Pickled Tea Leaves (or) Laphet

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Taking tea usually without milk and sugar is the custom in the Shan State,as it is through out the Union of Myanmar because everyone,young or elderly,male or female,lay or monk,drinks tea usually in the traditional way but rarely in a modern way mixing it with milk and sugar.

Tea is served at every social or religious ceremony or function. In every household there is at least one member of the family who likes to have a cup of plain tea as soon as she or he gets up from bed. The first duty of the house wife when she gets up is to boil water and prepare a pot of tea, not only for the grandfather, grandmother, father or husband, but for herself and her children. Guests, near and far whoever comes for a visit is offered a cup of plain tea. It has become customary for everyone in the Shan State to give tea as gifts to visitors either in dried leaves or in pickled state.

Tea shops are crowded with people young and old alike. Holding a cup of plain tea and slowly sipping it, is quite refreshing. People would do their business well at the tea shops by the road side. Tea serves many purposes -social, economic and religious. Nobody can run away from tea. Tea has become a national drink and tea drinkers always say . I don ' t drink water the whole day. But I take plain tea instead, it is safer and is good for my heath."

Where does the tea come from? Who plants the tea ? How is the tea made into drink? And how is tea consumed? 

The chief crop of cultivation among the Palaung is tea. The tea tree or tea-shrub is indigenous and grows wild all over the hills, but the cropping is closely associated with Tawngpang. But tea is abundant in places like Mong Long, Mong Mit, Mong Khe, Panglong and in Petkang areas of Keng Tung State. This shrub likes a high latitude, shade and dampness. Tawngpang is the most suitable place for such conditions. The tea is made in two forms: one, Neng Yam or wet or pickled tea, and the other dry tea. One needs skills and experience for picking, drying, curing of tea leaves. The leaves are steamed in a wooden strainer with a perforated bamboo bottom, which is placed over a large cauldron of boiling water. It is steamed for a few minutes just to moisten and soften the leaves, so that they can be easily and quickly rolled with the fingers on a met while another lot is being steamed. These steamed and rolled leaves are spread out on the screen resulting in dry tea.

The picking seasons for the tea are: May to June, July to August, September to October and November, each of which has its name. The first picking is always the best, and it is called Shwepyi(Golden Land). 

The making of the pickled variety is more complicated. The steamed leaves are heaped together in a pulp mass and thrown into basket and left until the next day. The baskets are then put into pits in the ground and covered with heavy weights placed on top of each. Inspection is often made to see how fermentation is progressing and sometimes there is re-steaming .

Palaungs are the only tea growers who produce the "pickled tea" and some call it "salad tea". The Palaung tea plantations are on steep hill-sides. It takes three years to get a crop, and after ten years;; or more the plants weaken and the output is poor.

Much of the dry tea goes to different parts of Myanmar and some to Yunnan across the border. Pickled tea is transported down to Mandalay and Yangon for general distributifn. Myanmar people like pickled tea more than anyone else and it has become a delicacy for them and is eaten mixed with a little oil, salt, garlic and asafoetida and topped off with sesame seeds.

The palaungs there would not be much tea for home consumption and the tea drinking culture become could possibly elapse. Therefore tea cultivation should be encouraged and research on it should be made for better production and better preservation, so that good quality would be available not only for domestic consumption but also for export . Food technology should also be applied to make tea not only as a beverage but as an item of nutritious food in the future


  • Rice - two condensed milk tins full*
  • Dried fish, (Snakehead or any fleshy fish such as Spanish Mackerel) - 1lb.
  • Oil – 10 ounces
  • Onion – 10, medium-sized
  • Garlic – a few pods
  • Sesame – 3 tbs.
  • Fish sauce – 2 tps.
  • Pounded dried prawns – 2 tbs.
  • 3 or so (optional).
  • Green (unripe) mangoes – 3
  • Sandalwood – a few slivers.
  • Beeswax – a few flakes.

To cook the rice

Wash rice thoroughly, put in pot, fill with water and put on stove. When the water boils and the rice is cooked, drain the starchy water. Put in more water and repeat the process twice. This is to get rid of all the starch and to cook the rice till the grains become plump and flaky. Drain the rice for the last time and set aside to cool. ( Usually rice is boiled till cooked and the water is drained only once, after which, the rice minus water is put back on stove to steam it to the right consistency).

Build an open charcoal fire in a small stove. When the charcoal begins to smoulder put in sandalwood slivers and flakes of beeswax and immediately cover with a clean cooking pot set aside for the purpose. This is to infuse the pot with the aroma of the sandalwood and beeswax. When it is judged that the sandalwood and beeswax have burned out remove pot and immediately put in the cooked rice and pour drinking water to cover the rice. Some cover the pot with a cloth before putting in the rice so that the aroma of the sandalwood and beeswax will not escape. The rice is now ready to be served in individual bowls water and all. Some sprinkle a few buds of jasmine on the water for decorative purposes and to lend some added fragrance as well.

Accompanying dishes

Fried Dried Fish

Boil the dried fish till tender. Remove bones and lightly pound the meat with traditional mortar and pestle. Heat half the oil till cooked and put in garlic lightly crushed; when garlic turns slightly brown, put in pounded dried fish and fry till golden. Slice 8 onions and fry till crisp. Leave half the fried onions for the mango salad and dress the fried fish with crisp golden onions.

Mango Salad

Peel and grate the mangoes and wash and drain. Slice raw onions and green chilis. Put in a bowl the grated mangoes, sliced onions, roasted sesame and pounded dried prawns, sprinkle fish sauce (to taste) and mix thoroughly. Put the lot in a serving dish and top with crisp fried onions. 

The Thingyan meal, served usually for lunch or even later when the temperature is soaring, is a heart-cooling meal. The rice is fragrant, the water slakes thirst and the fried fish and mango salad lends a sharpness to wet the appetite. 

"3-5 servings" 

This unit of measurement was probably used with the introduction of condensed milk tins into Myanmar with the coming of the British. But I am not aware of why it came to be adopted. It has now become an accepted unit of measurement. 

Kyi Kyi Hla



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