Updated: Jan 16, 2021
Tea makes Myanmar tick, and it’s been that way for a very long time. Since biblical times Myanmar's kings and queens have taken their tea differently . The country has a culture of tea product use that is very much its own, that has been shaped and reshaped by its history. From a stopover on an ancient trading route, through numerous kingdoms, up to colonial rule, and into the present day. Lahpet was also a pre-colonial symbolic peace offering between warring kingdoms in ancient Myanmar. Myanmar fermented tea leaf (Laphet) is a signature and national ancient food dish that is eaten by all people in the country, regardless of race and/or religion, at get-togethers in family homes, in monasteries, and in traditional celebrations. It is an popular essential dish for traditional ceremonies in Myanmar.
Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica, two popular species of tea, are grown in the northern Shan State around Namhsan in the Palaung sub state of Tawngpeng. Tea is also grown around Mogok in the Mandalay Region and Kengtung in the eastern Shan State. The world's consumption of Camellia sinensis in the form of green tea is approximately 20% and the remaining 80% is consumed as black and oolong tea.
Apart from the drinking form of tea, fermented pickled tea, the so-called laphet, is another form of tea leaf that is habitually eaten in Myanmar. Laphet is of Myanmar origins and not derived from any other cultures. The tea leaf plants are cultivated in the mountain regions of Myanmar, which have the proper climate, sufficient humidity, adequate sunshine, and fertile soil.
Myanmar is one of the few countries where tea is eaten as well as drank. Unique to this region is pickled tea. It is regarded as a national delicacy that plays a significant role in Burmese society. Lahpet is so important to the Burmese culture that when tea leaves are harvested, the best of the crop is set aside for fermenting and eating, while the rest is dried and processed for tea and drinking.
The freshly harvested tea leaves are steamed and then packed into bamboo vats then set in pits, pressed by heavy weights to encourage fermentation, buried in the ground and left to ferment for up to a year. Dug up after the fermentation process the leaves are a moist, dark brown sludge. The fermented tea leaves are covered with water, massaged gently and drained well. these tea leaves are used to make laphet. The fermented tea leaf are then thoroughly mixed with minced garlic and ground chili, salt, fresh lemon juice, and peanut oil. A tasty laphet is the final result.
Burmese Tea leaf Salad (Laphet thoke)
Lahpet (Tea Leaves) is know as the best leaf – there is a popular saying in Myanmar, “Mango is the best of all fruits, Pork is the best of all meats, Lahpet is the best of all leaves”. It is the most popular choice for both locals and tourists. Burmese cuisine features six flavors: sour, bitter, salty, astringent, sweet and spicy. And as you may have imagined, the astringent flavor is often represented by tea. The base mixture of Lahpet Thoke consists of soft pickled tea leaves, crispy beans and peas, roasted peanuts, fried garlic and sesame seed, fresh garlic, dried shrimp, sliced tomato, lime and chilly are added. This combination is absolute superb with the burst of different textures and tastes experience in one mouthful. Texture range from soft (tea leaf) to crunchy (crispy beans & peas); flavors sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and savory. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why tea leaf salad — laphet thoke — is so addictive, but it has something to do with its singular combination of textures and savory, salty, mildly sour flavors.
In Myanmar, pickled tea leaf salad is believed to help the digestive system and control bile and mucus. The combination of ingredients in Myanmar salads have also been designed for not just taste, but also health benefits. . The main ingredient of tea leaf salad is fermented tea leaves that has been consumed for thousands of years. Not only does it have the same health benefits as tea — it's also rich in beneficial probiotics. Fermented tea leaves also contains antioxidants, can kill harmful bacteria and may help fight several diseases. It’s also a great help to fight fatigue and sluggishness for students and workers because it’s very high in caffeine.