Myanmar coffee scene fuelled by middle class caffeine high

Yangon—- Behind a wooden counter in downtown Yangon’s Coffee Club, the unmistakable hiss of a barista steaming milk temporarily drowns out a funky soundtrack piped through the store, which is packed with students glued to their smartphones. It would be a common sight in any other Asian capital. However, this is novel in Yangon.

Long absent from the region’s burgeoning cafe culture, Myanmar’s commercial capital is now seeing a proliferation of swanky coffee bars offering an alternative to the treacherous instant coffee served by thousands of street carts. This is a trend that reflects both the evolving tastes of Myanmar’s emerging middle class and the growing divide between them and the country’s poor.

Nyi Nyi Tun, a doctor, is representative of newly aspirant customers savouring consumer goods that were either out of reach or simply unavailable under Myanmar’s brutal and economically inept military dictatorship. “I came here to read,” he explained as he sipped an americano and flipped through the web on his tablet. “A streetside tea shop is preferable with friends. However, if you want to be alone and quiet, this type of coffee shop is ideal.”

To escape Yangon’s increasingly congested streets, Nyi Nyi Tun is willing to pay up to $2 – ten times the price of a traditional Myanmar coffee made with pre-mixed sachets and condensed milk at roadside stalls.

Since the end of outright military rule in 2011, Yangon has seen the opening of approximately two dozen speciality coffee shops. “You will see exponential growth in the coffee industry over the next three years,” predicts Ye Naing Wynn, managing director of Myanmar’s oldest cafe chain, Nervin, which now operates five locations throughout the country, including Mandalay and the capital Naypyidaw.

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