Coffee was first introduced to Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1885 by British colonists, when missionaries established some small farms up around the city of Pyin Oo Lwin. Commercial production didn’t take off at first, and when the British left the coffee business went into a kind of enforced hibernation. The bulk of the coffee grown here during that time (mostly in Kachin, Mandalay, and Shan State) made its way across borders to China, Laos and Thailand via “unofficial” transactions.
For the next fifty years or so, the coffee trade inched along on a fairly limited scale. Over the last several years, however, several organizations have begun to put more focus on the coffee trade as the Myanmar economy has opened up. Private entities and NGOs have been working with growers to improve agronomy and harvesting practices, and investments in milling and education have brought about the birth of a true specialty coffee business in the country. The climate in Myanmar’s highlands – hot days, cool nights – lends itself well to coffee cultivation. Given the relative predictability of very, very dry and hot weather during harvest season, it is particularly well suited to natural processing, though a significant amount of washed coffee is also produced.
When a 5-year USAID Value Chains for Rural Development project began in late 2014, specialty coffee was virtually nonexistent. Estates existed selling lower-quality washed coffee, but if farmers hadn’t cut down and abandoned coffee altogether, they were strip-picking cherry and selling it to the local market for next to nothing. The country’s only dry mill was a government-run mill in Pyin oo Lwin, and coffee was primarily sold to China and Thailand through unofficial channels.
Fast forward five years. In 2019, specialty coffee roasters have competed in coffee competitions with coffee from Myanmar; Burmese youth are involved and enthusiastic about coffee production; the Myanmar Coffee Association (MCA) hosts an annual specialty-coffee competition in Yangon; and there are at least five dry mills throughout the country. Annual total coffee production is estimated at around 3,500-4,000 metric tons (MT) (although official estimates are closer to 7,500 MT), with 400-500 MT being exported to USA, Canada, UK, France, Singapore, Australia, Russia, South Korea, and elsewhere. Internal consumption is estimated at another 400-500 MT, with the bulk of the remaining coffee being sold to Thailand.
Mandalay and Shan State produce the majority of the coffee in Myanmar, but recently other regions (Chin State and Kachin State) have also started growing coffee.. In Mandalay, most of the farmers own large estates, and produce washed coffee. Shan State producers are almost exclusively smallholders, most of whom own less than a hectare of land.
Several groups are at the forefront of Myanmar’s specialty coffee movement, including the Mandalay Coffee Group (MCG) (a wet and dry mill, export company, and consortium of 50 estates estates in Mandalay), Amayar (a wet and dry mill and exporter in Ywangan owned and operated by Daw Su Su Aung), Shwe Taung Thu (a consortium of 19 villages in Ywangan who produce naturals almost exclusively), and Behind the Leaf (a wet and dry mill and exporter in Pinlaung).
Due to the great number of small communities selling coffees, specific group availability may fluctuate year to year. The “High Res Asset Kit” link above and to the right includes profiles for these various communities. Please also visit our Myanmar encyclopedia pages for additional photos/info of each group. If you’re not finding information there for a specific lot, please let us know!
There are a few articles right here on the Atlas website with some detailed information about Myanmar coffee, including reports of Atlas’ visits. The map below also includes locations of many of the communities producing coffee, along with useful statistics for each group.