Pyin Oo Lwin

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I'm on a 4am flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong as I write this summary to our first trip to Myanmar. I'd like to sleep, but I have a theory that staying up on this flight will help me acclimate with the vast time difference in Calgary. It's a long way home, which started with a two hour drive from Pyin Oo Lwin to the Mandalay International Airport this morning at 10am, to catch a flight to Bangkok. A long layover in Bangkok pushed us to this 4am flight. But a quick turn around in Hong Kong will have us in Vancouver around 24 hours from now, and then Calgary.

Our time in Pyin Oo Lwin was very enjoyable. It's a charming town of 100,000 just East of Mandalay. There were many more tourists than the other areas we visited, tons of amazing food options and a melting pot of cultures living in harmony. We were commenting on the food during our drive to the airport this morning and we truly didn't have a bad meal during our week in Myanmar. If you need a reason to go, go for the food and get your #foodie fix. If you need other reasons, the people are friendly and hospitable. The number of pagodas is mind boggling and their beauty is stunning. And the history is long, rich and fascinating. There's also a gorgeous botanical garden in Pyin Oo Lwin, which we spent an evening strolling around. There were some stunning birds, a vast array of gardens and a fascinating butterfly museum. A highly recommended place to travel! This however is not a travel blog, so let's chat about the coffee :)

The state of coffee in Pyin Oo Lwin is much different to what we saw in Pinlaung and Ywangan. We were here to visit the Mandalay Coffee Group - they're based in Pyin Oo Lwin, not Mandalay. Going forward, we'll abbreviate them as MCG, and better understand their role in the specialty coffee industry that's just blossoming in Myanmar. The goal, aside from learning about the country's coffee, was to of course, make some purchases that we can show off for you in a few months back home. Spoiler alert: we made a list, we're checking it twice and we're making sure everything works out with the volume and the price.

In Pyin Oo Lwin, there are coffee estates that are anywhere from 30 - 500 acres. Each of these estates will individually outproduce the villages in Ywangan and the ones surrounding Behind the Leaf, in Pinlaung, to give some perspective on scale. These estates banded together to create MCG, with the idea of centralizing and controlling the wet and dry milling stages of their coffees. So now, the owners of the estates play a role in the function of MCG and some (not all) utilize the facility for their washed, honey and natural coffees. Think of it as a collective mill used to control the quality of processing, as well as yo act as a platform to host coffee buyers.

For us, this was really great. It gave us a central point to evaluate and taste the coffees of Pyin Oo Lwin and to see, firsthand, the different lots and varietals being processed at MCG. It was a very clean and organized operation. Rather impressive as they're just over two years old and they also receive and purchase cherry from small holders, on the village level, around Pyin Oo Lwin and Shan State.

The quality control is well looked after, with data logging happening at every touching point. For example, when farmers drop off cherries, a scoop will be pulled from each bag and fifty cherries will be counted out. Of those cherries, there will be a count of greens, ripes, overripes and foreign objects. All of which will play into the price paid if the coffee is to be purchased. This will be logged and will flow with the coffee from this point forward. This also acts as a chance to educate the farmers to harvest better cherry - an incredibly critical component of coffee production, and a stage we believe there's room for improvement in Myanmar.
Sorting coffee cherries in Pyin OoLwin, Myanmar
There's one estate's coffee quality we were happy with, as well as the general state of the farm - Green Land Estates. The owner, Sai Wan Maing, spent the three days with us introducing us to the region and to other estates we visited. He's the Director of Sales and Marketing at MCG, is a very knowledgable figure in the Myanmar coffee scene and also processes his coffee at Green Land Estates. He grows SL34 and Costa Rica 8667 as his two main varietals; however, he has a nursery with 70,000 seedlings consisting of Red and Yellow Catuai, Bourbon, Catigua, Sabia and Geisha he received from Panama. He plans to gradually stump his 400 planted acres and rotate this young tissue into production.

The industry has come to find that it's important to rotate your coffee plants and keep young and healthy tissue. Not only for cup quality but also for cherry yield - something that Myanmar doesn't see much of. Sai Wan told us that his trees on average will produce 150 grams of green bean, which is approximately 4x lower than Central America averages and more than 10x lower than Brazil. Staggering numbers. He plans to stump his trees on a yearly rotation as they bulk of them are now 20 years old and producing far less than they once did.

We were really happy with how the Washed SL34 cupped, with a bright, refreshing acidity and some sweet cola and plum to balance out the cup. This coffee won 1st in the 2nd Annual Coffee Cupping Competition of Myanmar and 2nd in the 3rd Annual. We'll see what happens in the 4th Annual! We also really enjoyed the Costa Rica T8667. We think it will make for a really nice addition to our Turning Point blend, with it's chocolate tones and smooth, buttery body. We're excited to be investing in the coffees that Sai Wan is working hard to produce at Green Land Estates, and soon getting to share them with you.
Sai Wan picking coffee cherries in Pyin Oo Lwin
We have a collection of samples we've gathered from Pinlaung, Ywangan and Pyin Oo Lwin which we'll get to cup on Canadian soil later this week. It's always interesting to compare notes from origin to notes from home. Looking forward to being back on Canadian soil, minus the snow, and catching up with the happenings around the cafes.

With that, I think our first trip to Myanmar was a success. I'm personally excited with the coffees we've found and the people producing them. We cant wait to get them in your hands and into your cup soon!

Thanks a million for taking the time to read about our journey. Thanks for caring and supporting what we do and the countless people that touch the coffee you drink on a day to day basis.

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Did you visit the Behind The Leaf coffee folks in 2019? Do you plan to purchase from any of their villages in 2019? Thank You for your support of their water filter project.

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