Dilmah is unique; a brand that is 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.
Tea is Nature’s gift to mankind. A beverage that heals, protects and refreshes, it is also infinite in variety, changing subtly with the natural alchemy of sunshine, soil, wind, rain and temperature. That beautiful variety in tea is as much a challenge as a deliciously indulgent reward for whilst nature gives us a tea to suit every mood, and desire, she demands expertise in understanding and selecting the finest. That expertise can only come from a passionate commitment to tea.
Founder of Dilmah, Merrill J. Fernando, declared his commitment to tea when in the 1950s he devoted his life to tea. Four decades later he was joined by his two sons, Dilhan and Malik (after whom he named his Dilmah Tea) who share his passion. Today, nearly sixty years on, Merrill and his sons – the Fernando family – have acquired the expertise to grow tea, pack and offer consumers around the world only the finest. Their love for tea clearly transcends generations for Dilhan and Malik’s sons and daughters are learning tea, preparing for a time when they assume responsibility for the covenant that Merrill made, when in the 1950s he declared that he would devote his life to bringing quality back to tea, ethically.
The Fernando family built their business around their love for tea; today Dilmah is the only vertically integrated tea company with its own tea gardens – some of Ceylon’s best estates – and state of the art printing & packaging facilities, tea packing and investments in every segment of the industry. As Merrill often says “my family cares for your tea, from the tea nursery right to your teacup.”
Each pack of Dilmah Tea carries Merrill’s personal guarantee reflecting his sincere commitment to his tea.
At the time Merrill conceived his dream to one day offer consumers Ceylon’s finest tea, picked, packed and shipped direct from origin, tea was controlled by a handful of big brands which were doing the opposite. Driven by a relentless desire to maximise profits and recoup their investment in the family tea companies that they acquired, these companies cut costs. That meant cutting quality.
In 1988 Merrill pioneered three important initiatives which have today become hallmarks of Dilmah. Whilst commoditisation amongst big brands has continued, Merrill’s Dilmah is distinct in being Traditional Tea that is Single Origin Tea and packed Garden Fresh.
These are important because traditional tea, made in the ‘orthodox’ style – a production process that starts with handpicking the leaves and continues through withering, rolling, oxidation and firing – follows a technique perfected over centuries. It produces tea that is varied and sophisticated. The alternative is CTC, a relatively recent method of production designed to offer a quick cuppa and in the process sacrifices all that is special in tea. Merrill describes CTC as ‘tea without a soul.’
Single Origin Tea – unblended tea – is important because one of the most desirable features in tea is terroir – the sense of place. Terroir dictates that tea grown in the Uva region at a certain time of year, possesses the unique, signature taste that is the product of that unique climatic phenomenon. It gives each valley, each region and each country its unique identity in tea. The lower cost option though is to buy tea from wherever it is cheap – for tea varies enormously in cost – and blend it all together to produce a ‘multi-origin blend’. That may work for coffee, but certainly not for tea.
Dilmah is Garden Fresh, for it is freshness that guarantees a rich, and satisfying cup that is also potent in healthy antioxidants.
Importantly, Merrill founded his Dilmah Tea on simple, family values. He understood – as his mother would often tell him – that if he was successful, it was his obligation to share the benefits of his success with his workers and those less privileged in his community. At the heart of Dilmah therefore is the commitment to making business a matter of human service.
Revenues from the global sales of Dilmah, fund the work of the MJF Charitable Foundation in Sri Lanka and abroad. Serving the community started modestly amongst the families of 18 staff that Merrill started out with; at the time he was exporting bulk tea. With the launch of Dilmah and its evolution into an international brand that obligation to serve has grown proportionately. Eventually the MJF Charitable Foundation (www.mjffoundation.org) was formed to handle the expanding scale of humanitarian assistance, and in parallel a commitment to work towards environmental sustainability was developed with Dilmah Conservation (www.dilmahconservation.org).
The MJF Charitable Foundation enhances the lives of over 10,000 people each year through more than 100 different humanitarian projects.
Merrill J. Fernando, his sons and the Dilmah Team today focus on offering tea aficionados around the world a truly different experience in tea. Dilmah presents an unmatched collection of teas, each tasted and selected with the benefit of decades of experience in tea, and most importantly marked by genuine innovation and a passion for quality.
Merrill J. Fernando received the Business for Peace Award on the 6th of May 2015, incidentally also his birthday, as one of the five 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Honourees, by the Award Committee of Nobel Laureates in Peace and Economics. The Business for Peace Award was initiated by Per L. Saxegaard, a banker whose commitment to recognising and encouraging sustainability in business led to the establishment of the award with considerable global support.