Dilmah School of Tea 2023
This year the 75th edition of the School of Tea took place. Over 160 tea lovers from 45 different countries travelled to the beautiful Sri Lanka to attend the School of Tea. A very inspiring and educational week. But what does the SoT really entail?
What is the School of Tea?
The School of Tea is an educational platform founded by Dilmah. The goal of the School of Tea is to educate people about tea, from its origins and production, to tea brewing and tasting. Tea lovers and hospitality professionals are immersed in the world of tea for one week and attend multiple training programs and workshops. There is also the opportunity to visit tea gardens, talk with tea farmers and producers, and tour the factories. In this way, the production of tea is experienced up close and it becomes clear how much work is involved. In addition to visiting tea plantations, the course also provides in-depth knowledge about tea tasting, including the techniques and terminology used in judging tea. You will also learn how to brew tea properly, what perfect tea-food pairings can be and how to create tea cocktails.
More than Tea
The School of Tea is more than just a tea course. During the week you will not only be introduced to the world of tea, you will also learn about the rich past that has shaped Sri Lanka into what it is today. In addition, you will experience various Sri Lankan cultural traditions and taste traditional cuisine. You will become acquainted with the many initiatives Dilmah has set up for Sri Lanka and visit the MJF Centre of Charitable Foundation. The School of Tea is for anyone interested in exploring the world of tea or for anyone who simply loves tea! Curious about what this year’s School of Tea was like? I’d love to take you along in my experience!
Day 1 – Dilmah HQ & MJF Foundation
On the first day, we visited Dilmah’s headquarters, located in Colombo. Here we were welcomed by all the factory employees and beautiful traditional dance and music. The day began with a tour inside the headquarters given by the CEO Dilhan Fernando. During the tour we were able to take a look around the office and got the chance to taste all different types of tea. After this we visited the factories, where the tea is taken to be packaged. We walked past various machines and were given an explanation of the packing and shipping processes. Super impressive to see this up close!
In the afternoon we went to the MJF Foundation in Moratuwa, which is about 20 km south of Colombo. This centre is one of the 33 empowerment centres that the MJF Charitable Foundation has set up in various places in Sri Lanka. The MJF gets its name from the founder of Dilmah, Merrill J. Fernando. This foundation aims to educate and provide medical assistance and opportunities for children with disabilities and their families. A tremendously beautiful initiative that makes outcast children and mothers believe in themselves again. Again, we were warmly welcomed with dance and music, and we danced around a large doll. The motto here was that every woman is allowed to be or can become great. During this afternoon we got to know the children and women, we could dance and play games and we got an insight into the different forms of help this foundation offers.
Day 2 - formal tea sessions
The second day was full of education about tea. The day began with a tea inspired breakfast, served at the Hilton Colombo, where we were staying. There was a whole breakfast corner set up, with all kinds of dishes that included tea. A great way to start the day! The School day started at 9:00 am, where again CEO Dilhan Fernando talked about how his father once started Dilmah and how the vision came about. We also got an explanation from the chef who made the breakfast, about his inspiration and how he created the different dishes. Subsequently, there were several formal tea sessions spread throughout the day, in which the world of tea was discussed in depth. Various topics were discussed, such as the different soil types, what the height and location of a plantation does to the taste of tea, what types of tea there are, and how best to brew tea. We also became acquainted with the many products of Dilmah, this was especially interesting because we could also taste tea varieties and elixirs (tea extracts) that are not sold in Europe. At mid-day, a 12-course lunch was served, with a matching tea with each course. In the afternoon, a number of sessions took place that delved deeper into the health benefits of tea. So in-depth that at times it felt like a chemistry class! The day ended with a tea-cheese tasting, where the properties and background of each cheese were described in detail by ‘Queen of Cheese’, Betty Koster of Fromagerie l’Amuse, located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Learning yet another side of tea!
Day 3 - Travel day to Nuwara Eliya
The third day was a travel day. We left Colombo to Nuwara Eliya, home to the best tea plantations in Sri Lanka (due to its high altitude). During the ride, we drove through a lot of beautiful tea plantations, which made for unreal views.
After a 7-hour bus ride, we arrived at the next hotel in Nuwara Eliya and were once again welcomed with dancing and music.
In the evening, a full Sri Lankan buffet was served by the kitchen team. This was a delicious dinner, full of flavours and spiciness.
Day 4 - Somerset Tea Estate, MJF Foundation, Tea Mixology
On this day we visited the Somerset Tea Estate, located in Nuwara Eliya. Again, we were welcomed beautifully, with traditional dancing and music. After this we were divided into groups and the plantation tour began. Our group started in the factory, where you could see how the tea leaves are dried after picking and then mechanically processed into the well-known tea in the form of powder or whole leaves. After this we were taken to the storage area, where all the tea bags were waiting to be sent to the auction. Tea from this plantation is sold at an auction and then bought at this auction by tea companies, including Dilmah. Having the auction as an intermediary prevents tea companies from buying directly from tea plantations, exploiting workers and paying a low price.
We were also given a tour through the tea garden itself, with the CEO explaining how the tea is picked and cared for. We were able to meet tea pickers and experience what it is like to do this work. It is clear that hand-picked tea is so much more than machine-picked tea, because only the fresh leaves are full of flavour, antioxidants and polyphenols that a machine cannot extract.
After visiting the tea plantation and factory, we went to a small MJF Center, this time a pre-school for children of plantation workers. Children from the age of 3 months up to 5 years old are taken care of before they go to elementary school. A nice initiative where the plantation employees are relieved and their children get a good communicative basis. Dilmah gives scholarships to talented children of plantation workers so that they get equal opportunities just like other children. For example, there are children of Dilmah tea pickers who have made it so far that they are now doctors or lawyers. This is groundbreaking in Sri Lanka.
At the end of the afternoon, we attended a tea mixology master class. A what? A training on how to incorporate tea into cocktails. This master class was given by Alberto Pizarro, a well-known Spanish mixologist who has already won several awards worldwide for his innovative ideas in the bartender world. During his workshop, he explained how he came up with certain cocktails and what tea was used in them. We were allowed to taste 5 different tea cocktails and then come up with a recipe ourselves.
After the mixology workshop, it was time for the presentation of our certificates. Everyone who successfully attended the School of Tea received a certificate, accredited by the World Association of Chefs Societies. In the evening a barbecue was held in the hotel garden, followed by a big closing party. Nice to see so many different nationalities coming together and all sharing the same passion: tea.
Day 5 - Travel day to Colombo
On the fifth and final day of School of Tea, we travelled back to Colombo. On the way back we made a stop in Kandy for lunch. After another bus trip of about 7 hours we arrived in Colombo, tired but satisfied . We had a fantastic week and an unforgettable experience.
You became enthusiastic about the School of Tea after reading about it and would you like to participate in the next edition? Send us an email! We would like to get in touch to discuss the possibilities.