projected to invest $100 million in Myanmar over three years, creating jobs for nearly 2,000 local people.

In January 2013, Associated Press reported: “The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) gave Coca-Cola Company permission to construct a factory in the country. The American multinational beverage corporation will operate its business under the registered name Cola Pinya Beverages Myanmar Ltd as a joint venture with the local Pinya Manufacturing Co Ltd. MIC has permitted the company to manufacture non-alcoholic beverages and purified drinking water. Production will take place at four factories in Yangon, including the new one in the suburban area of the business capital. The company has 13 distribution branches throughout the country. [Source: AP, January 7, 2013]

In November 2012, Reuters reported: “PepsiCo Inc is in talks to sign a bottling agreement in Myanmar, ramping up the competition with Coca-Cola Co as they fight for market share in a country emerging from decades of isolation. "We want to establish local production," Saad Abdul-Latif, chief executive of PepsiCo Asia, Middle East and Africa, told reporters in Shanghai on Tuesday. "We will be signing that within the next year or so." In August, PepsiCo said it has signed an agreement with Diamond Star Co Ltd to distribute PepsiCo beverage brands in Myanmar. Under the terms of the agreement, Diamond Star - one of the largest packaged-goods distributors in Myanmar - has exclusive rights to import, sell and distribute Pepsi-Cola, 7-Up and Mirinda. [Source: Reuters November 13, 2012]

In June 2013, Duane D. Stanford and Haslinda Amin of Bloomberg wrote: “Coca-Cola Co Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent marked the return of the world’s largest soda maker to Myanmar after 60 years by opening a bottling plant and pledging more investment in the newly opened economy. The company will invest $200 million in the next five years and a second plant will open in a month’s time, Kent said.“It’s a great moment in history, just like it used to be when we opened up our business in east and central Europe in the former Soviet Union right after the fall of the Berlin wall,” Kent said. “We can retain and grow our leadership that we already have in this market today.” [Source: Duane D. Stanford and Haslinda Amin, Bloomberg, June 4, 2013]

Coca-Cola’s new plant begins in earnest a race with PepsiCo Inc to control beverage markets in the Southeast Asia nation. Coca-Cola will need to focus on distribution to win over the nation’s consumers, Kent said. PepsiCo has been building drinks distribution in the country, will soon distribute snacks there and is pursuing plans for a factory. “As important as price, it is availability, it is serving the product in the right conditions, making it available, making it at an arms reach of desire,” Kent said. “We have plans to ensure that we have the best, most modern 21st century consumer distribution system in the country.”

While Coca-Cola left Myanmar about 60 years ago, PepsiCo has more recent experience in the nation. The world’s largest snack maker pulled out of Myanmar in 1997 after activists urged the company to sever ties with the military dictatorship because of human-rights violations.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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