Burmese specialty coffee hits the world market

Winrock International, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) celebrated the undefined

arrival of Burmese specialty coffee on the world stage with a special cupping of Myanmar Community Coffee at La Colombe Coffee Roasters in Washington, DC.

Chris Miller, lead roaster at La Colombe, opened the event celebrating Burma’s distinctive new Arabica coffee and La Colombe’s purchase of it for their selective clientele. Speakers from Winrock International, USAID, CQI, and Atlas Coffee Importers told the story of Burmese coffee: how in just three years the beans were discovered, improved and introduced to a worldwide coffee-consuming public with help from the USAID, Winrock International and partners as part of the US Government’s Feed the Future initiative.

The remarkable story of Burmese coffee, which coincides with the nation’s transition to democracy, began with Rick Peyser, a volunteer with the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program at USAID who identified the potential of Burmese coffee in 2013 and wrote an influential trade article about it. This led to visits from other volunteers and eventually to the creation of a new USAID project in 2014, which taught new production methods to eager growers — many of them women smallholders — who took quickly to seemingly simple but effective methods such as drying coffee beans on raised tables rather than on the ground.

A collaboration with CQI and local partners led to nationwide coffee cupping events that identified the country’s best specialty coffees and introduced a tea-drinking populace to a good cup of java. Earlier this year, the project and CQI teamed up with coffee businesses to bring global buyers directly into Burma’s remote coffee-growing areas. By mid-June, 36 tonness of prime Arabica beans purchased by Atlas Coffee Importers were steaming their way from Rangoon to North America.

“I’m thrilled to be celebrating the arrival of Myanmar Community Coffee in the US,” said Winrock President and CEO Rodney Ferguson. “The story of Burmese specialty coffee is the story of development’s power to change lives. This is the real thing, a perfect illustration of creating new opportunities for farmers and opening new markets for consumers. I’m so proud of the part that Winrock and its partners have played in it.”

“The pace of improvement in Burma has been unlike any other coffee-producing region where I've worked before,” said Andrew Hetzel of the Coffee Quality Institute. “They’ve been waiting for this opportunity. Burma has the potential and the drive to be on par with the best producer nations in the world.”

“I was invited to the initial cupping of the Myanmar coffees at a Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) session,” said Chris Miller, lead roaster at La Colombe. “What struck me was the enthusiasm for the project and the massive turnout. The sense of community was palpable, as was the passion for encouraging specialty coffee in a developing market. The coffees were delicious with clarity, balance, acidity and fruit flavours that were surprising for a first offering. I immediately knew that this was something that La Colombe could get behind”

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