Marigold tasted coffee from Myanmar for the first time earlier this year.
While Myanmar (also called Burma) began growing coffee during British colonial role as early as 1885, the area’s potential for producing specialty-grade coffee on the international market is largely unknown today. For more than six decades the country remained politically and economically isolated under a military dictatorship and during that time coffee was produced primarily for domestic market. Today, as Myanmar evolves politically as an emerging democracy, it’s also opening to international trade. Coffee production is undergoing a mini-revolution of its own.
Supporting potential in an emerging market.
While excited to try the new coffee, Marigold owner and roaster, Joey Gleason admits she was a bit skeptical about the country’s potential for a quick showing of quality. There’s a lot of hope and good will involved in the promotion of emerging coffee markets as tool for prosperity in developing countries. But the end results, are not always realized in high-quality cups on the table. At least not immediately.
Gleason recalls, “When we were approached by Craig Holt of Atlas Coffee I was intrigued. After all, Atlas is known for curating good coffee, so I figured there might be a lot or two that could be decent. But for a country with virtually no known coffee lineage, I was not expecting to truly enjoy the coffee, let alone be impressed by it’s unique character.”
Myanmar’s success story.
Coffee is a complicated and finicky agricultural product requiring very particular growing conditions in addition to considerable financial investment. Producing great coffee requires skill, devotion and a farming culture of good practices that are typically developed over many generations. Growers also need stable government and infrastructure to support their trade (good roads, ports for shipping, access to mills) as well as predictable, fair-paying purchasers for their coffee to reward their extra investment of labor and resources required to harvest and process exceptional coffee. Given this delicate collection of conditions needed for quality coffee to bloom, Myanmar had much to overcome.
A win-win for farmers & coffee lovers.
Holt reached out to Marigold via Buckman Coffee Factory to share Myanmar’s unusually glowing debut in the specialty market. Atlas is participating in a five-year, public/private collaboration funded by USAID, that also includes Winrock International (a non-profit focusing on social, agricultural and environmental issues) and Quality Coffee Institute (a non-profit working to improve the quality of coffee and the lives of people who produce it). The project trains farmers in best practices — such as picking fruit at peak ripeness and drying coffee beans on raised tables rather than on the ground– to increase production volume and quality, along with the complicated work of connecting growers to the specialty coffee marketplace, internationally.
The coffees we tasted (and ultimately chose for our menu) were lovely: dynamic, big bodied, clean, lightly sweet with subtle herbal notes. But what really moved Marigold was Holt’s sincere and personal presentation on the project’s impact in the region and what it means for farming communities of Myanmar, long-term. According to Winrock President Rodney Ferguson, “Today there are 6,000 small farmers who are better off than they were three years ago because they’ve been connected with the world market. Their children go to school, they have better sanitation, they have better prospects, they have better housing.” Holt was especially impressed with the farmers’ motivation and immediate adoption of better farming practices, “The growers were exceptionally willing to take the information they were given and not just absorb it, but expand and apply it instantly like no place I’ve ever worked with.”
More good things to come.
As the project enters it’s third year, the good results keep coming. More exceptional coffees are promised to be on their way. Earlier this month Holt reported the good news: “This trip showed that Myanmar’s successful step onto the world coffee stage was no fluke…”
Holt continues, “Buoyed by last year’s success, the growers have upped their game yet again, and have produced coffees that deserve a place in every great specialty line up. What is particularly striking is the cleanliness and consistency of the natural coffees produced here. They are unique in their combination of citrus and berry acidity, and in many cases offer the best of what natural process and washed process coffees have to offer.”