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Dilmah proves authenticity is key in business

13 Oct 2018
IoD 99 member Yasemen Kaner-White discovered in Sri Lanka how tea business 'Dilmah' proves authenticity is key.

Recently I was in Sri Lanka, home of arguably the best tea in the world.  Dilmah being the front runner in bringing back the taste of authentic tea worldwide, respecting its origin and age-old tea-making techniques forming the tea legacy.  

In 1952, Merrill J. Fernando, was the first Sri Lankan to be selected in a group of 6 by the British to be a tea taster, enriching his knowledge and planting the seed in his mind for his own plantation. When he went to Mincing Lane, London, the old tea-trading hub, he saw inequality.

Ceylon tea was taken in bulk and blended with other tea from India, and although it was a primary ingredient it wasn’t single origin, nor was it packaged under a Sri Lankan name. “He vowed that one day he would come back and create his own brand of pure Ceylon tea and package it in Sri Lanka”, Malik Fernando, his son, explained. Proving perseverance pays off, the next 30 years he worked for the British until he bought the company and became one of the biggest exporters of Sri Lankan tea. At 60 years old he created Dilmah in 1988, a combination of his two sons names; Dilhan and Malik, both of which work for and run the business today. Dilmah now ships to 100 companies around the world, including Harrods and Selfridges and is Sri Lanka's most recognised international brand of tea.

Dilmah refuses to compromise on quality, resulting in being the most expensive tea but consistently good. The process of tea making in Dilmah hasn’t changed during the last 100 years, with a lot of the equipment used today from the early part of last century. I saw this with my own eyes on their fascinating tea tour, enthusiastically led by their Tea Estate Manager Bernard, a man who has worked in tea for the last 59 years. Unlike factories in East Africa, Japan and Turkey for example, all tea in Sri Lanka is handpicked, therefore the quality is controlled by eye as opposed to undiscriminating machines. “Selection is the name of the game”, Malik proclaimed. Interestingly, Dilmah’s tea is the only brand of hot beverage from any third world country; coco, coffee and other tea brands are Western or European multinationals.

The companies altruistic approach is admirable, with 10% going towards the Dilmah family funded MJF Charitable Foundation, the largest private sector foundation in the country, touching the lives of 10,000 people every year on tea estates and beyond.

When Merrill began his tea venture, little did he know how much it would evolve. Malik, when walking around the tea bungalows, thought to himself ‘why not use them’, and so Resplendent Ceylon, the most in-demand boutique properties in the country, was born. Having spent 6 nights, 2 nights in each of the Resplendent Ceylon resorts, I had a good flavour of what all had to offer, and yes, you guessed it, delicious Dilmah tea was served in all three. I stayed in the Summerville lodge in Tea Trails, experiencing what life as a tea planter would have been, the birds sang as I ate an assortment of sumptuous creative curries looking out over serene Sri Lankan nature at its best. By contrast, Wild Coast Tented Lodge with rooms forming futuristic globes dotted among the jungle terrain throws you back to colonial safari days, but in luxurious style. I’d never been so close to an elephant and her baby in the wild before a safari in Yala National Park. Lastly Cape Weligama, where 12 acres of property meant golf buggies were on hand to take slothful guests around, was all about relaxation and gastronomy delights. 

A cooking class with Chef Vinnol means I can recreate Sri Lankan cuisine (now one of my favoured menus) at home and a cinnamon tour showed me the journey a cinnamon stick has to take before I buy it in my local shop. Dilmah has done wonders for Sri Lanka, tea and with Resplendent Ceylon, you too can enjoy the best the country has to offer – authentically.

Merrill J. Fernando

“Dilmah is unique; a brand founded on a passionate commitment to quality and authenticity in tea, it is also a part of a philosophy that goes beyond commerce in seeing business as a matter of human service”

Malik Fernando 

With Resplendent Ceylon and our hotels, I seek to do for Sri Lanka tourism what my father and Dilmah did for Ceylon Tea. To fly the flag and make it a premium, authentic product. To showcase Sri Lanka to it’s full potential”

For more information on my trip:


Related reads: Yasemen's previous IoD 99 blog on self-publishing your passion

Learn more about the amazing business support network for entrepreneurs and start-up founders, the IoD 99!

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