The best coffee in Myanmar was a tea!

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I am a real coffee drinker and coffee lover. I need my daily caffeine or I get cranky or get a headache. So, was I happy reading in the Lonely Planet before leaving on on our trip to Thailand and Myanmar that Myanmar had a real coffee and tea culture with coffee and tea shops. Hurray, especially since I know that besides the wonderful Caffee Yen (ice coffee), Thailand is deprived of real good espressos or cappuccinos. I am back home now from our wonderful holiday.

But the coffee culture in Myanmar? Really I do not know where LP gets this statement from. When Birmese ask me if I want a Burmese coffee, I get an instant Nescafé with creamer and sugar! Tea culture? We went for high tea in the Strand, and got a mainstream Lipton infusion ( but served in silver teapots….) Really; their coffee and tea was appalling in most places. In hotels they put coffee pots on a heater and leave it there for hours, bwugh, I even got an ice cold coffee once with my breakfast, that really did it. This was not repeated though, after we complained and asked for a warm coffee.

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But there is hope for Myanmar, they just have to realize what they are really good at. On the last evening in Yangon, we decided to take our dinner in Shan Yoe Yar restaurant, recommended to us by Ko Pyay, manager of the Nawaday Tharlar art gallery. The restaurant is housed in an beautiful old traditional teak wooden house. We were the first diners, being early (and hungry because we had skipped lunch that day) at 5 PM. The interior is al wood and very stylish, plants al around the glass walls in the front and side. You can look into the kitchen from the inside, and from the outside, where you can see that the kitchen spans two floors. All staff have ear gear that connects them with the staff in the kitchen. The welcome was warm, and the menu looked ‘over’ delicious especially with our gnawing stomachs. We ordered four dishes and an extra vegetable dish to share with the four of us, and the deep fried sea bass in tamarind sauce was to die for. We further chose Shan style dried pork, sweet and sour chicken, deep fried cuttlefish, and leeks. As dessert we had a fruit platter.

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Then the question: tea or coffee?. I was in the restroom so Neil ordered Shan tea for the three of us. The waitress came back to ask if we wanted Shan tea ( which is just infused tea) or Shan Yoe Yar tea: a prepared tea with sugar. Since I usually drink sugar in my tea I asked for the second choice, the others stayed with the Shan tea (no sugar allowed….) When my tea arrived I was pleased and curious. It was the best tea I had in Myanmar, and the best coffee for that matter. Because although being a tea, it really almost tasted like a coffee. (I think if you taste it blindly you will call it coffee) It is prepared with milk and sugar and is really good! So the best coffee I had in Myanmar was actually a tea!

So there is hope for the coffee and tea culture in Myanmar, they just have to make a hype out of their delicious Shan Yoe Yar tea, really…. By the way I also do not know what LP means with the many coffee and tea shops in Yangon, I did not see them…
PS: I repeat it again: do not go for the high tea in the Strand: if you wish to see the hotel, just stroll through the lobby and the shops and gallery, and you will have seen all there is to see. Then spend your dollars in a restaurant like Shan Yoe Yar, or just have coffee and cakes in one of the more modern bakeries around town, a far better experience, and your money better spent!!

I have been searching around and actually found a recipe to make the Shan Yoe Yar tea, also known as ” lapae yea “-” lah phet yay”. You need black, preferably black Burmese tea. It is possible to order Soe Win tea online from London via mumhouse.com (I think I will try that!) As a replacement you can use black malty Assam tea, Twinings has this kind in their range of teas.

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The tea is made with sweetened condensed milk and whole or evaporated milk (non-sweetened condensed milk, what we know as coffee milk).

First prepare the tea: take a tablespoon of tea per cup, plus a pinch of oolong tea, and a small amount of salt in cold water; Bring it to a boil, boil only briefly, and then keep it on very low heat just to keep it warm, and let is steep at least 20 min. Pouring out the tea it should look as dark as good coffee 🙂

Put about 20% warmed whole milk or evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk to taste, put this first in the cup and pour the hot tea over it, and stir. You can leave a bit of condensed milk undissolved at the bottom as a kind of sweet dessert…

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