Bean to cup – a filmmaker’s view of Myanmar

Bean to cup – a filmmaker’s view of Myanmar

What made my journey from bean-to-cup or, in actual shooting order, cup-to-bean, so special was Myanmar itself. The country’s culture and cuisine were a complete mystery right up until I had my first cup of Shwe Aye Mont (Cendol) on the streets of Yangon.

With only six days in “Asia’s Rice Bowl”, I bounced between my three habitats of hotel, café and coffee plantation to document the toils and many joys involved in producing speciality coffee in Myanmar.

Yangon, home to a new café on the block, Origin Coffee & Roastery, is where the story began. It’s also where you’ll find a wonderful team of skilled baristas brewing your daily morning ritual. From cold brews to banana frappuccinos I must have covered the whole lot. Of course, not all of it made it into the final cut.Thanks to Hein (head barista & roaster) and his magical touch with the steam wand, I captured all the beautiful latte art as well as the painstaking science of roasting you see on the screen.

What fascinated me throughout my journey was how genuinely friendly the people of Myanmar are. No one smiles as wholeheartedly as people here, notwithstanding their troubled history. Its many vegetarian delights also surprised me at the dinner table, which were always served with a thanaka-decorated smile.

Midway through my stay, I boarded an ATR 72 (an airplane with two propellers) to fly up to Shan State, where the wild beans grow.

The first port-of-call was a place called “The Lady”, which also provided the first drone scene for our film. This is where the coffee company Origin sources its beans for their espresso blend.

Despite the beautiful and lush landscape, the coffee cherries don’t actually grow here. Shan State is home to a slew of smallholder “farms”, which can be as large or small as a trendy London studio – depending on whether it’s in Soho or King’s Cross.

A gentleman in a longyi and dashing blue sports top showed us around his farm. His lot was no larger than fourteen square meters, enough room for roughly ten trees.

Cherries are then sold to plantations such as The Lady for processing and exporting. The favourite method used by Su Nandar Linn (the lady in charge, smelling the green beans) is called“honey process”. In short, the cherries are de-pulped and left to dry in the sun for fermentation. A hybrid between washed and natural, the honey process leaves the coffee tasting very floral and clean. Just like Ethiopian beans.

Featured more prominently in the film and famous for their orange gingham toques is a place called “Behind the Leaf”. This is definitely a larger operation, complete with its own café, offering visitors beautiful vistas over the misty Shan mountains. What I love about Behind the Leaf is that the local Pa-O people receive an education in coffee, as well as a fair wage for their hard work. The majority of pickers and sorters are all women.

As a filmmaker with a background in coffee, this has been a truly unique and memorable experience. Reading about coffee some nine thousand kilometres away is nothing compared to experiencing the process first-hand. You simply have to experience it.

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Thank you for having me Myanmar. Until next time.

Robin Metzler is a filmmaker with a mission to document the many exciting facets of food and their cultures globally. His secret passion is coffee, which is the subject of his most memorable shoots. Based in London he works with his mother, Sonya Metzler, a food photographer for Michelin-starred restaurants.

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