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.