4 months ago

Fah Thai Magazine May June 2018

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BURMA BREWS Clockwise from Top Right Grading beans at coffee factory. Local brands of Myanmar coffee. Coffee beans ripening on the bush. I presumed that many of those who worked for the colonials had stayed on after the Brits had left and put down roots here. Even in the town’s main market, which was a riot of noise, colour and unusual smells, most of the stall vendors seemed to be Nepali or Indian. I settled into a café to reflect on these rich experiences, and was delighted to find a fantastic range of coffees to choose from. I ordered a latte, and while I was enjoying it, I got talking to a man called Samuel. “Do you like our local coffee?” he asked, and when I expressed surprise that the beans came from the area, he explained that the soil and climate in the hills around Pyin Oo Lwin make it ideal for growing coffee. It turned out that there are many small coffee plantations in the region, all of which are part of the Myanmar Coffee Association and produce top-grade varieties, such as S795, which is much sought after by coffee buyers. “So how come you know so much about coffee?” I asked Samuel. “Well, it just so happens that I was a manager of one of the local plantations for a decade,” he answered with a grin. “Would you like to take a look around one tomorrow? I’ll be showing a small group around a couple of plantations and a processing plant.” I jumped at the opportunity; after all, I had drunk coffee every day for countless years without much idea of how the brew was made. Samuel picked me up the next morning and we drove with his small group a few kilometres out of town to a coffee estate run by a friend of his. The welcoming owner, U Kyaw Sein, immediately poured us a cup of coffee from his farm and cracked open some macadamia nuts to nibble as we drank. Samuel explained that the macadamia tree provides excellent shade, which coffee bushes need, and the crop of nuts (around 12 tons a year) provided valuable extra income. We hopped into a pick-up truck and bounced along dirt tracks that led through the estate, stopping here and there for U Kyaw Sein to show off the waxy-leaved coffee bushes laden with green berries. He explained Somehow the experience of watching the process of coffee production all the way from seed to cup had given me a new appreciation of just how much knowledge and hard work goes into producing the drink that kick-starts my days. that with careful maintenance, a coffee bush can keep producing beans for up to 80 years, but it was evident that this is a labourintensive business. As we drove around, we passed small groups of workers pruning the bushes, weeding the area around them and adding fertiliser to the earth. Apart from coffee, which yields about 15 tons of green beans a year from around 200 acres, the estate also grows dragon fruit and avocados. The avocado is another tree that doubles as a shade tree for coffee and brings an extra source of income. Samuel then took us to the Mandalay Coffee Group processing plant on the outskirts of Pyin Oo Lwin to see what happens to the beans once they have been harvested. I was shocked to see all kinds of elaborate machinery used to soak the beans, throw out the bad ones, take off the skins and then roast them so that they are ready for consumption. In one corner of the processing plant, a small army of women sat grading berries one by one, a job that would drive me mad with its repetitive nature. We couldn’t leave without sampling the finished product, and I smacked my lips as I supped a cup of S795 Arabica special. Somehow the experience of watching the process of coffee production all the way from seed to cup had given me a new appreciation of just how much knowledge and hard work goes into producing the drink that kick-starts my days. I thanked Samuel for allowing me to see an aspect of this former colonial town that I never knew existed, one that complements a colourful past with the hope for a bountiful future. He smiled and presented me with a small packet of Arabica to take home as a souvenir, telling me that it was his pleasure to share the secrets of his home town’s rich culture with a stranger from far away. Clockwise from Top Left Burmese worker roasting coffee beans. Ex-coffee plantation manager Samuel pointing out features of healthy coffee bush. Coffee beans being processed at processing plant, Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar. 74 75