INTERVIEWING SAI WAN MAING, AWARD WINNING MYANMAR COFFEE PRODUCER

 

This week Joel's had the chance to asked a few questions of Sai Wan Maing, the producer of our newest Myanmar microlot, Green Land Estate. Sai Wan Maing is a talented and dedicated coffee grower that won Myanmar's first ever coffee cupping competition.

 

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Joel: Can you give us a brief history of Green Land?

Sai Wan: Green Land was established in 1999, beginning with 30 acres the first year and growing every year since. Now we have a 430 acre coffee plantation.. Green Land received the Outstanding Coffee Grower award from the Ministry of Agriculture in 2003.

 

Joel: Myanmar is a new origin. What are some unique aspects of the climate that make it suitable for quality coffee production?

Sai Wan: Almost all of the Myanmar coffee grower grow coffee under shade trees, most of the farms are situated at high altitude with suitable climate to produce quality coffee

 

Joel: How has the transition towards democracy opened the door for specialty coffee?.  What were things like before and how are they changing?

Sai Wan:  There were very few buyers four or five years ago, mostly from China and Thailand. Together with the support of USAID and Winrock International training, education and marketing Myanmar is a now a new  specialty coffee origin in Asia and has a market in US, Switzerland, France, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

 

Joel: Green Land is quickly becoming known as an example of the potential for Myanmar. What does Green Land do that sets it off from the rest?

Sai Wan: We grow coffee with shade trees at high altitude(1160 meters above sea level), apply both chemical and organic fertilizer like cow manure, mulch with coffee pulp and husk, irrigate during the drought, harvest only the ripe coffee fruit, pulp within 24 hours using on site wet milling, do fermentation, control temperature and ph during fermentation process, then washed and sundry. We also produce by both washed and dry natural process.

 

Joel:  What are the challenges ahead for both Green Land and the emerging specialty coffee industry in Myanmar?

Sai Wan: Low yield is a challenges for Green Land and other small estate farms in Myanmar. Most of small farms in Myanmar produce vary low yield and tends to make difficulties for them to cover the cost of production. Sustainable specialty market is require for Myanmar Coffee Industry and it will be a huge challenges when China, neighboring country is producing Specialty coffee.  

Little City Field Report: Joel in Myanmar

                    Statue at Shwedagon Pagoda

                    Statue at Shwedagon Pagoda

I am really happy that Little City was able to be one of the first roasters in the US to offer coffee from Myanmar, both because of the quality of the coffee itself and because of the project behind the coffee, in which we were fortunate enough to have played a small part.

The larger project stems from the fact that, after decades of isolation, the United States is supporting Myanmar to help them grow and stabilize as they emerge from this isolation. This support is evidenced by, among other things, several trips by President Obama to Myanmar and a large capital investment by the US. While I don't know all the details, a major economic contribution to Myanmar was proposed by USAID with Winrock International administering it in several crop areas. The Coffee Quality Institute was brought in to provide expertise in aggregating value to the coffees at source in a sustainable way. My areas of focus in coffee are post-harvest production and sensory analysis, and so my contribution to the project was in that role.

I went over this past January to work with the Mandalay Coffee Group to analyze and implement some quality control measures at their wet mill. I am headed back here in a few weeks to work with Winrock International to analyze the first harvest and see how we can do even better the next harvest.

Below is some information about the project in Myanmar, and our participation in it.

What is specialty coffee?

Mandalay Coffee Group team members cupping coffee to taste first                                               hand the effect of post-harvest practices. 

Mandalay Coffee Group team members cupping coffee to taste first                                               hand the effect of post-harvest practices. 

Although to go in depth would be beyond the purview of this post, the obvious starting point is to define specialty coffee. If Myanmar was not “doing specialty coffee” and they now are, what changed? There are myriad definitions of specialty coffee out there. Generally defined, it is quality coffee that was likely produced with some degree of sustainability and with some amount of traceability back to source. The technical definition, which I prefer because it actually moves from the nebulous towards the concrete, is a coffee without any primary defects (a bean that has been severely damaged by insects is an example of a primary defect), has no more than three secondary defects (an immature bean that did not fully develop is a secondary defect), and scores 80 or higher using the SCAA sensory analysis methodology. 

When someone or an entity (a grower, a coop, a country, a roaster) moves into “specialty,” it largely means that they are taking steps toward quality as well as the sustainable production that the market demands. This means greater care and usually higher costs of production. It also potentially means larger premiums paid because of the quality and sustainability, however the parties may choose to define and/or quantify them. 

How do you start doing specialty coffee?

We Designed a Sampling Procedure to Quantify the Quality of the Coffee                                                     Fruit Arriving at the Mill

We Designed a Sampling Procedure to Quantify the Quality of the Coffee                                                     Fruit Arriving at the Mill

There is no playbook, per se, on how to produce quality coffee. There are best practices, but coffee production is so dependent on local factors, ranging from the soil to the climate to labor laws, that it’s not as simple as a formula or following a 10-step process. (While sustainability can be codified to a larger degree, and there are many certifications out there that do this, it is still quite complex and dependent on local conditions.)

Below are a few aspects of production that should be addressed to produce high quality coffee. This is by no means an inclusive lost; rather it is given here to give you an idea of what is happening in Myanmar as they emerge from decades of isolation onto the specialty coffee scene. USAID, Winrock, The CQI, Lilypad, and many other organizations are hard at work making this a reality.

                                                          Ripe Coffee on Tree    

                                                          Ripe Coffee on Tree

 

 

                                     Coffee Harvester at Green Land Estate    

                                     Coffee Harvester at Green Land Estate

 

 

                                                     Coffee Drying on Patio    

                                                     Coffee Drying on Patio

 

 

                                             Coffee Storage in Myanmar    

                                             Coffee Storage in Myanmar

 

 

                                        Ko Pheelay, a Coffee Producer in Myanmar

                                        Ko Pheelay, a Coffee Producer in Myanmar

  • Field management: There is a thought that coffee reaches its maximum quality peak while on the tree. All things that follow do not improve the quality, but rather maintain it. While this might not be the case, it is obviously the case that the better the quality of the bean at harvest, the better the likelihood of a quality final product. In terms of quality coffee, some important points are to ensure that the coffee plant is supplied its nutritional demands (through soil and foliage analysis), analyze cultivar choice (some cultivars taste better than others), maximize maturation, and ensure the health of the plant.                                                                                                    
  • Careful harvesting: A good mantra to follow in the harvest and post-harvest is to maximize uniformity and minimize risk. To improve coffee some key components include harvesting only ripe fruit, separating out lots of different qualities, and getting the coffee to the wet mill (or onto the drying beds in the case of naturals) as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of the harvest.
  • Growers should also separate out lots as much as possible—by farm lot, cultivar, day of harvest, etc. This not only increases uniformity, but it allows the grower to taste and potentially determine unique coffees versus a general farm blend.

  • Post-harvest care: If coffee dries to quickly, the cell walls will rupture and the coffee will quickly lose its quality. If it dries too slowly or non-uniformly, it can suffer mold or other maladies. When moving to specialty coffee, growers must ensure that the coffee is properly milled (pulped) and dried, with consistent rotation throughout the drying process.
  • Storage: Coffee is a seed and interacts with the environment around it. If conditions are too humid, it will take on moisture, degrading its quality. If conditions are too arid, it will dry out, also losing quality (like those wrinkled almonds you left out for a few days). If the interaction is great (heat, for example, can increase this interaction) the coffee seed, or bean, increases its respiration, and this work means it is using up the compounds that we desire—the ones that potentially make it a sweet and complex cup.

  • Relationships: If a specialty coffee is grown and processed in the forest and no one drinks it, is it a specialty coffee? There needs to be an outlet for this work: a roaster to buy the coffee and ensure the quality as well as relay the story of the coffee to the consumer.

  • Sustainability: In general, those who appreciate higher quality coffee also demand assurances that it was produce in an environmentally and socially responsible way. That means paying workers at or above legally mandated wages, ensuring their rights are respected, and taking measures to ensure the environment is not significantly impacted by the production. Where these lines are drawn is an important but complex topic. 

 

What did we do? 

Some of the things we contributed were:

           Joel Meeting with Mandalay Coffee Group Board Members

           Joel Meeting with Mandalay Coffee Group Board Members

                                                                      Coffee Pulper

                                                                      Coffee Pulper

                                                   Patio Worker Rotating Coffee

                                                   Patio Worker Rotating Coffee

  • Wastewater treatment: we helped to design an overland flow wastewater treatment system for the coffee processing water.

  • Sampling procedures for incoming fruit: To make great coffee, you need to start with great coffee fruit. That means ripe fruit that was harvested from the tree, not the ground, at peak maturation, and taken to the wet mill shorty after harvesting. We implemented some procedures to analyze the quality of the fruit, so that growers and pickers could be rewarded for doing a great job.

  • Monitoring moisture content: Coffee should be stored at between 11 and 12 percent moisture content. We worked with the mill to monitor moisture content.

  • Homogenous drying: We worked with patio workers to ensure they were rotating the coffee on a regular basis.

  • Installation of raised beds: Raised beds can lead to more uniform drying.

  • Natural coffees: The climate around Pyin Oo Lwin is perfect for dry process coffees; it is cool and seldom rains during the harvest. We worked with the mill to start doing naturals for high quality coffee, resulting in some truly exotic products.  

  • Cupping training: It's one thing for those involved in the process to hear what they should be doing, it's another for them to taste what happens if they don't do it. We conducted cuppings with mill staff, showing them what great coffee was and what defective coffee tastes like.

  • Traceability: we set up a documentation system to trace the lots of coffee.

My work, while hopefully making a an impact, has been a drop of water in the ocean of hard work that the people of Myanmar are doing to produce these coffees, as well as the full-time on-site staff—people like Winrock Chief of Party Steve Hall, Anne Claire Degail, coffee consultant Marcelo Pereira, and the CQI staff and other consultants that have done incredible work. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to make these coffees happen, and perhaps the best way to thank them is to sit back and enjoy the culmination of their efforts—an incredible cup of coffee.

Shop our Myanmar coffee's here.

Coffee Cocktails and Cuisine: Emily's Myanmar Mixed Drink

          Sangria Inspired Coffee Mixed Drink

          Sangria Inspired Coffee Mixed Drink

Ingredients:

  • Fresh fruit (Suggested: citrus, cherries, apples)
  • Ice cube tray
  • Coffee sock brewer
  • Muddler
  • Sugar
  • Measuring cup
  • Brandy
  • 34 tablespoons of coffee / 2 dry cups/ 150 grams of coffee
  • ½ teaspoon zest of each of the citrus
  • 48 ounces of water.
                        Weigh out the Coffee

                        Weigh out the Coffee

Although summer is drawing to a close in Texas, we are still experiencing warm days and just beginning to enjoy cool nights. My love of sangria in the summertime  and through the fall runs deep. My family makes several versions, all based on the traditional spanish recipes, every summer and through autumn. I was inspired by those sangria sipping, long, warm afternoons when dreaming of a unique way to enjoy Little City’s latest microlot offering. Sangria, by definition, is aromatized wine. What if I were to aromatize coffee?

The Myanmar Tha Pyay Gone microlot is a naturally processed coffee which has a lot of inherent sweetness, with notes of red grape, cocoa and tropical fruits. The first time that I tried it, I was reminded of a Carmenere wine that I had the last time I was in Spain.

               Cold Brew with the Coffee Sock

               Cold Brew with the Coffee Sock

I chose to cold brew the Myanmar coffee to get the most concentrated flavor and sweetness out of the coffee. I always use the CoffeeSock cold brew system at home. I think it makes the best cold brew and is very very easy to use. Simply fill the “sock” with 150 grams ( 2 dry cups) of coarsely ground coffee. To aromatize the coffee, I chose the zest of citrus fruits. I placed in the “sock”, ½ teaspoon of zest of each of the following: texas orange, cara cara orange, key lime, and lemon. The opening of the “sock” fits nicely around the opening of a 64 ounce mason jar. With the “sock” still open, slowly pour 6 cups of freshly drawn filtered water through the grounds and zest. Once the water is in your mason jar, tie up the “sock”, and refrigerate for 18 hours.

                                Decorative Ice

                                Decorative Ice

Once your cold brew is finished brewing, you can move into presentation. My favorite part of Sangria is the fruit as it lends to color and texture of the beverage. I sliced up various pieces of citrus and placed the pieces in large ice molds. Any decorative ice mold will work for this. Once your fruit is placed in the molds, you should pour a mixture of diluted infused cold brew over it. I used a 1:1 ratio of cold brew to filtered water. Place decorative ice in the freezer and go play outside for a while.

                               Craft the Drink

                               Craft the Drink

Assembling the beverage is simple and quick. In a sniffter or other 8 ounce size glass, pour 1 ½ ounces of Brandy. I used a Spanish Brandy as it has a clean crisp flavor and is not as sweet as other Brandy. Add ¾ ounce of an orange flavor liqueur. You can use Grand Marnier if Paula’s Texas Orange is not available in your area. I then added 1 ounce of store bought lemonade ( simply lemonade brand is good for this) and 1 ½ ounce of the Myanmar cold brew concentrate. Add a decorative ice cube and garnish to your heart’s content.

 

 

This can be made without alcohol very easily.

Alcohol Free Version:

  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 3 ounce of cold brew
  • 1 decorative ice cube
  • Garnish with cherries, lime wheel and orange zest.

Sit back and enjoy the waning summer and remember to enjoy alcoholic beverages responsibly.

 


 

Myanmar or Burma?

As we began to market the launch of our newest microlot coffee we quickly realized that the origin of this coffee was so unfamiliar, many people didn’t exactly know where it was. The team at Little City has become increasingly acquainted with Myanmar as our own Joel Shuler traveled to the country to aid in establishing a specialty coffee market.  However, we understand that most coffee drinkers know little about the country. Or even its name. This is not surprising as it is commonly referred to by two different names; Myanmar and Burma.

The country had been referred to officially as the Union of Burma since its independence from the UK in 1948. In 1989 the ruling military junta officially changed the name to Myanmar to both remove relics of colonialism and boost patriotic accolades. The name Myanmar refers to everyone in the country, not just the ethnic Burmese. What to call the country became point of politics as the democratic opposition and many democratic supporting countries chose to continue refer to the country as Burma. The tension surrounding the name has appeared to wane as the country becomes increasingly democratic and open. The unofficial representative of democratic reform in the country, Aung San Suu Kyi, who once choose to use the name Burma, no longer cares what foreigners refer to her country as. To emphasize this, she has said that she will try use the name Myanmar more frequently.

The two names are thought to have come from the same word and are now used interchangeably by those that live in the country. Myanmar is used in formal setting, while Burma is the colloquial term. The relationship between the two names is not unlike The Netherlands and Holland or The United States and America.

We chose to use the name Myanmar for our coffee because that is the name the people that we worked with in Myanmar used to refer to their country. Joel, who spent over a month in the country, met many people who had supported the democratic protest movement of the past that  used the term Myanmar because Burma was the British naming convention for the the largest ethnic group in the country.

Regardless of what you call this fascinating country, get used to seeing it more and more in specialty coffee. With some exceptional coffee in just their first year of international availability and potential for improvement, Myanmar has what it takes to become a specialty coffee powerhouse.

 

Barrel Aged Cold Brew Coffee

In addition to our coffee, we at Little City also enjoy an occasional spirit. With this in mind, I decided to break out an old 5-gallon rye whiskey barrel that I’ve been saving for the right project. I acquired this barrel from the multi-award winning Balcones Distillery in Waco a couple of years ago and have since used it for aging beer - primarily a version of an old Lovejoys barleywine recipe, Old Vixen. Though Vixen was traditionally aged in Jack Daniels barrels, this one from Balcones was a far superior substitute.

 

By adding 5 gallons of our cold brewed coffee to the barrel, I am hoping that it will pick up notes of flavor from the barrel’s history - oak, smoke, vanilla, leather, and spice. These flavors should work nicely with the cold brew’s already present notes of chocolate and red fruit. We’ll keep you updated on its progress and if you have a cocktail recipe that you think this would work well with please send it our way. Cheers!