Beans Connected Co., Ltd.
Bringing Myanmar coffee to the world! Covering production areas under the coup d’état.
In February 2023, we visited Yuwangan, a coffee producing area in Myanmar. I have met with local producer groups and coffee farmers.
Ms. Su Su Aung, who is from the Danu tribe, a minority ethnic group in Myanmar, and was born into a family of three generations of coffee farmers, says, “I want to return the benefits of coffee grown on our land and produced with local labor to the local community.” In 2016, the Amayar Women’s Coffee Group was founded by 50 local women farmers. The coffee roasting business platform “RoCoBeL” developed by Beans Connected Co., Ltd. purchases 3 tons of coffee beans produced by them through fair trade every year and roasts them in Japan. This time, in order to realize “Myanmar coffee homecoming”, I brought the roasted beans and the products processed into drip bags and visited “Amayar Women’s Coffee Group” in the town of Yuwangan, Myanmar. There is a coup d’état going on in Myanmar right now, and I was a little nervous when I visited, but nothing went wrong. I have also interacted with local coffee farmers, middlemen and young coffee producers.
○In recent years, Myanmar coffee has attracted worldwide attention Almost all of the country is in the coffee belt (area between 25 degrees north latitude and 25 degrees south latitude), Myanmar is a tropical and subtropical climate suitable for coffee cultivation, like Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, etc. is located in Coffee cultivation has a long history, and it is said that in 1855, under British rule, an Ikyllian missionary brought seedlings to Myeik and Dawei in southern Myanmar, where cultivation began. After that, cultivation began in Pyin Oo Ling (Mayo), a summer resort found by the British near Mandalay, where the capital was at the time, and Pyin Oo Ling became famous as a coffee producing area representing Myanmar.
In the first place, Myanmar is surrounded by mountains with an altitude of 2,000m on all sides, with large temperature differences during the day, fertile soil, and ample rainfall, making it an extremely suitable land for coffee cultivation. However, among Myanmar people, Myanmar-style milk tea (drink like Indian chai) called Lapaye was more popular than coffee, and domestic consumption was extremely low. In that respect, unlike Vietnam, which produces the second largest amount of coffee in the world, its people love coffee and the habit of drinking coffee on a daily basis did not emerge. For that reason, there was no technical progress, and if I say without fear of misunderstanding, it was not delicious. Even though it has the potential to grow better quality coffee than Vietnam, it never really blossomed. Also, in terms of production volume, it is only 1/300 of Brazil, 1/200 of Vietnam, and 1/76 of Indonesia.
Lapaye, a sweet Burmese milk tea with plenty of condensed milk, is enjoyed with light meals such as samosa.
Burmese-style cafes called Lapaye Sain are bustling as a place for citizens to socialize.
○ Yuwangan coffee is praised as “Oriental Panama” in the United States In Yuwangan in Southern Shan State, which is not far from Pyin Oo Ling, farmers from the Danu ethnic minority have long cultivated tobacco leaves, tea, and citrus fruits, while also cultivating small amounts of coffee in their gardens. Of course, technically it was never high, and the coffee was not highly rated. However, Yuwangan is located in the Shan Plateau, which is blessed with fertile and high-quality soil as a major production area for grains and fruits that represent Myanmar. It was the perfect location and just the right conditions to become one of the world’s leading producers of quality coffee.
With the support of an American NGO that focused on its high potential, Yuwangan coffee has shown remarkable development in the 2010s after Myanmar’s transition to civilian rule. In particular, the Specialty Coffee Expo sponsored by SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) held in 2016 was highly evaluated, and Yuwangan’s coffee quickly gained worldwide attention. I was. And now, in the United States, it has come to be called “Oriental Panama” (Esmeralda farm’s Geisha coffee is said to be the best in the world) as one of the world’s leading coffee production areas.
Along with shade trees such as papaya, bananas, avocados, and macadamia nuts that block direct sunlight, coffee trees are grown using natural farming methods in the gardens of farmers. About 90% of farmers in Yuwangan grow coffee, and more than 80% of women work in the coffee industry.
○ Established a coffee producer group with 50 female coffee farmers The Amayar Women’s Coffee Group (Amayar Coffee) that we visited this time is also an up-and-coming producer group that has grown rapidly with the support of an American NGO. Su Su Aung, who was born into a family of three generations of coffee farmers and grew up helping grow coffee, said, “We will continue to develop the coffee industry in Yuwangan and return profits directly to local farmers. In 2016, about 50 women from local farmers established Amaya Coffee with the desire to become independent and increase the number of places where they can be active. Then, with the technical assistance of the United States, he learned the technology to produce high-quality coffee beans, won an international NGO competition in 2018, won financial support, and opened his own refinery. Based on the CQI (Coffee Quality Institute) coffee quality guidance, we have made efforts to produce specialty coffee and improve its quality. As a result, the cupping score of the international rating agency SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) earned a score of 80 points or more, which is certified as specialty coffee. Today, it is highly acclaimed not only in the United States, but also worldwide.
Buyers from all over the world, including the United States, Germany, and France, visit Amaya Coffee to purchase coffee. Beans Connected (Rocobell) has also purchased 3 tons of fair trade beans every year through the relatives of Su Su Aung, who lives in Hiroshima. And this time, I visited Yuwangan for the first time. I met Su Su Aung.
Amaya Coffee’s top brand coffee beans. At RoCoBeL, I purchased the Fully Washed on the far left.
○ Now! To Yuwangan
From Yangon, the largest city, to Yuwangan, fly to Heiho, and then drive for about 1 hour and 30 minutes by car on the relatively well-maintained highway that connects Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, and Mandalay, the ancient capital. On this visit, we stayed for 3 nights at Inle Lake, a tourist destination representing Myanmar, and visited the surrounding Kakku ruins and wineries before heading to Yuwangan.
Kakku ruins with countless pagodas
A coffee car parked on a pass near Kalaw and a tree on the road leading to Yuwangan
Yuwangan is an administrative district (town) with a population of about 82,500 consisting of 132 villages. Most of the inhabitants are Danu, an ethnic minority. The altitude is about 1,300m, so it feels hot in the direct sunlight during the day, but it was a little chilly in the mornings and evenings. Currently, rolling blackouts continue, and electricity only comes for a few hours a day. At night, the city was enveloped in darkness and the stars could be seen beautifully. Go to bed early at night and wake up with the sunrise to be active. It was a two-night stay, but I was able to experience a simple and primitive life. Currently, foreigners are not allowed to stay in Yuwangan, but this time I got special permission and stayed at one of the three hotels in town.
I met many cows in the city.
Yuwangan people. It’s a little chilly in the morning.
○Provide women with opportunities to work and grow
When I arrived at Amaya Coffee, Su Su Aung greeted me with a smile. This year, the harvest was earlier than usual, and the peak season for coffee refining and sun-drying ended at the end of last year. [Image 10
At Amaya Coffee office with Ms. Su Su Aung
A small amount of coffee cherries that had been harvested that morning had arrived at the coffee cherry receiving office.
If you sort the cherries in order of maturity, it will look like this. The left end is too ripe and the right end is immature and both are NG. The second group from the left is cherry, which is a candidate for specialty coffee.
The annual production of Amaya coffee is about 50 tons. During the peak season, the factory’s African bed (a table on which cherries are arranged for drying in the sun) is said to be full, but unfortunately it was empty on this day. Still, in the remaining area, I was able to observe the steady work of drying in the sun. It goes without saying that this process is important for making good coffee. Stir every few hours to ensure even drying, wrap in a sheet in the evening, and unfold again in the morning. I repeat this tremendous work every day. When the African bed is full, it is expected to be a difficult task. [Image 13
Sun-drying on an African bed. Beans made using the natural method in the front and beans made using the honey method in the back. The Fully Washed manufacturing method has ended.
A place where cherries are spread.
The cherries are individually controlled, with recipes and dates. [Image 16
A rattling African bed in the factory. It fills up during peak season. Also on the other side.
The sun-dried cherries are left to mature in a warehouse, and then stored until shipment.
The most impressive part of this visit was the “Hand-Sorting Station,” a workshop where green beans are sorted by size and shape before shipment. Here, the young women were quietly picking while enjoying chatting. This process is very important in making specialty coffee. Amaya Coffee’s green beans are of uniform size, beautiful in color, and have no defective beans at all. They are the ones who create this quality. It is said that the amount that one person separates in one day is about 20 kg. I don’t think people who have never done this will understand, but it is extremely productive. And their daily wage is 6000ks (kyats). When converted to yen, it is about 270 yen. Still, given the prices in Myanmar, this is a valuable cost of living. The woman next to Su Su Aung is Maw Maw Lwin. She joined Amaya Coffee at the age of 16, and this year is her 7th year. Currently the leader of the station. Su Su Aung’s policy is not only to provide working opportunities for farm women, but also to develop human resources. I’m sure she will one day become a coffee producer like Su Su Aung. [Image 18
Full view of the Hand-Sorting Station
Station leader Maw Maw Lwin
(Continued in the second half, released at a later date)
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