This week we launched our first-ever coffee from Myanmar (also known as Burma). These beans are super special – they mark Myanmar’s first-ever export of specialty-grade coffee.
After decades of political and economic isolation, Myanmar is starting to democratize and opening up to trade on the global market – and coffee can help. To better understand this unique country’s coffee scene, and the role that coffee can play in democracy, we spoke with our friend Andrew Hetzel, a project consultant at the Coffee Quality Institute and one of our partners in bringing Myanmar coffee to our shelves. Here’s what Andrew had to say:
What is the current state of the Myanmar coffee industry?
Coffee production in the Southeast Asian nation is small, and not new, but it’s just now gaining international recognition for tremendous quality potential. As the result of self-imposed diplomatic isolation for more than 50 years, they’ve got a lot of catching up to do. In the communities we’re working with through the USAID Value Chains for Rural Development program, average cupping scores have gone from mid-upper 70’s to mid-80’s (on a 100 point scale) in one season. One season. That kind of progress is remarkable, and not something I would have thought possible. If continuing at this trajectory, the country has the potential to be on par with any of the best coffee origins that we know worldwide.
Can you tell us more about Myanmar politics and the process of democratization? What role does trade play in that process? How can coffee facilitate further democratization?
The country has taken steps towards democracy and opened its doors to international support, which has led to rapid transformation not only in its coffee sector, but all throughout its economy. Coffee production provides a stable means of earning income and supporting families and the potential to earn much more from differentiated specialty coffee. Economic stability often leads to peace and political stability. Coffee is a peace crop.
This coffee is special – what is the significance of this coffee being Myanmar’s first export of specialty beans?
It is special, very special. As if being delicious isn’t enough, this coffee also represents the emergence of a new origin on to the world market for specialty coffee. Think of it as a brand new color that was just added to the palette that roasters and coffee retailers can use for painting: a combination of flavors that never existed in exactly the same combination before.
It also represents the hope of a nation that was unable to participate in the modern specialty coffee scene until just recently. They’ve waited a long time for this opportunity to produce coffee like you’re tasting today. The feeling of pride and excitement that you get when speaking with Burmese coffee producers is nothing short of electric. It reminds me how many things that we all take for granted living in the United States and to appreciate our every freedom.
What has been the response to this coffee in the US so far?
Phenomenal. We’ve received tremendous support and enthusiasm top specialty coffee companies like La Colombe that are introducing this coffee to America for the first time. These coffees are sweet, and I believe that coffee aficionados and daily coffee drinkers alike are going to love them. Word has traveled quickly in coffee-producing villages about how to achieve better quality and earn more from coffee farming, so expect to have more available in future years. That’s a good thing because the people are going to want it!