When I was planning to visit Sri Lanka, many friends asked me to bring back some black tea for them. In the end, I changed my plans, deciding instead to visit Myanmar. When my friends heard of my change of plans, they admonished me to take care of myself.
It seems that not many people have expectations with regard to Myanmarian tea. But I do. In fact, I have experienced Myanmarian tea before. When I was in mainland China, a Myanmarian tea businessman gave me a Myanmarian “Puerh” tea sample. It wasn’t bad. Frankly, I believe that “Puerh” tea is really made of the old growth, big arbor tree leaves. Tea lovers can tell the difference between real old growth, big arbor tree leaves and the fake ones. This really surprised me, but it makes sense. I have visited Menlian, which borders Myanmar in Yunnan. If Menlian’s side of the mountains could produce good Puerh tea, then the other side of the mountains, on which Myanmar lies, could also produce Puerh tea.
According to China’s national standard of Puerh tea, Puerh must be produced in Yunnan and must be made from big arbor tree leaves using established Puerh tea techniques. This standard may be important for tea businessman, but for tea lovers, like myself, we do not care where Puerh is produced, only if it is good tea, which means it is made of the old growth, big arbor tree leaves using good tea techniques. Although the Myanmarian “Puerh” tea’s leaves are great, the techniques employed in Myanmar are bad, or, at least, not on par with the techniques used to produce high-quality tea. It is sad to see bad techniques ruin great Puerh tea leaves. That’s what I told that Myanmar tea businessman: don’t spend time looking to make money now; first, you must improve your Puerh tea-making techniques. That happened years ago. So I have my expectations – that the tea I taste in Myanmar will taste better because of improved tea techniques.
The first evening I arrived in Yangon, I ate my dinner at a roadside stand. This kind of small stand can be found everywhere in Yangon. The food was local food, the details of which I have already forgotten because it was neither bad nor good, just acceptable for eating. However, I will never forget the tea that stand offered. It was amazing!
Wherever you go to eat in Myanmar, regardless of whether it is a good restaurant or a simple roadside stand, green tea is offered free of charge. Usually, once you have chosen a table, the waiter or owner will serve tea in a tea pot and accompanying tea cups. The green tea is brewed in the tea pot; the tea cups are put in a water pot. Before you try your tea, you have to do some cleaning. Pour a little of the green tea in your cup, swirl it around thoroughly and then dump it out onto the ground or in the water pot. As a Chinese tea lover, I am familiar with this tea style. If you visit a tea house in China, your experience would be similar. However, you need not wash your cup yourself; instead, the tea house will clean it in front of you. In addition, the tea cups are usually put a pasteurized water pot before it is brought out.
What amazed me most was the quality of the tea that stand offered. Actually, it was not that the quality was all that good, but rather that the tea was raw and unrefined. It gives you the true feeling of “chaqi (茶气),” namely the qi, or energy, of tea.