ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 36

More than just your routine cuppa

Highlighting the different tastes of tea, the Dilmah company hopes to revolutionize this beverage to something akin to wine

By Smriti Daniel

I watch, half intrigued, half concerned, as the gentleman behind the table empties his bottle of Sprite into my tea. He then slips in a chunk of ice the size of my fist. Dubiously, I accept the beverage. It laps gently in its clear glass as I lift it. Bubbles rise through the pale gold liquid, and where the light catches it. It glints, as if to signal the presence of trapped sunshine.

Against my better judgment, I take one sip, then another. Effervescent and delicious it slides down my throat, and as simply as that, I’m hooked.

Fortunately for me, I have plenty of company; for to the majority of the world’s population after all, tea is second only to water. However, for many, tea remains at best predictable and at worst, boring. “Plain tea or tea with milk?”, “With or without sugar?” seem to be the only options anywhere outside the home, (for at least in the latter, flavoured tea is not an unusual concept). The diversity of tea, it seems, has been a well-kept secret…but not for long.

The Dilmah company are keen on revolutionizing the way the world perceives tea – a beverage of such depth and variety that it deserves the same consideration we would normally reserve for wine, says Dilhan Fernando, Marketing Director of the MJF Group. “There is this tremendous appreciation of the subtle characteristics of wine,” he points out, going on to explain that wines from different regions for instance, boast noticeably different flavours and bouquets. Similarly, “tea from Ratnapura is different from a tea from Dickoya, which is different from a tea from Nuwara Eliya or from Maskeliya,” he says, explaining that “each of those have their own individual personalities.”

Really good tea is to be savoured, in much the same way one approaches an excellent wine, and as with wine, much lies in the overture to that first sip. First, one begins with an examination of the visible, by measuring the depth and intensity of the infusion of the leaf. Revel in the hues that colour the liquid, ranging from the palest of gold through to a rich burgundy. Teas cover the whole spectrum, with the differences between them sometimes subtle.

Next, examine the ‘ring of brilliance’ where the tea laps at the edge of the cup. Then, the aroma or bouquet must be scrutinised. Our sense of smell is significantly more sensitive than taste, and in many ways it is smell that influences taste. Be it the lightest of perfumes, tinged with delicate floral overtones, or a rich toasted or caramelised aroma, it will prepare you for the flavour of the tea you are about to savour.

Referring to the “range of experiences in tea”, Mr. Fernando, explains that different types of tea can be matched to the time of day or even to one’s mood. In a single morning for instance, one could sample several different flavours. First a nice strong tea to wake you up followed by a light green tea when you get to office, a light, fragrant, Nuwara Eliya tea before lunch to prepare the stomach and so on. Mr. Fernando himself drinks 15 cups of tea upwards in a day, each of a different variety, he assures me.
It is not hard to imagine this, considering that there are over 5,000 varieties of tea. Sri Lanka, alone illustrates this perfectly. “There’s so much variety, basically every half an hour that you drive up from Colombo to Maskeliya you get a different tea,” he says, explaining that let alone a region, within the estates themselves, each estate will boast different types of tea.

This is an “all day beverage,” says Mr. Fernando, explaining that ideally, when guests at a hotel request a cup of tea, they will be presented with the equivalent of a wine list, which will list upwards of 30 different types of tea. To be taken into consideration, in such circumstances, is also the presentation. For instance, it is a pleasure to watch the brewing of teas like the exclusive White Lichee, which starts out at as a hand tied ball and blooms into an exquisite tea-flower upon being brewed.

Mr. Fernando points out the silvery tea known appropriately as Ceylon Silver Tips. Hand picked at dawn, kept out of direct sunlight, and never exposed to any machine processes, Silver Tips “is a beautiful tea, juicy, and one of the rarest teas you can get today”. Not surprisingly, such teas are expensive, some even available in limited editions. Such indulgences are becoming increasingly popular, as tea savvy consumers are more than willing to explore their options.

The Asia Pacific Dilmah Tea Sommelier competition:

Tea is finally coming into its own. No longer the refreshing, yet predictably dull beverage of the past, a great cup of tea these days can confidently step into the same arena as an excellent wine, even metamorphosing into a delicious mocktail or cocktail. “Through the Tea Sommelier competition, we want to educate the hospitality industry,” explains Dilhan Fernando.

The competition is the first of its kind in the world, revealed Dilmah founder, Merrill J. Fernando. Joining him is Chef Gerard Mendis, Chairman of the Chefs Guild of Sri Lanka. Mr. Mendis explained that tea is in itself a distinct flavour, one which can be used not only in beverages but to flavour cooking as well. Participants, he said, in the Tea Sommelier competition would need to be familiar with the many moods of tea. In 20 minutes, each participant will be required to create a tea cocktail, a tea mocktail as well as present a hot cup of tea. The last is expected to reflect the traditions of the participant’s own country, and as such will be both revealing and challenging, said Mr. Mendis.

The event will bring together beverage professionals from 17 countries in the Asia Pacific region. A series of national competitions across the region will culminate in a Colombo final with an international panel of judges on March 27, at the Colombo Hilton. At the Sri Lankan national event, over 22 hotel teams will compete on February 16 at Water’s Edge to pick Dilmah’s Tea Sommelier.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.