In the last days of July 2022, a superlative fine Ceylon pekoe tea was crafted in very limited quantity of less than 1 kg., on Craighead Estate. It was intended by the Kahawatte Plantations team to honour my father, Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando, at a dinner he hosted in appreciation of their efforts in the severe circumstances that Sri Lanka experienced in the first half of 2022. He respectfully declined the honour and insisted that the spectacular tea be dedicated instead to the People of Sri Lanka. In the days that followed, the unique tea evolved into a tribute to the resilience of the people of Sri Lanka and a limited edition of 10 fine porcelain jars. Moment of Peace, crafted superlative Ceylon Pekoe leaf tea was born. It involved extraordinary effort, waiting for the rains to subside to replicate the conditions in which the first, tiny batch was handpicked, choosing a specific field where the age of the tea bushes, wind, weather and sporadic sunshine allowed us to create the perfect equivalent, and finally handcrafting a special Sri Lankan porcelain caddy in which to present the 10 caddies of tea, each containing 70g of the superlative Ceylon Pekoe.
The Moment of Peace will be presented in Sydney, Australia on several occasions, as a part of efforts to raise funds for Sri Lanka. In the last 24 months our MJF Foundation implemented its accelerated ‘Stronger Together’ programme for tea estate communities, with direct assistance fulfilling my father’s wish to serve humanity, in building hospitals, providing food rations, cooked food, scholarships, community centres and welfare with emphasis on mental health amongst children, youth and women in particular. Dilmah is partnering with UNDP in a private sector giving programme to efficiently source and supply essential medicines for the free state hospitals in Sri Lanka, serving those who are most in need. Dilmah is additionally partnering with Rotary and UNICEF in their Lifeline Sri Lanka initiative to fund essentials medicines, water purification and welfare measures for children in Sri Lanka.
The Moment of Peace will be presented at Love for Sri Lanka, an initiative by Chef Peter Kuruvita and Eresha De Zoysa, in support of UNICEF. It will be a part of the items auctioned to raise funds to protect children in Sri Lanka from malnourishment and to ease the pain their families are experiencing.
What follows is my assessment of the tea when first experiencing it with my son Amrit, and our senior taster Gunasiri.
Everyone has their own set of values and so also their own definition of what is valuable. Churchill explained context in his comment on the value of truth, ‘in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’ True, in wartime, and while it may not seem like it right now, most of the world is technically not at war and so the consensus probably goes with health and time as our most valuable assets. Given the option, Lennon would probably add love, rightly so, others would say life itself, and still others, freedom of speech, conscience, friendship. All indisputably true and all a matter of perspective.
Tea tasters are a rare lot, becoming even more rare by the day as discounting and compromise amongst the giant, multinational tea brands erodes quality and forces the task of selecting teas into the hands of accountants instead. Our perspective might not make the headlines too often but there are moments for a tea taster – like when Asterix gulps his gourd of magic potion and his entire being transformed – that can only be described as magical. You are probably wondering what this has to do with anyone other than a passionate tea taster and his or her diminishing circle of peers.
On Friday at precisely 10.05am there was such a moment in our tea tasting room at Dilmah. The Teamaker, Manager and team at Craighead Estate had prepared, picked and produced an unique tea as a gift for my father. The single leaf and bud were carefully harvested on Craighead, at around 1,000 feet above sea level, on Tuesday that week at almost exactly the same time. That is late for picking tea, but the leaf had to be supple and not too moist for the delicate flavour and texture in the bud to be nurtured. Less than 1kg., was made, and we brewed it at 80°C for 4 minutes.
It is a magic potion. Golden in colour with a beautiful lustre that expresses its light, bright personality, that extraordinary tea – by now referred to as the ‘Moment of Peace’ – is floral, softly sweet, mildly fruity with a creamy texture and complex aftertaste that combine the characteristics of a superlative high grown black tea, with those of a great oolong. The seconds that pass from the first experience of such a very special tea on the eye, to its appreciation on the nose and then the first sip melds into a moment that produces extraordinary peace.
I don’t mean peace in the conventional sense, but the abstract notion of peace, that is produced by the sensory experience of a fine tea; it is an emotion that is composed of knowledge of the purity of the brew originating as it does in the bud and leaves of camellia sinensis, the complexity of its natural progression from leaf to liquor aided by the influence of sunshine, wind, rain and myriad natural phenomena, the art of picking, the gentle wither, precise fermentation and the task entrusted to the teamaker, of nurturing what nature has induced. All that focuses the mind of the taster on the unassuming, natural luxury in the leaf, finessed by the awe that its 5,000 year heritage induces.
Tang Dynasty poet Lu T’ung explained the Moment. For Lu T’ung it was not just the first sip, and the experience was a little different but the seven bowls of tea he describes transported him to a state of mind equivalent to the mythological elysium:
The first cup moistens my lips and throat;
The second cup breaks my loneliness;
The third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs;
The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration – all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores;
At the fifth cup I am purified;
The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals.
The seventh cup – ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves.
Where is Elysium? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.Lu T’ung, Tang Dynasty (620-907 AD) Poet
Back to your presumed query on what this has to do with anyone other than a tea taster. In the unnecessarily complicated, overly demanding and constantly challenging lives that surround most people, and the anxiety that induces, there is inexplicable serenity in appreciating the genuine sophistication, purity, artisanship, taste and goodness in something as simple and natural as fine tea. Our Craighead Single Estate, Moment of Peace crafted superlative Pekoe Leaf Tea and our perspective on value may not rank highly in the world of luxury, being so unlike some of the more usual symbols, like Gucci’s $460 pet waste bag holder, Jil Sander’s $290 paper bag, or Balenciaga’s $2,145 tote.
Yet it has more than a few attributes of what should – in a less frantic world – be considered luxurious; natural – genuinely natural, made with kindness to nature – for the traditional method of teamaking that we value and can never compromise on, operates in synergy with nature. Nothing processed, nothing added – simply a method that was first used by ancient physicians 5,000 years ago, as they sought the goodness in tea as a herbal medicine. That ancient art – part science, but mostly art – produces a herb, that when brewed delivers extraordinary taste, multifaceted, with inspiring appearance, aroma, flavours, texture and finish. The source of that taste – an unique level of natural, plant antioxidants, adds scientifically proven health benefits – reducing stress, boosting immunity, protecting us from dementia, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and more. Importantly, all these components of that Moment of Peace, come from the leaf, and its architect is Nature.
Context is important and today it is the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of a world that expected to build back better after a pandemic, yet finds itself in a relentless combination of climate, health, economic, political and social emergencies. If I might be permitted to attempt a teamaker’s variation on Churchill’s eloquent expression, in volatile and chaotic times such as these, the peace in a glass of fine tea – peace that is not simply the absence of conflict but the genuinely deep and enduring serenity that rises from quiet contemplation of the fragrance and taste of nature framed in awareness of its fragility – is so precious, that its abiding innocence must be guarded with a shroud of insignificance.
in volatile and chaotic times such as these, the peace in a glass of fine tea – peace that is not simply the absence of conflict but the genuinely deep and enduring serenity that rises from quiet contemplation of the fragrance and taste of nature framed in awareness of its fragility – is so precious, that its abiding innocence must be guarded with a shroud of insignificance
A little cheesy compared to what the British Bulldog had to say, I know, but it is true. Fine tea is incredibly demanding. It requires perfect harmony amongst Heaven, Earth and Man – wind, sunshine, rainfall, humidity, soils, aspect, and the art of the teamaker; knowledge of that incredible effort is embellished by painful awareness of the vulnerability of the natural phenomena that conspire with the teamaker to produce a fine tea. A feat and an achievement that in this case, is validated in the first sip. That is the context that inspires reverent appreciation of the moment – awe, contentment and eventually peace.
The need for this truth to be cloaked in the appearance of insignificance is for the hordes who have never really experienced fine tea, or think that tea is ‘just tea’. Imagine if they discovered the truth and abandoned their $460 Gucci dog poop holders and turned to real luxury. If that were to happen tea aficionados may never again be able to afford the life enhancing moments that we have become accustomed to, spent savouring fine tea.
Every tea taster remembers the moment when he or she tastes an iconic tea. With the Uva Season approaching, there is likelihood of a few more. This Craighead Estate inspired Moment of Peace happened as my elder son Amrit and I tasted tea together on Friday with our senior taster Gunasiri. That added another dimension, with the joy of sharing the spectacular tea with my son, explaining its iconic characteristics and seeing the same appreciation in his eyes.
As for my suggestion that the quality of teas of this calibre should be camouflaged, that is written with tongue in cheek; it is every passionate teamaker’s desire to share their appreciation of fine tea. For my family it is our mission and purpose for it is in promoting broader appreciation of fine tea that we can strive to achieve a fair price for our produce, benefiting our ailing economy, our workers, their families and funding the climate action we urgently need to invest in. Tea is a luxury of unimaginable depth, for each fine tea presents the fingerprint of nature, and there is nothing so luxurious as the brightness imbued by the winds, the intensity nurtured by sunshine, the character that stems from the soils – all forming the terroir that results from the confluence of nature on the tea plant.
This joyful commentary on our experience is likely to lead to questions of where the Moment of Peace can be enjoyed. To be honest, we have not even thought of it, although one opportunity we have considered is its presentation in a charity auction for Sri Lanka, due to be held in Sydney on 22nd August. I will share details on Twitter @dilhanfernando and Instagram @life.inspiredbytea.