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