Afternoon Tea for the 21st Century

Craftsmanship most often forms the heart of luxury, for whether an exceptional wine, a perfect violin, or the beauty in a work of art, it is the genius of the artisan that transforms the ordinary to the exceptional. There is no greater expression of the singular importance of the artisan than in tea. Tea made in the traditional way that we cherish at Dilmah, follows a rhythm established centuries ago and which to this day defies standardization to the extent that the teamaker practicing his or her art must exercise skill born out of experience and expertise in every aspect of the tea production process. The time taken for

withering, rolling, fermentation, are each entirely subject to the skill of the teamaker, whilst being demanding of expertise to an extent where even minor variations from the ideal for each batch of leaf are magnified in the character of the tea.

Yet tea goes beyond craftsmanship. In ancient China it was said that tea represented the harmony of heaven, earth and man. Here lies the true beauty in tea for the artisanal method of manufacture relies entirely on the craftsmanship of man but also nature – heaven and earth – to offer fine tea. Real tea is more accurately known as Camellia Sinensis, a shrub that can grow up to 60 feet and has a lifespan of over a century. It is one species yet assuming myriad forms across different places and seasons. Tea grown on our Craighead Estate in a specific field will today have a certain characteristic, relating to rainfall, intensity of light, temperature, wind conditions and humidity. Within a single tea garden the valleys, east facing slopes, hilltops, westward slopes and others each present a different combination of flavour, texture, intensity and aroma. Several days later as one or more of these natural climatic influences change, each is undeniably altered. There is a spectacular and sophisticated beauty in this reality, that each tea is crafted by nature and handcrafted again through the combined, art and skill in handpicking the leaf, in the skill of the teamaker and the skill and expertise of the tea taster.

Tea is unquestionably luxurious but there is even more for tea is natural goodness, tea is friendship and companionship and tea is fun. High Tea is a world’s tea ceremony and it has the potential to express in a very compelling way the elegance, indulgence and serenity in tea. In most cases, even in the most extravagant high teas around the world, that is not so however. Our Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge was conceived in 2007 as an endeavour to present tea drinkers around the world with the special pleasure in tea and to elevate high tea to the experience that it could be. The Challenge we offered chefs and hospitality professionals around the world was to look at tea with contemporary insight, applying 21st century culinary, mixology and hospitality concepts to the 18th century tradition of afternoon tea. At the heart of the Challenge is respect for tea. Tea is a surprisingly affordable luxury and it is a lack of respect in relation to its selection, preparation, serving that have created a situation where afternoon tea is defined much more by food than by the appreciation of tea and where the disconnect between tea and food compromise the possibility of elevating the occasion to a gastronomic experience that is respectful of what heaven, earth and man have combined to offer in tea.

In this collection of genuinely tea inspired food and beverage which form the elements of an indulgent Dilmah Real High Tea, we have partnered with some of the world’s most passionate chefs, mixologists and hospitality professionals and we present a vision of afternoon tea for the 21st century. Most important about that vision is that it recognises the special relevance of culture, individuality, mood, gastronomy, mixology and heritage in crafting the perfect afternoon tea. There is no single definition of the perfect high tea but rather a multiplicity that are as varied and complex as tea itself, linked to the personality of the chef, the culture that you wish to share, the natural environment and therefore ingredients you wish to use, the nature of the occasion, whether a celebration or a moment of solace, an expression of art or of purity and a host of other factors all focussed on tea. The one consistent characteristic of a Real High Tea is that all these dimensions are focussed on tea in its beguiling and natural variety.

“The time taken for withering, rolling, fermentation, are each entirely subject to the skill of the teamaker, whilst being demanding of expertise to an extent where even minor variations from the ideal for each batch of leaf are magnified in the character of the tea.’

There is a spectacular and sophisticated beauty in this reality, that each tea is crafted by nature and handcrafted again through the combined, art and skill in handpicking the leaf, in the skill of the teamaker and the skill and expertise of the tea taster.

“At the heart of the Challenge is respect for tea. Tea is a surprisingly affordable luxury and it is a lack of respect in relation to its selection, preparation, serving that have created a situation where afternoon tea is defined much more by food than by the appreciation of tea”

Milinda Verage