Wednesday April 3, 2013 | 4 comments
To recreate the Chaqi I experienced on my first day in Myanmar, I visited many tea shops and tea houses, which disappointed me. When I say “tea shop,” I am referring to a shop that sells tea leaves. When I say “tea house,” I am referring to a place that sells tea for amusement and social interaction. It is easy to find tea houses because they are everywhere in Yangon and other cities. Actually, most of the tea houses are tea stands since they are not housed in a building. Usually, they consist of a mobile trolley with a stove and other equipment for making tea, such as a kettle, a cup, sugar, and condensed milk. These mobile tea houses also include some small chairs and tables. Tea shops, on the other hand, are difficult to find – even in the famous Bogyoke Market. In the center of Yongon, I only found one tea shop. You can find tea in supermarkets, but the tea in supermarkets comes mostly from China.
The popular open tea houses in Myanmar are undoubtedly related to its warm weather. It is much more comfortable drinking tea outside under a tree or in the shade of a building. You also can find many tea trolleys on the road in India; however, customers there usually just buy a cup of tea, drink it quickly, and leave. The difference in Myanmar’s open tea houses is that you can sit and drink for as long as you like. People who come to have a cup of tea are usually not there to relieve their thirst or enjoy the tea, but rather for social interaction – very similar to a Chinese tea house.
The tea you can buy at a Myanmar tea house is very similar to Indian chai. In fact, the most popular tea at Myanmar tea houses is masala tea, which is mostly made of CTC black tea, sugar, and condensed milk. Some tea makers use the teh tarik technique to “pull” the tea, producing a distinctive layer of froth. As I mentioned in my previous post on tea in Myanmar, green tea is usually provided free of charge in Myanmar’s tea houses.
The people of Myanmar are usually very nice. Once I ordered a cup of masala tea at an open tea house and when I prepared to pay, I was told by the owner that somebody had already paid for me. I asked who and why and was told it was because I was a foreigner! Although a cup of masala tea is only costs 250 kyat (about 25 cents), this experience sweetened my travels. In fact, such experiences happened everywhere, especially when I was visiting a village in Bargo; there, my friend and I were twice invited by the local villagers into their homes to have a cup of tea.
Coffee is becoming more and more popular in Myanmar. Actually, coffee and masala tea are both popular in Myanmar’s tea houses. However, coffee, which is just instant coffee, is increasingly offered to guests. Even in a temple, I was once treated by a monk to coffee. The monk made me a cup of instant coffee, while he enjoyed a cup of green tea, coffee considered more precious. I remember that 20 years ago, when China just opened its doors to the world, we regarded coffee as new and precious and therefore chose to treat guests to coffee as well.
In short, when it comes to Myanmar’s tea houses, there are similarities with China’s tea culture in that the tea house is a social gathering place as well as similarities with India’s tea culture in the popularity of masala tea. However, Myanmar is forging its own tea culture that is grounded in the generosity of the people of Myanmar.