Project Shan Tea
Like so many good things, Project Shan Tea was born over a pot of tea, while chatting with an old friend I get to see about once a year, whenever he, in his capacity as an honorary volunteer of Help Without Frontiers, on his way to the Shan areas, lodges a night in Chiang Mai …
Help Without Frontiers is a German refugee aid organization that has dedicated its work and its commitment to alleviate the plight of ethnic Shan refugees and displaced persons from Burma. In this context, Help Without Frontiers conducts training and educational programs and initiatives to generate income, health, medical, nutritional and a number of other social projects, many of them in places, where otherwise no help ever reaches out to: In Burma’s border area with Thailand, where refugees and displaced people, in particular members of the Shan and Karen (Kariang) ethnic groups (Kariang), gather to seek a better life and fortune in escaping to Thailand…
Where they come from, arson, rape, robbery and killing through Burma’s military are the everyday agenda. For more info, photo and video material on the work of Help Without Frontiers can be found under
That evening, my friend told me about a tea-growing project in Loi Kaw Wan, in whose initiation and development he had been involved two years earlier. Due to my venture Siam Tea and my respective Website Blog, Siam Teas Blog, the subject tea from that border area had been in the focus of my attention for a while and I became keen-eared immediately. Tea from the Shan states just sounded like a great idea, possibly another good and even rare tea specialty for the Sia Teas portfolio…, and, ultimately, like a way to finally have a means to actively contribute to alleviating the plight of Shan refugees from Burma, whose daily witness I had been for many years, being a long time resident of Northern Thailand.
The talks were followed by deeds: We contacted the project leaders on the Shan-side, which were enthusiastic about the idea, but unfortunately had to stave us off to a however not so distant future. Loi Kaw Wan will see its first tea harvest only in another 2-3 years …
Nevertheless, they helped us along: They knew of Shan tea farmers on the Thai side of the border, refugees from Burma as well, who had been harvesting and processing tea from old tea trees growing wild in their area for several years.
The relevant contact was soon established and a tea sample delivered, whose tasting led me to place an initial order of several hundred kilograms of the local specialty right away: Shan Tea really is something special! It’s not like the Chinese / Taiwanese green or oolong teas otherwise dominating Northern Thailands tea cultivation, not like a black tea, and not like any other tea I had ever tried before, for that matter, but Shan tea is a dark, not fully fermented tea that tastes like the land and soil, on which it grows (and this really is the best description I can think of, if it comes to the taste of Shan Tea).
In cooperation with all stakeholders, we developed a scheme that would serve as a means for us to contribute to helping refugees from Burma even beyond the mere provision of a sales market for their tea. Siam Tea agreed to support the refugee aid work of Help Without Frontiers with 10% of Shan Tea sales, while channeling another 10% directly to the Shan Health Committee, a Shan main body for the coordination of refugee aid on the Burma side of the border. A friendly representative of the Shan Health Committee at my request did not hesitate volunteering to accompany me on a trip to the border village of Pang Kham, so I could get an idea of the local tea production there from first hand experience. Course and results of this journey (including 300 year old tea trees, 100% organic tea growing, professional tea-processing in accordance with ages-old traditional methods, all pretty much off civilization and the beaten track are well documented and illustrated in my article
So, if you’re willing to make a small contribution yourself to improving the situation of displaced persons and refugees from the Karen and Shan areas in Burma, there’s a way for this here and now, which, beyond the said aid contribution will bring a rare local specialty at an affordable price to your home and onto your table.
Siam Tea guarantees for the appropriated use of the funds raised this way.
Thomas Kasper, head of Siam Teas and Siam Teas Blog