Tea is a well-known raw material for beverages around the world, and Myanmar is one of the South East Asian countries that cultivate tea. However, very little is known about Myanmar’s tea history. According to Chinese historical records, tea was first commercially produced around 2500 BC. The origin of tea is believed to be the mountainous regions of Yunnan province, which borders Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Assam in eastern India. Although Myanmar is associated with the origin of tea, no records have been found in world tea history, with Japan having the second-oldest tea history after China.
To trace the history of tea in Myanmar, an ancient famous poet named U Ponn Nya composed a tea-themed poem which mentioned that Danu Palong people cultivated tea plants and presented them to King Duttabaung, who ascended the throne in AD739 during the Thayaekittaya Era. Another source, the history of Southern Shan state, records that King Alongsithu traveled around the country, gave tea seeds to Palong people, and built a pagoda named Taungmal in AD1083. The history of Myanmar kings mentions three records of King Alongsithu, but his ascension to the throne is dated differently. It is estimated that tea cultivation might have started in Myanmar in the 11th century.
If tea was a royal drink in Myanmar since the 11th century, it can be inferred that tea cultivation in Myanmar began earlier than in Japan. The name of tea, “Laphet,” was widely used in Myanmar’s literature in AD1706, and according to U Ponn Nya, tea had been a royal drink from the times of King Duttabaung and King Alongsithu between the Bagan and Innwa Dynasties. By the 18th century, tea had gradually developed into a commercially produced item.
From the age of the tea plant, it is possible to estimate when tea originated in Myanmar. A thousand-year-old tea tree was conserved in Wa Autonomous Region, indicating that the oldest tea plant in the “Wa Region” dates back to the 10th century.
Furthermore, the name of tea in Myanmar language, “Laphet,” is unique compared to other countries. It is not adopted from an imported country like Japan, which adopted the name of tea from Chinese (Cha) and translated it into its own Japanese name (O-Cha). Therefore, Myanmar has its own unique name for tea, “Laphet,” and a unique tea culture since ancient times.
In conclusion, more research is needed on the botanical, anthropological, cultural, and scientific background of Myanmar tea.