With a history spanning over 20,000 years, it wasn’t until 1050 when various city states in modern-day Myanmar first unified and became the Pagan Empire. This empire collapsed in 1287, starting a struggle that lasted for hundreds of years and saw would-be nations rising to power and quickly crumbling. This period also marked the first conflict with European colonizers, first represented by the Portugese. At the time Myanmar was part of the Toungoo Empire, which fought and defeated the Portugese in the 1600s, but even that empire eventually collapsed in 1752.
Invasion efforts by European colonizers would continue and in the late 1800s the British arrived, represented by one of the world’s most violent instruments of oppression: the British East India Company. Over 60 years this private corporation was given free reign by the British government to invade, raid, and use force to drive treaty signings that would eventually see Myanmar join the British Empire. Once fully subjugated, the peoples of Myanmar lived under British rule first by the East India Company and then directly by the UK government.
During World War II Myanmar was a battleground between British and Japanese forces, and finally fell to the British in 1942. With the end of the war came final acceptance by the UK of the powerful independence movement, and in 1947 the newly-free nation became Burma.
After independence, the country suffered under a military dictatorship between 1962 and 2011, during which in 1989 the name of the country was changed to Myanmar. The first elections were held in 1990 but the military junta refused to cede power; it wasn’t until 2015 that the first free elections occurred and the first non-military president assumed power.
In 2016, aided by the complacency of the democratically-elected government, Myanmar began a large-scale persecution of the Rohingya people which has led to their genocide. The global community has spoken out against the actions of the government of Myanmar, but for now the future remains uncertain and the tragedy continues.
History of Coffee in Myanmar
Coffee was first introduced by British colonizers when they invaded Myanmar, but it went largely uncultivated. Catholic missionaries also brought coffee to the Shan state in the 1930s, where the plant has its largest foothold.
Beginning in the 80s, through partnerships with the UN, the industry began to grow. Much of the modern coffee-growing area once grew poppies for use in opium production, becoming one of the world’s largest sources for the plant. International aid programs have focused on helping producers transition away from poppies to other crops such as coffee.
Over time more emphasis has been placed on specialty coffee, and aid programs have started to open up opportunities for this coffee to be exported to places like the UK, not as an untraceable commercial coffee but as something celebrated for what it is.
It is important to note that coffee producers in Myanmar are based largely in remote areas with little connection to the government under which they live, and unlike in other nations do not hold strong political power.
Kiss the Hippo & Myanmar
2020 was the first year we have been able to showcase a lot from Myanmar. As one of the world’s smallest producing nations, we were drawn to helping support the transition of Myanmarese producers towards high-quality coffee. The first lot we have released is a catuai carbonic red honey, a testament to the experimentation and creativity of coffee from Myanmar.
Kiss the Hippo Team