Tea is the second most frequently consumed beverage across the world after water.
Today was a day of two firsts for me! Firstly I had my first ever glass of sparkling white tea, served in a champagne glass and secondly, I had my first glass of hot tea served in a wine glass. Not to mention that I got to meet and chat two key members of the Dilmah tea family, Merrill J Fernando, founder of Dilmah tea along with his son Dilhan Fernando. Merrill and Dilhan are in Dubai at the opening of the “Dilmah Silver Jubilee Gourmet” tea lounge at Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre.
The tea lounge not only celebrates Dilmah tea as a refreshing drink, both hot and cold but also Executive Chef, Dwayne Krisko recently traveled to Dilmah’s headquarters in Sri Lanka to spend two weeks learning from the team about all aspects of tea growing, picking, drying and serving. Once back in Dubai he has developed a high tea experience complete with a variety of items which have been infused with various teas, or have tea influences. Many of the tea-infused high tea items were on display and we tasted them later in the afternoon along with recommendations about which tea we should pair with each item including pairings with Black, Green, Infused and Iced Tea, Chai and Pullman Signature Beverages.
My tip : try something different! There are some really unusual flavours to try out including Organic Sencha, Blood Orange & Eucalyptus, Mandarin & Marzipan Pekoe, If you want to stay classic and traditional then there’s plenty for you to try. The menu comes with tasting and origin notes and the staff are extremely knowledgeable which helps narrow down the choice. I loved the Blueberry infused tea served hot in a wineglass, it was packed full of flavour and didn’t need any additional sugar or other additives.
An interview with Merrill J Fernando – Founder Dilmah
I’ve prepared plenty of questions for the interview, but find that Merrill J Fernando is a charming interviewee and there’s really no need to turn to my notes as our meeting is casual and inspiring. We chat whilst I sip a cup of excellent tea, Dilmah Darjeeling with a little cold milk, I’m a Brit after all and this is a staple drink from my UK days!
We are sat in the new tea lounge at Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre on launch day. The lounge is filling with VIP guests, but despite this Merrill Fernando finds time for me to catch up with him and learn more about the Dilmah tea story. Dilmah is one of the finest tea companies in the world. Dilmah was founded in 1974 in Sri Lanka by Merrill Fernando who had been fascinated by tea throughout his childhood. The name Dilmah was chosen by combining the first names of Fernando’s sons Dilhan and Malik.
If you did this again, what would you do differently?
“Nothing. I have no regrets. Lots of people ask me what is the difference between Dilmah and others – I say “everything!”
“The other brands of tea belong to traders. Traders have no commitment or sympathy to the farmers and their family – they want to buy cheap and sell high. Dilmah is owned by a farming family company. We grow our tea and are the only company in the world who have our own vertical market. We have our own tea gardens, all the facilties to sort, package etc. When we take a package of tea to the market we say that our tea is cared for with love and passion by our family.
Dilmah is a philopsy of care, care for my consumers and sharing with the poor and my workers. When I started the business, I used to spend part of my school holidays in tea plantations, and I fell in love with tea. Then I moved into the tea trade as an employee. I saw what happened to fine Ceylon tea, which was very expensive, and then it was mixed into blends with cheap tea and it was still being called Ceylon tea. I realised someday we will have all the big brands would deserting the Ceylon tea for profit. I realised that I wanted to sell the best tea at a modest price and to give a bit of money to the plantation workers. I came from humble background and I had the thought, and then I knew that I could make a difference. After 34 years I decided to launch Dilmah tea. I had money for the plant and machinery, but didn’t have money for brand consultants, so I named the brand Dilmah after my two sons Dilhan and Malic. I couldn’t afford celebrities to promote Dilmah so I put my face on the back. This was the greatest investment in the brand. Consumers saw this, the brand of the children and me and they loved it as they could see the love and passion as I grow and sell tea.
Then I took a major decision. My mother taught me to be humble, she used to share my sweets with the neighbours (I used to get angry), but she taught me to help the poor. As I started getting my own business and getting profits I came to the point where every Entrepreneur faces – failure or success. Do I want to be a multi-millioniare and live a luxuiours life or do I want to share this with the poor. I had no difficulty to share with the poor, I’m happy to say I am helping in quite a big way, but now I do have a good life too. Most of the wealth goes to public society. I started with 18 employees and told the workers if their children got to a certain level I would put them through school, clothes, books etc and to send them to University if they hit a certain level. Now I have over 1,400 employees who get everything and more plus 20,000 workers in the plantation. Today through the foundation we have Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers. Which makes me feel so happy. I am to be remembered as a man who changed the business philosophy to share a little bit of the business to help the poor. I spend part of my money to give a better life to the poor, we change fifteen to twenty thousand lives each year through our centres and work. Everywhere I go I have tears in my eyes and must try and help them however I can.
“I have absolutely no regrets, and no learning points – that is my way. There is no better way than my way – I did it all on my own experiences”
I’m happy to share my knowledge, in fact a group of people from the Middle East who I met recently are coming to Sri Lanka to see what we do.
As an example, after the Tsunami we picked 55 people who had lost their houses and businesses. We gave them the tools to help them build new businesses. We have had 100% success. Now they are employing village people and developing their business. We started a SEP (Small Entrepreneur Programme) there are now roughly about 10,000 people in this programme. These are people who couldn’t get money from the banks, but they got the help from us.
If you didn’t do tea what were you going to be?
A lawyer. I was supposed to be a lawyer. He says this with a twinkle in his eye, personally having spent just thirty minutes with Merrill, I suspect tea was his destiny.
I ask for some tea pairing tips and at this point Merrill smiles and says that his son Dilhan is best qualified to help me with my queries, a bonus as I wasn’t expecting to be able to spend time with Merrill also.
Dilhan Fernando – talks Tea
We are served a glass of Tea Champagne made from a Special White tea. Which he explains is an expensive tea which is very delicate and served in a champagne glass, aerated with small bubbles to give a subtle fizz. Dilhan explains that it’s made with a cold infusion, which extracts just the aromatics. The bud of the tea plant is infused in spring water for about eleven hours in a fridge. By controlling the temperature you just extract the subtle aromatics.
Tea Pairing for moods and occasions
I start the interview by asking if there’s such a thing as a tea for different moods and occasions and with a big nod of his head Dilhan agrees explaining that ‘there’s a strong correlation between tea and moods. For instance, Ceylon original is very intense, it’s a high altitude tea, maybe you would have it around lunchtime – it’s an energic drink because it’s strong, it’s rich in antioxidents. The Darjeeling is also intense like the Ceylon but not as calming – it’s more a contemplative tea” (this is one of my favourites). Earl Grey he explains “has citrus note so its more enlivening from the Bergamot – that’s an early evening tea, idea for when you are feeling a little tired as the citrus lifts you.” He goes on to say that Dilham “balance the tea and respect the provenance of the tea, so for instance where they use a natural Bergamot oil they use only a little as it has to balance and not overpower.
I ask what’s happening with tea trends, what’s fashionable and what’s not and he explains that infusions – tissanes – lots of wild and wonderful infusions are currently ‘on trend’. Going on to explain that “most people don’t realise that the natural antioxidants are not found in these.
Tea is very much on trend, the centennials and millennials want the providence and story, they want the wellness aspect too. There are so mnay different trends, but they are multi faced eg Chai – is trendy, The Chai in Dubai should be different than elsewhere to represent sustainbility of where it is grown. It was originally developed as a medicine. Some hotels use their natural honey from the hotel roof, some infuse micro herbs etc.
On making chai – fresh tea, spices – get a pan and simmer 200mls, bring to a simmer, cardamon, pepper and whatever else you want. Add the tea – stir it and let it brew for three minutes, then strain, then add milk – condensed or natural then pull to oxygenate it. Don’t buy a premium chai – make it your own.
Tea as a ‘super drink’
Dilhan explains that Dilmah make a tumeric infusion which is extremely healthy for you. He also points out that realative to superfoods, tea is potent and has 10 x more antioxidants to a serving of brocolli. Tea has incredible relevance today. Nobody is shouting about it as it has to be fresh and handpicked tea. The natural goodness is in the tip of the bud. It has to be handpicked, not heavily processed tea. The white tea we are drinking, for instance, a tea picker would only pick 200g of this a day, compared to generic tea pickers where different leaves could be picked, would pick 25kg of tea per day. The delicate white tea cannot be bruised otherwise fermentation starts which would change the taste. The process is very artisinal.
Tea pairing :
To feel Calm & Relaxed – Darjeeling
For Energy – Ceylon Breakfast tea
Tradition tea experience ~ Ceylon Original Breakfast Tea from the Dimbula Valley – it’s the quintessential Ceylon tea, it can take milk but is best without
Something Fruity ~ Ceylon with ginger and honey – Ginger is fantastic in tea we’ve added Honey & Mint to warm it up.
For a Digestive ~ The Moroccan mint is different its a steamed green tea with mint added – its’ beautiful after a meal.
Something Scented ~ Early Grey, it’s a classic
A tea for early evening ~ Early Grey – with citrus to make you lively
My Sri Lankan Tea Experience
Sadly the interview ends as Dilham has to go and do a formal presentation, but I can’t help reminiscing on my last trip to Sri Lanka which was far too long ago. Some of my biggest memories of tea were formed on the trip. Fifteen of us spent three week bombing around Sri Lanka doing a complete island tour (with the exception of the North which was closed for tourism). We drank gallons of tea on the trip, visited tea plantations and tea factories and brought a lot of it back home with us too. Here I found out how easy it is to pass a whole day hiding out from the rain when we stayed for a day in a remote hill station, sipping hot milky tea on the covered veranda, playing cards and games, reading guide books and taking part in a cooking class later in the evening. Simply Magical! ~ Sri Lanka, it’s been too long!
The Silver Jubilee Lounge is open daily between 6 am and 11pm and stocks a range of fresh, single origin , 100% pure Ceylon tea.
Dilmah High Tea is served from 3pm to 5pm at AED 90 for two and AED 50 for one.
Where can you buy Dilmah Tea in Dubai?
The largest range can be found at the Silver Jubilee Lounge at Pullman Creek and CIty Centre, there’s also a Dilmah Tea Lounge in Ibn Battuta Mall (T Lounge by Dilmah). A much more limited supply, mainly tea bags can be found in some of the larger supermarket chains. You can also order on-line for home delivery.
Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre Hotel