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Dispatches from Myanmar - Day 1

Below are dispatches from Tyler Zimmer's trip to Myanmar. We'll update this blog as Tyler writes.

Day 1

After about 30 hours of travel I've finally made it to Yangon, Myanmar. We landed around 11:30 PM on Saturday night (there is a 12:30 time difference in Myanmar).

I am staying tonight (Sunday) in Yangon before we fly out to Mandalay in the morning.  Today is full of meetings with people who have been involved with the coffee project to date. Many from USAID, Winrock International, as well as the Myanmar Coffee Association and the Mandalay Coffee Group.

We started with introductions. The range of roasting companies is quite broad. From a larger specialty roasters in the US, Allegro Coffee, to Rojo's Roastery in New Jersey, and some top roasters in the UK and New Zealand. We fall somewhere in between size-wise of these companies, so it's a broad group with a range of experiences. The MCA, MGA, and some larger milling operations were involved in the discussions. We went back and forth with questions.

The producers asked many good questions regarding the types of varieties they should plant. This is a difficult question for a roaster to answer and there are many different positions coffee professionals take on the topic. In reality, every farm is different, sp they need to make decisions based on many factors. Some varieties like geisha sound great to plant but coffees like this can be very hard to maintain and are also susceptible to pests and disease. Many well managed farms plant a mixture of varieties to mitigate some of these risks and keep production stable.

There was also a lot of discussion around exporting coffees from Myanmar to the US with many US officials at the round table, including the US Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell. The embargo to the US was lifted in 2012 but there are still a few obstacles regarding export and shipment. Since the embargo has ended, the US has taken a larger presence in Myanmar than ever before. They want to see the honest and hard working people here succeed. The US is trying to maintain the integrity of the supply chain in Myanmar to make sure the former military powers do not corrupt the industry.

One thing that was evident through out the day was how new the coffee industry really is here. Even though they have been growing coffee here for over 100 years, they have lacked funding, education, and other resources for a long time. There is as much potential here as in many other producing countries, but it is going to take some time to take off.

Tomorrow we fly to Mandalay to visit the Pyin Oo Lwin where we will visit many estates in the region. More to come.....

Here's a map of the coffee growing regions in Myanmar:

And here are a couple pictures from the hotel meeting (the US Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, is second from the left, in the white shirt).
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