Burma’s Edible Tea
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.