How quality tea makes a difference
November 25, 2021
In this opinion piece, Dilhan Fernando, CEO of Dilmah Tea, looks at change in consumer perspectives in the global tea market – and their willingness to address ethical and environmental issues.
In my work around the world, I've found more and more people want to support brands that are ethical and demonstrate good environmental practices.
New generations of tea drinkers are looking not only for taste but products that promote wellness. In a world fraught with climate anxiety, and greater awareness of social and economic inequality, more consumers are demanding what is good for others too – and a willingness to pay a little more for products to help make that happen.
For passionate tea growers, who make tea for the love of the leaf, it is a welcome shift away from commoditisation.
Merrill J. Fernando, my father and founder of Dilmah, has long criticised commoditisation for its effect on the quality of tea. For years as tea traders raced for market share, they blended teas from around the world and drove prices down at the cost of quality and to the detriment of all those working in the tea gardens.
As he started his company concentrating on tea from a single source of origin, Merrill imparted a mantra that still guides the company now: "Business is a matter of human service."
For ethical growers, a consumer's understanding, and willingness to pay for better quality tea means profits can be shared increasingly through wages for workers, with the less fortunate, and help protect the environment.
Dilmah provides 15 per cent of its pre-tax profit for the benefit of people and the planet each year through its MJF Charitable Foundation. In its Dilmah Purpose Report for 2020, the company's mantra is underscored by statistics for its work in Sri Lanka that year like:
- Healthcare provided for 50,000 people
- 3500 differently abled children supported
- 4740 trained in IT
- 240 people supported through organisations
- 1400 women empowered and 3900 youth
- Education provided for 5800 children
- 2000 entrepreneurs created
For the environment, the statistics include:
- 1M units of hydroelectricity and 2500+ MWH of solar generated
- 15 publications on nature and heritage
- More than 3000 people educated on elephant conservation
- More than 70 businesses introduced to Biodiversity Sri Lanka
- Conservation of more than 500 species on the tea estates
- First urban arboretum in Sri Lanka
- Reviving Sri Lanka's indigenous medicine
New Zealand consumers indirectly become part of the process to improve lives and the environment when they purchase Dilmah products. They also help provide free teabags to every hospice in New Zealand - as they have for many years along with substantial financial donations.
For Dilmah, the quality that brings that extra value and social and environmental dimension means there is only one way to produce good tea. The traditional method is based on respect for nature – handpicking the most tender leaves, where flavour and natural antioxidants are highest, withering the leaf to concentrate both, rolling in a manner that mimics what physicians did 5000 years ago when they made tea as medicine. Finally comes fermenting (black and oolong tea) and then firing or drying.
With the tea plant, camellia sinensis, so dramatically shaped by a confluence of natural factors like wind, sunshine, rain, humidity, and soil, that method of manufacture nurtures in each batch of tea a very specific expression of nature – its terroir.
There is no single tea, but a thousand different teas from light or intense black tea, dark and light oolongs, floral to slightly bitter green teas, through to aromatic to delicate white teas.
There is much scientific research to back up ancient poets who referred to the ability of tea to inspire and uplift mood and mental state. Consumers are also discovering tea helps to aid digestion, helping the body manage sugars, excrete fats, and finally cleanse the palate.
Tea has a natural abundance of flavonoids – the antioxidants that can help protect our bodies from oxidative stress, a key factor in the development of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and other non-communicable diseases.
Dilhan travels the world educating thousands of people – from the world's best chefs and food and beverage service personnel as well as consumers – on the qualities of tea.
They are impressed that Dilmah is making carbon-neutral products. Better yet, they understand commoditisation of tea is not good for anyone, or the environment.
This article was taken from the New Zealand Herald