Palaung 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 Namshan | S01122 | buy
Palaung 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 food | S01115 | buy
Old man stuffs steamed tea into large wooden boxes | S01118 | buy
A 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 quality | S01128 | buy
Tea factory workers sort different grades of tea, removing any unwanted bits | S01110 | buy
The 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 motorbike | S01126 | buy
Burmese laphet fermenting in large baskets holding several tonnes of fermented tea | S01111 | buy
An old photograph held by the driver of the British factory | S01132 | buy
A shop in Mandalay sells various grades of pickled tea as well as normal dry green tea | S01106 | buy