I often reflect back to the beginning of my tea studies.
Here I was in my kitchen in Rome, Italy, holding a thermometer in one hand and a tea timer in the other hand, nervously anticipating the right mix to get the optimal brew.
Fast forward now to my kitchen in Yangon, Myanmar, were I grab some tea leaves and throw it into hot water to get a wonderful cup of tea.
In a way the past year has liberated me from following the instructions on the box and use scientific instruments to make tea.
However the one area where I never felt liberated is how I always experienced buying tea.
In most shops a nice tea salesperson would carefully open a tin box based on my request and would allow me to have a careful glimpse into the box. In good stores they might let me smell the tea from a safe distance.
They would then carefully with a tea spoon fill up my tea package and hand me the tea. I always felt there was some sort of barrier between me and the tea in order to fully experience it.
Last week I traveled on a WFP mission to Lashio, Shan State in Northern Myanmar. About 75 % of the tea in Myanmar is produced in Shan State and I had learned about tea from this state in Yangon, where it is sold in supermarkets.
Last year I learned that Myanmar exported tea to Germany with the help of the German government, who would then help with modernizing the tea factory in Shan state.
Myanmar tea, and most of all Shan State tea is still hard to get in tea stores worldwide and I hope this will change.
Myanmar tea is of high quality and green teas are delicate and provide an amazing taste. While I was strictly travelling to support our staff in this challenging, war-torn area, on my last day I had a a quick, 30 minute opportunity to connect with tea in this town.
The team took me to 2 different places with tea vendors during lunch as by now they have learned about my passion for tea. These 30 minutes have liberated me and have connected me with this magical plant stronger than ever.
We arrived at the first tea shop which appeared to be closed but after a kind request from my colleagues, the owner opened the door for us to this wonderful place.
What I found inside was a number of tea sacks each filled to the brim with fresh tea leaves from Shan State.
My colleagues took a small batch of tea into their hands and smelled and even chewed the tea leaves. I did the same and I was able to walk around and taste the different fresh tea leaves.
The owner, Htan Xiao Di, warmly welcomed me to her tea shop and explained to me about the different tea types.
Most of her tea is from the Kokang region in Northern Shan state, a hard to reach and security-wise challenging area.
Kokang tea is considered the best tea in Myanmar available to the people.
She showed me the highest grade of green tea and immediately made be a glass cup of tea from these leaves.
It was such a pleasure to communicate with her, as I could see the passion for tea in her eyes from decades of experience in dealing with tea.
I have been drinking the high quality grade of Kokang green tea for the past few days now and it is a very fascinating tea.
First I noticed that it opens up its flavor profile after the 2nd and 3rd steeping.
It has a light hazelnut smell and a light brown liquor color. It has a very smooth mouthfeel with a special tingling sensation which I normally notice in high quality oolong teas.
It has a light feel, and an almost creamy texture with lily and rose notes with sweet honeysuckle undertones. You can still feel the tingling long after the sip.
The second stop was a tea store embedded in a market. Also here we would find large sacks filled with dozens of tea varieties.
By now I was accustomed to the local tea tasting tradition and freely walked around the different types, grabbed a couple of leaves to smell, feel and chew on them.
This store had much more than just processed tea. I could also find tea seeds and leaves. I learned that local village people take the processed green tea and would further roast the leaves over the fire before brewing the tea.
One thing that always has been special for me is the kindness of tea vendors and it was not different in Lashio.
Once the owners heard about my tea passion they would offer me sample packs and tea leaves for free to take with me.
I ended up bringing back much more tea then I intended to get. And even in this poor and challenging environment, people have kind and generous hearts and feel happy to share their tea passion with visitors.
To sum up, this was a special trip that I will always remember. I truly feel that Shan State green tea can become an ambassador for a country that is in transi
tion to a better future for its people.
I will make it my life long mission to promote Myanmar tea for the benefit of the people who produce it with so much passion and kindness.