A culinary journey
AQUICK flight away from my home city, a beautiful paradise within reach and a place many of our ship voyages took us, Sri Lanka is the unsung hero of South-East Asia. The first thing that strikes you about this country is the friendliness, humility and the level of education, which is staggering for a developing country.
As a child I loved visiting Colombo – the food was incredible, laced with fresh coconut oil, coconut milk and an exotic mix of Indian and South-East Asian flavours, and even as such a young age I could appreciate this fusion of styles and flavours. As a child I was addicted to fresh coconut water and the most enormous cashew nuts in the world, but as I grew up, I learned to appreciate that stunning array of spice, produce and, of course, the one thing Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was once known) is famous for – tea.
Travels from the city into the mountains and you’ll find yourself in beautiful Kandy, a hill resort that is lush with tea plantations, and some of world’s best tea is grown, picked and made here. I had visited Dilmah tea plantations many years ago, and enjoyed their tea over the years but never knew much about the company.
About 10 years ago, I picked up an article about the man behind the company, and was humbled by his story. Merrill Fernando was from a humble family and worked in a tea factory – he watched, as he states, how misappropriated the word “Ceylon tea” was, as many were blending a mix of teas from elsewhere and selling it off as pure produce from Sri Lanka. Not only did he watch how the main players grow rich selling tea abroad, he endured the sight of the people picking it, the locals, still living in poverty and not seeing any benefit from the tea business.
Mr Fernando set up the first
Sri Lankan tea company to offer genuinely ethically produced tea and he still sells it internationally. He maintains the hand-picked, hand-crafted art of making tea, shows respect to the people involved at every level of its process and allows them to share in the profit of his company. The company belongs to the farmers, and the Dilmah company cares for them, their families and celebrates the authenticity of Single Origin Pure Ceylon Tea. It is amazing that 10% of the profits are retained in Sri Lanka and help fund the company’s charitable foundation and conservation projects.
I was recently invited to the opening of Dilmah’s first Tea Lounge in Glasgow (the first of its tea lounges in the UK), and I was actually intrigued as to why Glasgow had been picked as its destination. Chatting to Mr Fernando at the opening, he explained that if anyone looked back into history, they would find that the original tea plant was taken to Sri Lanka in the mid-1800s by a Scotsman, called James Taylor. So naturally, it felt like tea was coming home. I was humbled to meet the man who has created such a big tea empire but not lost his humility and the sense of duty and purpose to his people and the tea workers of Sri Lanka.
One of the fun things about the tea lounge is that, along with a variety of means and a wonderful array of teas, you can also order from a range of inventive tea-based cocktails (or mocktails). To me, it was a wonderful day, sampling the tea and other treats, meeting this incredible man – and reliving some of my childhood memories of the tea gardens of Kandy.
Here is a recipe for the Tea Lounge by Dilmah Strawberry Sour – created by Rebecka Mamer, Whisky Mist assistant manager.
Sumayya Usmani co-presents BBC Radio Scotland’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Summers Under The Tamarind Tree and Mountain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, published by Frances Lincoln Visit sumayyausmani.com Twitter @SumayyaUsmani