Dilhan Fernando, son of the founder of Dilmah tea, talks about the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, recently held in Thailand, and how we should be drinking tea.
by Anita Zaror.
Once again, Bangkok was the chosen destination to host an international gastronomic event, which this time revolved around tea.
The Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge – realhightea.dilmahtea.com, which took place in town on September 30 and October 1, aims to build knowledge among professionals in the hospitality industry to help them achieve better marriages between tea and food. It has been staged in more than 12 countries from Hong Kong to Chile and, in the Thailand Challenge, the team from the Shangri-La Bangkok was the proud winner. They were rewarded with an invitation to participate in the Global Challenge to be held in Sri Lanka, in May 2015. Dilhan Fernando, the younger son of Dilmah’s founder, Merrill Fernando, visited Bangkok to be part of the panel of judges.
– What were the highlights of this competition?
– In Thailand you have such an amazing assortment of flavors, so we got completely new, different ones that we’ve not seen in the challenge before, with a lot of sweetness coming through. There were also unusual combinations (like peanuts and tuna), amazing microherbs, and different local ingredients coming out of The Royal Project.
Besides being Dilmah’s director, Fernando manages the Dilmah School of Tea – www.facebook.com/schooloftea, the world’s first international school of tea based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In partnership with institutes and universities, the school provides courses in countries like France, Australia, and New Zealand. While intermediate and advanced courses take place in Sri Lanka twice a year, one- or two-day sessions to train people in tea at an initial level also take place in other places around the world – Bangkok will have the honor of having the Dilmah School of Tea in early 2015.
– Where does Thailand stand among the world’s tea-producing countries in terms of its tea-drinking culture?
– I think here the tradition of drinking tea is quite strong because Thailand has its own tea industry but, as in some other countries, you have a standardized way of drinking tea. Like in Sri Lanka, they would have their tea with milk, or plain, or with ginger, and they normally drink it the same way every day. Or in China, somebody who drinks Tie Guan Yin will only drink Tie Guan Yin and, even if you go to England, which is the home of the tea-drinking tradition, you’ll find that somebody who drinks black tea with milk and one sugar will always drink it the same way. In most of the world it’s the same. But what we are celebrating here is something different: we are trying to encourage people to look at a variety of flavors and teas; to look at different times of the day, for example, to wake up and say: “It’s a bright morning, today I’ll have a nice strong tea” or “it’s a rainy morning today, then I want something different to pick me up.” We are trying to explain to people how versatile tea is and, through that, trying to encourage that for different times of the day, moods, and foods, there’s a different tea.
– What does tea offer to its consumers, that other beverages don’t?
– I don’t know where to begin. But if you look at the health benefits in tea … tea began as a medicine, and it then became a beverage. In December 2013, there were a series of publications (based on scientific research) that confirmed that tea is good for fighting dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which is expected to be one of the biggest causes of premature death in the world. Tea protects against diabetes, which is the biggest cause of premature death in Asia, and reduces the impact of stress on the human body by more than 50 percent. Tea also protects people from cardiovascular disease and cancers and strengthens your immune system.
– Dilmah launched the first producer-owned tea brand in 1988. Taking its journey from then until its worldwide success today as an example, what would you say makes a brand big?
– I can tell you what makes a brand—and our definition is different because we are a family business. It is loving what you do, which is tea. Commercially, maybe there is a big opportunity to launch a range of hot beverages. But we believe that the integrity of doing what you know, so that I can sit in front of you and tell you with all sincerity that my tea is the best – and I know it to be the best – that’s the heart of it. So, whether you are making computers, flowers, or if you have a hotel, you need to know that your product or your service is the best. You need to have passion with your commitment.
Fernando explained that beyond showcasing all the health aspects of tea, the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge goes further to show the luxurious aspect of tea: “There’s a luxury in the variety, in the different tastes of the tea, in the influence of nature in creating the different flavors and the different types.”
“The new luxury is about nature, purity, and natural goodness. And, in this, there’s nothing like tea. It’s a herb without any equal; it is uniquely healthy, and unique in its variety. You have one plant, Camellia Sinensis, which produces everything from the rich, earthy and almost chocolaty teas that are made in certain areas with a lot of intense sunshine and soils. In between you have 7,000–10,000 variants. And at the other extreme you have tea that is very light, fruity, with notes of lychee, notes of honey, white teas that are completely different again, Oolongs, and green teas. So the variety from one plant, one method, is all crafted by nature. As tea makers, all we do is take what nature has done and we make it into tea and, in terms of luxury, that is exactly the heart of it,” says Fernando. I tend to agree.