An open letter to lovers of tea: Do you know what’s in your cuppa?
Greetings from Sri Lanka, where we make the world’s finest tea. My name is Dilhan, son of the most passionate and experienced Teamaker in the world, Merrill J. Fernando. Together with my brother Malik, we are a family of tea growers, now in the second generation with a third in training. You may know our father as Mr. Dilmah. He was the first tea farmer to offer his tea, picked, perfected, packed and shipped from where it’s grown, direct to tea drinkers around the world. When he first launched Dilmah 33 years ago in Australia, he offered the great taste of Single Origin Tea, the natural goodness in garden-fresh tea, and the ethical purpose of a family business formed on family values. Nothing has changed since then and we maintain an uncompromising commitment to our father’s founding principles.
However, much has changed in the world of tea, with profit too often replacing quality. For us, as tea growers, that compromise is not an option. As you choose your tea in stores or online, we would like to explain exactly what’s in your cup of Dilmah Tea and why it is important.
Taste – My father made a commitment to Single Origin Tea from Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, and we honour that commitment with no compromise. Tea is blessed with terroir – the sense of place that expresses sunshine, wind, rain and the fingerprint of Nature to produce great taste, aroma and character – the personality of a tea. Purity of origin – provenance – is important in tea because it is Nature that is the real Teamaker, and our role is simply to nurture her perfect work. There is no reason to blend or mix teas from different places and it is generally done for profit – to reduce cost.
That comes at the cost of quality. Terroir is the reason our Dilmah Premium Ceylon expresses the heart of Ceylon Tea through the strength and brightness of tea grown in the Dimbula Valley, while our Dilmah Extra Strength Tea is so very different – grown at around 2,000 feet above sea level and therefore malty, intense and strong.
Goodness – is how tea was first discovered. The people who picked tea 5,000 years ago, were physicians, who recognised the health benefits that the leaf offers, and considered tea a medicine. The reason for that is the antioxidants in tea, which scientists say may be responsible for the wellness in a cup of tea. Your tea needs to be garden fresh though, as fresh tea is richer in flavour and natural goodness. As tea ages in ships, warehouses and is blended, it absorbs moisture which can offset the natural goodness and taste in tea. That is why my father fought a colonial economic system for 37 years – to be able to grow and offer his Dilmah Tea direct from our tea gardens.
Purpose – We are a family business, and we exist because of my father’s love for tea but equally because of his desire for integrity. He wanted to share the success of his dream of a genuinely ethical tea, with tea pickers and their families, people with disabilities, and marginalised people in the wider community. He made a commitment – a minimum 15% of our pre-tax profits – to be used by his Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation to address inequality, promote education, strengthen communities and a lot more. An additional amount – now around a million dollars each year – to Dilmah Conservation for climate change research & adaptation, environmental education, species conservation, sustainable agriculture and more. Please have a look at www.dilmahconservation.org.
My father was blessed to reach the age of 90 in May, and he also commemorated 70 years in tea – making him the most experienced Teamaker in service today. His greatest joy is the work of his Foundation. We have established over 2000 entrepreneurs, empowering them with dignity to overcome poverty, gender inequality, and disability. This and other programmes have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of less privileged children, youth, women and men. Have a look here if you want to know more www.mjffoundation.org.