April 14, 2024

“We are developing crop management to increase tea resilience”

The onboard cuppa is an essential staple, insists Merrill J. Fernando, founder of Dilmah Tea, as he celebrates his 70th year in the industry

Emirates wanted only the best of Ceylon tea, so they started by buying bulk tea from me, then we began to supply teabags. Today, the airline brews 33 million cups for its customers from a menu of 12 Dilmah teas.

The most popular in Economy is Dilmah Ceylon Black Tea while First and Business passengers favour Moroccan Mint and Breakfast Tea. The exclusive Emirates First signature tea is a single-estate tea made from the flowery Orange Pekoe leaf from the Dombagastalawa Estate. With an increasing focus on wellness, Emirates also recently introduced a new tea in its airport lounges: Turmeric, Coconut and Vanilla, with antioxidant properties.

We also supply Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines, Malaysian, Singapore, Etihad, Qantas and Qatar, and we are looking to expand into the cruise market too as cruise ships stop regularly in Colombo.

Sustainable stories
From 2021, we are changing the composition of our teabags to make them all biodegradable and we are currently pitching a new range of products to a large Australian supermarket chain. Personally, I have always preferred loose leaf tea and this is a range of loose leaf in 2g paper sachets for a cup, 4g size for a pot.

We achieved carbon-neutral status for the Dilmah facility in 2017, by making proactive reductions and offsetting our carbon dioxide emissions. In 2018 we achieved the same status for our whole range of 2,267 products.

On the research side, we have established the One Earth Centre for Climate Change Research and Adaptation, with weather stations at Queensbury and Kalkudah. We are working with climate scientists, entrepreneurs and farmers to find innovative, concrete solutions and smart technologies to face this challenge. We are also developing crop management to increase the tea plantation resilience to climate change.

A question of taste
Personally, I drink Ceylon Supreme each morning and Uda Watte from our Boutique selection in the afternoons. In the evening it’€™s Ran Watte for me, from the highest altitude estate. I started growing green tea in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, in response to demand; it’s a mellower choice, good for night time.

Interview by Richard Williams