Burma’s Edible Tea

Palaung ethnic minority tea pickers leave their village for the steep slopes to pick teaPalaung ethnic minority tea pickers leave their village for the steep slopes to pick tea | S01119 | buy

 

Location: Shan State, Myanmar
Date: Sep 2012
Photographer: Luke Duggleby

Myanmar differs from all other tea producing nations because the majority of tea produced here is eaten rather than drunk. The tea is fermented in large boxes or holes in the ground, holding several tonnes, and left for anywhere between 3 to 6 months. The final product is mixed into salads or added to other dishes for flavour, creating an industry that is worth millions of dollars every year.

The epicentre of Myanmar’s tea industry is a small ridge-topped town called Namshan in Shan State, inhabited by the Palaung ethnic minority. It is believed to be the place where tea seeds were first given to the local people by a Burmese king who had brought them from abroad around 800 years ago. The best pickled tea in the country is made here and almost everyone in town is involved in the industry, which every year sends hundreds of thousands of tonnes of pickled tea to Mandalay and Yangon.

Termed ‘laphet’ in Burmese, this pickled tea is not only unique to the country but is also one of the most important national delicacies.

 

Palaung ethnic minority tea pickers on the steep tea gardens around NamshanPalaung ethnic minority tea pickers on the steep tea gardens around Namshan | S01122 | buy

 

Palaung ethnic minority tea pickers on the steep tea gardens around NamshanPalaung ethnic minority tea pickers on the steep tea gardens around Namshan | S01123 | buy

 

Tea caravans bring tea to the factories of Namshan and returning with rice or other foodTea caravans bring tea to the factories of Namshan and returning with rice or other food | S01115 | buy

 

Old man stuffs steamed tea into large wooden boxesOld man stuffs steamed tea into large wooden boxes | S01118 | buy

 

Myanmar's Edible Tea industryA large hole used to ferment tea | S01109 | buy

 

After 4 months of fermenting a large box of several tonnes of tea is opened and a sample is taken to see the qualityAfter 4 months of fermenting a large box of several tonnes of tea is opened and a sample is taken to see the quality | S01128 | buy

 

Tea factory workers sort different grades of tea, removing any unwanted bitsTea factory workers sort different grades of tea, removing any unwanted bits | S01110 | buy

 

The tea continues to ferment causing the sacks to ooze brown liquidThe tea continues to ferment causing the sacks to ooze brown liquid | S01104 | buy

 

Tea factory workers transport sacks of pickled tea to another factory using a motorbikeTea factory workers transport sacks of pickled tea to another factory using a motorbike | S01126 | buy

 

Burmese laphet fermenting in large baskets holding several tonnes of fermented teaBurmese laphet fermenting in large baskets holding several tonnes of fermented tea | S01111 | buy

 

An old photograph held by the driver of the British factoryAn old photograph held by the driver of the British factory | S01132 | buy

 

Myanmar's Edible Tea industryA shop in Mandalay sells various grades of pickled tea as well as normal dry green tea | S01106 | buy


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