Laphet, a Myanmar traditional fermented tea leaf, has been developed as an ethnic food. It has a very long history in Myanmar. In ancient times fermented tea leaves were used as a peace symbol or peace offering between warring kingdoms. Nowadays, the laphet tray is a main expression of hospitality offering to houseguests.
The culture of laphet, the production of laphet from tea leaves, and the health benefits of its active compounds were analyzed from scientific articles on fermented tea leaf, green tea, and collected data from tea leaf-producing areas.
Myanmar fermented tea leaf
Myanmar fermented tea leaf is a common signature and national ancient food that is eaten by all people in the country, regardless of race or religion, at get-togethers in family homes, in monasteries, and in the traditional celebrations. The consumption of tea leaves around the world is in three forms: green tea, black tea, oolong tea. A tea leaf (Camellia sinensis) plantation in Shan State, Myanmar. The plants have been pruned for easy harvesting of leaves. The cuisine of Myanmar has a popular expression: “Of all the fruit, mango is the best; of all the meats, pork is the best; of all the leaves, laphet is the best.” The original taste of tea leaf is very bitter and its bitterness is reduced after the fermentation process. Furthermore, the bitterness of laphet is partially removed by rinsing with warm water once or twice, depending on the user’s desire. The laphet market in Myanmar deals with the fresh tea leaf, the fermented product, or the finishing product. Local people from mountain areas only collect fresh leaves and go to fresh tea leaves market. Some laphet manufacturers buy fresh tea leaves (without growing the leaves themselves) and then steam, ferment, and modify the tea leaves.
Because of laphet is consumed in the daily life of the Myanmar people, laphet products can be easily found everywhere in Myanmar and Myanmar markets around the world. Selling small plates of laphet-thoke at the street stalls throughout the city demonstrates the culture of laphet in our community. Most families have a habit, and use laphet as daily snacks and as a treat for their guests. Some Myanmar people buy their own fermented leaves, which they modify for its unit taste, and buy other ingredients at the market and mix them together at home. Therefore, the demand for laphet is probably highest in Myanmar. Because of the current high demand of laphet, modernized laphet factories have been developed to produce it instead of using traditional ways, and the quality of laphet has been criticized with regard to standard production processes.
Laphet produced from tea leaf
Laphet has been produced by traditional methods. Tea leaves, which includes two leaves and the leaf bud of the Camellia sinensis plant, has been used for pickled tea leaf production . The plant is normally processed in two parts for the fermentation of tea leaves and for making laphet. First, young leaves are picked from a plantation. Tea leaves are selected to go through the fermentation process, which involves steaming for approximately 5 minutes, removing the remaining water, selecting tea leaves again, packing them into clay pots, and pressing the leaves by heavy weights. The fermentation process needs to be checked at intervals. tea leaves again, packing them into clay pots, and pressing the leaves by heavy weights. The fermentation process needs to be checked at intervals.
Effectiveness of tea leaf polyphenols
Tea leaf is known as the “Lord of leaves” because of its usefulness for health. It was believed that consuming tea leaf increased life to as long as 120 years. Green tea leaf contains polyphenols, which include flavanols, flavandiols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. These compounds may account for up to 30–40% of the dry weight. Most green tea polyphenols are flavonols, commonly called catechins. There are four kinds of catechins in green tea: epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Fresh leaves also contain other compounds such as 3–4% of alkaloids, known as methylxanthines, such as caffeine, theobromine, theophylline and gallic acid; quercetin; kaempferol; myricetin; caffeic acid chlorogenic acid; vitamins; and minerals. The leaf bud and first leaves are richest in EGCG .
Laphet fermented tea leaves contain several compounds that are also in green tea. The total polyphenols is higher in green tea than in laphet. Laphet contains all catechins, and it has the maximum rate of caffeine, and lowest rate of EGCG . Other data of total polyphenols and EGCG in the pickled tea leaf, the astringent maing—which is produced by a very similar process as laphet—is higher in total polyphenols (both EGCG and EGC), compared to nonsteamed samples. Laphet consists of the most significant active component, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
There is much evidence for the health benefits of green tea, and investigations have focused on pure compounds of catechin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and green tea extracts.
Effectiveness of caffeine
Caffeine is an alkaloid that can stimulate the nervous system and heart. The sympathetic thermogenesis effect of 8.35% caffeine and 24.7% catechins stimulates brown adipose tissue in vivo, and the interaction between caffeine and catechins stop the accumulation of body fat in obesity possibly because of the activation of hepatic lipid metabolism. Dry tea leaf contains approximately 1.4–3.5% of caffeine. Caffeine makes alertness and sleepless on human. Caffeine in the range of 50–200 mg per day stimulates the nervous system, but any amount over 300 mg will likely cause headache, stress, and hypertension, whereas consumption in excess of 1,000 mg will cause toxicity . A cup of tea prepared with one teaspoon of dried tea leaf has approximately 0.03 – 0.1 g caffeine. The caffeine amount of fermented tea leaf is higher than a cup of coffee. Fermented tea leaves have a higher caffeine content than fresh tea leaves. This may be because the caffeine that normally accumulates in cell sacs is dissolved when the cell walls are broken down by heat in the steaming process.
Laphet is very unit structure of the Myanmar people and habitually consumed as a food in Myanmar. The process of fermentation time and predominant microbes should be further studied for optimizing the quality of laphet. A long history of laphet consumption in daily life shows safe for human and its bio-active components showed health benefits based on green tea extracts. Future researches need to define safe range of laphet consumption associated with these benefits.