Coffee first made an appearance in Myanmar back in the 1880s, as missionaries imported beans and began to promote coffee as an economic alternative for small farmers throughout the country. Despite having a 100 year history of coffee growing, coffee production in Myanmar pales in comparison to some of its neighbors. Vietnam, for example, produces around 1.7 million tons yearly, compared to only 7,500 tons in Myanmar. In the early 2000's, the government developed several programs aimed at boosting coffee production, including offering access to land, technical support, and beneficial financing programs. The result was an increase of interest in coffee farming from small farmers and a boost in production.
In current times, the democratic government headed by Aung San Su Kyi (a former Nobel Peace Prize winner), has allowed Myanmar coffee to find new international markets. In 2016, Whole Foods imported two shipments of Myanmar highland coffee, and the environmental ministry of Myanmar has plans to coffee acreage to 200,000 over the next decade. Furthermore, Myanmar is increasingly being branded as a “specialty coffee” due to the climate and altitude of the growing regions, which should only help the country to establish a solid market for its growing coffee sector.
Most coffee farmers in Myanmar grow small batches of coffee on farms that are routinely between one and three hectares in size. While production is regularly low, the current prices for specialty coffees offer a financial incentive for small farmers to improve both the quality and quantity of their harvests. Most small coffee farmers utilize both washed and natural processing methods, which can negatively affect in the flavor profile. However, as the coffee industry grows more advanced in the country, improved processing infrastructure is becoming accessible even to the most remote farmers.
Despite the opportunities for expanding coffee production, global climate change is also posing a challenge for small farmers in the country. For example, in the Than Taung Gyi region where coffee has been grown for several decades, a decrease in rainfall and an increase in average temperature has made it necessary for some small farmers to adapt new growing strategies.
As mentioned above, around 80% of the coffee grown in Myanmar is Arabica with the remaining 20% being Robusta and other smaller, specialty beans. Recently, the high-grade Arabica beans grown in ideal climates have been graded at 80 points or above by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and Europe. The democratic opening of the country has allowed for the importation of improved technologies for processing techniques, thus allowing for specialty coffees to be marketed to western nations. Unlike several of its Asian neighbors, the country of Myanmar is blessed with an abundance of fertile highlands. The coffee in the country is growing at farms anywhere between 1,100 and 1,600 meters above sea level.
In terms of taste, Myanmar coffee beans are well known and distinguished by their strong, almost oily body and unique earthy qualities. Hints of garlic and tarry flavors can be characterized in the flavor profile, allowing some to compare it to certain types of herbaceous coffee from Brazil. As a specialty coffee, Myanmar roasts are often utilized to develop the body and can be employed as the base for a basic Dark Roast for deep espresso blends.