We Brits are super into tea. We're very particular about it. It's so "British" isn't it? A cuppa with your breakfast, another with your mid-morning garibaldi. Tea and a Twix while you ruminate over a thorny issue.
But what if I told you that tea is even more Burmese to the Burmese than British to the Brits? It runs through their veins. There’s a huge flask of it in every house, topped up throughout the day, always hot and ready to pour.
And where we get excited about milky or strong, one or two sugars, Earl Grey or Yorkshire, we need to get back in our tea-box because over there they have 16 ways of preparing one variety of tea, each with its own name and precise levels of condensed and evaporated milk. The preparation of it is an art, sometimes a dance, the sounds and the smells weaving the fabric of community life. They’re into green tea, black tea, red tea. They roll it, spice it, dice it. They even eat it like salad, fermented and piled with peanuts, herbs and tomatoes.
Unsurprisingly, tea shops are a big deal in Burma. And I don't mean shops where you buy packets of tea. I mean the cafés which form the hub of every neighbourhood. They’re as prolific as the global coffee shop, but far less transitory; there’s no such thing as a takeaway. Everybody sits in, eats in, and is usually still there way beyond their first cup of tea.
In Burma, tea shops are the beating heart of each street. They aren’t fancy. They’re chaotic and bustling. You’ll know when you see one: full grown adults sitting on tiny child-sized stools at tiny tables, deep in conversation or locked in thought. Wide-splayed legs ending in smart velvet flip flops. Crossed legs poking out beneath newspapers. Children gorging on long doughnuts dipped in honey, heading for a sugar high. Gossip sharing, who said what to who, revolutions being plotted. They’re open from dawn till dusk, serve food all day long, and make tea like nowhere else in the world.
In celebration of the Burmese tea shop, Burmese tea, and of the last few things on our warehouse shelves (which we need to shift to make room for the giant shipment currently crossing the Indian Ocean), we’ll send anybody who checks out before the weekend some tea from the wonderful Lost Tea Company. This is usually a perk for our Kindred Club, but because we’re feeling nostalgic for tea shops and in a giving kind of mood, we’re sending them to everyone for a few days.