Flavor of the Week: Burmese Sweet Tea

Pronounced (like a French word): le pay-yeay

le pay– tea

yeay– sweetened with a generous dollop of condensed milk

Kiwis Hadyn and Marcus try their first cups of Burmese “le pay yeay”, in a Yangon tea shop. Freshly made snacks – Chinese cookies, pork buns, biscuits and fried dough – accompany the experience.

Burmese take their tea very seriously; the language reflects multiple words to indicate the delicate balance of ingredients.  Not too much; a little bit; extra milk; very strong.  In a proper tea stall (denoted by miniature stools, metal tea basin and oven top for frying snacks), tea is distributed like a factory line.  The tea boys take orders and relay these to the Master Tea Maker (approximate title).  One tea boy pours the sugared dairy substitute into a line of cups, which are carried to  the Tea Master, to fill appropriately.

The Sweet Tea Test: Our guaranteed way to determine the quality of the tea?  Dip your spoon straight in, before stirring.  Now, pull it out and see how much of the spoon is stained in condensed milk.  A perfectly mixed tea should only have enough milk to cover 1/4-1/3 of the spoon.

Sweet tea is perfect at breakfast, paired with fried sticks of dough, or paratha, flaky sheets of dough dipped in sugar.  But whatever time of the day you squat down on a teeny chair and order, the tea will be served with some sort of equally-sweet snack.

Though the drink is poured into small cups, the locals sip slowly- and are not ashamed to order another, if caught up in a good conversation, or the daily newspaper.

And when you’ve finished your cup, and scooped out the last drops of the fake dairy product, the cultural trick is to wash your throat down with – what else? – a shot of herbal tea.

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