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Definitely My Cup of Tea

May 1, 2013

Posted by DaddyBird

My First Box of Dilmah Tea

My First Box of Dilmah Tea

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting the founder of Dilmah Tea, Merrill J. Fernando, and his son Dilhan Fernando. For me, as a lover of tea in general, and a daily drinker of Dilmah tea, this was rather like getting to meet Steve Jobs.

My affection for tea by Dilmah started just a few years ago. Having grown up in the USA where good tea is generally difficult and/or expensive to obtain, after we moved to the UAE in 2008 I relished living where really good tea is a staple of everyday life. A visit to the average grocery store in the region reveals a coffee & tea aisle that usually has more tea than coffee, and even the cheapest and most humble brands tend to be very, very good. So, as the Mrs. can attest, I’ve taken great joy in randomly trying out various teas from the multitude available here. I am rarely disappointed. Although the flavor and character can vary quite greatly, the average quality of packaged teas is quite high. Moving to the Eastern Hemisphere has been quite beneficial to my tea-swilling.

On a work day about four years ago, I ventured from the office I was working in at the time to a nearby market and, as I always do no matter what items I may have entered the store for, I quickly perused the tea aisle. The packets of Dilmah “Ceylon Gold” tea caught my eye, as it was a label that I hadn’t seen before. A new discovery is always welcome, so I cheerfully purchased a box of 50 tea bags, headed back to the office, and immediately turned on the kettle on to try my new discovery. The aroma of the tea as it steeped was very promising, and after a few minutes I had a revelation: this was the best tea that I had ever tasted. It was hearty and complex, with satisfying flavor from beginning to end of a sip. I was, by then, used to finding satisfaction in teas from Ceylon, but Dilmah Ceylon Gold topped everything I had tried up until then.

Naturally after that first cup, I kept an eye out for Dilmah Tea while shopping, although it wasn’t so common in grocery stores. I was interested to find that while my introduction to the brand had been with a box of inexpensive, fairly basic tea, Dilmah was more frequently to be found at finer hotels and restaurants. Dilmah produces a wide variety of teas of many grades and styles, which are rightfully considered to be among the best available, so I think it only fitting when I find it served at upmarket venues, and I’m glad for their growing success in this area.

But my tea tastes are rather basic. More delicate and “refined” teas are enjoyable, but for my main cup I prefer something hearty, a tea with plenty of strength and character. So while I enjoy trying Dilmah’s more high-end offerings, such as their Single Estate teas and herb infused tea, the Dilmah Premium Ceylon, which seems to be their standard offering that is on grocery shelves these days, stands out to me as the best choice for my daily cup.

After getting hooked on the tea, it was both surprising and rewarding to find that Dilmah is no ordinary company. Dilmah was founded by Merrill J. Fernando, a native of Sri Lanka, not just as a business concern, but to fulfill Mr. Fernando’s passion for quality, honestly produced tea as well as for compassion to his fellow man. When he entered the tea business in 1950, Mr. Fernando was chagrined to find that a great deal of the business had little to do with the production and origin of the tea, and was much more concentrated on the blending, packaging, branding and marketing done by the major corporations. Likewise, the profits reaped from these endeavors went mainly to the traders and distributors, with only a tiny fraction going back to the farmers, pickers and packers who spent great effort on a daily basis to produce the fine tea that was simply a commodity to the the outside world.

And so, Mr. Fernando worked hard for many years to become successful in the tea industry, until in 1988 he was able to establish Dilmah- named after his sons Dilhan and Malik- a company dedicated to honestly growing, preparing and distributing single origin, 100% Ceylon tea. Just as important to Fernando as producing honest tea was to do so ethically, sharing the profits with those that worked so hard to grow and pack the tea. The fulfillment of this obligation eventually led to the creation in 1999 of the MJF Charitable Foundation, to oversee the many projects he had created to benefit Dilmah’s employees, as well as the general populace of Sri Lanka.

Learning of the company’s background, I found Dilmah tea to be something that I could not only enjoy, but could also feel good about drinking. So when our friend Mita contacted me and asked if I wanted to attend afternoon tea with the founder, I dropped everything and made the trip from Fujairah over to Dubai.

Dilhan and Merrill Fernando

Dilhan and Merrill Fernando

The father and son behind Dilmah Tea were in Dubai to conduct the latest editions of Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, a series of events which challenge teams of chefs to create High Tea dishes that are paired with specific teas. They had held the event in Dubai the previous day, and would be doing the same in Abu Dhabi the next. The practice of pairing wines with foods is well known, of course; now Dilmah is advocating the same with fine tea in order to create memorable High Tea experiences. As a tea lover and amatuer cook this sounds quite sensible and fun to me.

It was really a delight to get to meet Merrill and Dilhan Fernando. I and a few others had the privilege of sitting around a table at Amwaj restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai to chat with them and hear about their goals and experience with the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge as well as their business philosophy. I had read the account of Mr. Fernando and his company, of course, but naturally it was much more interesting to hear him recount it himself, with many personal insights and details added. Mr. Fernando’s passion for tea and for making the world a better place were quite palpable. What to me was already an admirable person and story became even more inspiring.

Merrill Fernando speaking passionately about his life's work.

Merrill Fernando speaking passionately about his life’s work.

Also in attendance was Chef Bernd Uber, who serves as Presiding Judge for the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge. He gave mouthwatering accounts of the fine pairings of Dilmah tea and creative dishes that have been developed by the chefs participating in the Challenge. He also spoke quite of admiringly Mr. Fernando, his family and company, which the chef has been collaborating with for several years now.

Quite naturally, the occasion was capped with afternoon tea, including a selection of treats provided by the restaurant and a wide variety of Dilmah teas. Although many tea and herbal blends were on offer, I stuck with my preference for ‘straight’ tea, sampling the Oolong and “Brilliant Breakfast” teas.

I was pleased that Dilhan expressed enthusiastic approval when I mentioned my daily preferred tea preparation: simply a large mug with three bags of Dilmah Premium Ceylon. Apparently, he likes his tea very strong too!

Previously, I already would have happily recommended Dilmah Tea to anyone who would listen. Not only is it consistently great tea, but the family-run company itself is an all-too-rare example of an firm that one can be unabashedly enthusiastic about. In times when the vast majority of goods that we depend on are produced by giant corporations with often shady practices, having a choice that offers both quality and good ethics is a relief. And now, having met and spoken with the founder, I feel even more enthusiastic about recommending my favorite tea.

For more information, see these sites:

Dilmah Tea – http://www.dilmahtea.com/

The MJF Charitable Foundation – http://www.mjffoundation.org/

Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge – http://realhightea.dilmahtea.com/

TeaCannisters

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First Stroll in Istanbul

January 22, 2011

Posted by DaddyBird

I don’t usually get around to posting on this blog. Unfortunately I’m usually too busy writing, editing, proofreading, tweeting and configuring things elsewhere. Hopefully, I can get a few posts in while we’re here in Istanbul.

After getting settled in to our cozy room, grabbing a few things from a local market and having a bit of dinner, Kanga was wiped out. I was tired too, but just had to go out for a walk anyway. We’re only a couple of blocks away from the Blue Mosque! Why wait ’til tomorrow to see it? When I’m in a new place, I like to walk around and get the lay of the land as soon as possible anyway, so out I went.

I took some pictures while I was out. Of course some of them were of the local cats. They’re plenty of them around, which is the sign of a great city. 😀 (Lara and Terrence over at The GranTourismo Travel Blog have a cool post about the cats in Istanbul.)

An Istanbul street kitty

Took a few night-time pictures of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. They certainly don’t do to the structures justice, but then, I’m not sure that any pictures can.

Aya Sofia
The Blue Mosque

Walking distances are much shorter than I expected, which is great; we’re even closer to more of the sights that I knew. So far the city is just stunning. Can’t wait to see more of it in daylight. The weather is great! Nice and cool. While I was out walking around in 10 degree Celsius weather, wearing a t-shirt and no jacket, I was asked by several if I wasn’t cold. I told them I enjoy the cold, which I certainly do. This is my kind of weather. (Well, a bit cooler and rainier would be great too!)

Firuz Aga Camii

Our friend Rupert, who has lived in Istanbul, made a number of recommendations on places to go and things to do. One suggestion was to check out the pudding shops. I found one just a few steps away from Aya Sophia. The pudding is tasty, and the food looked good too, may go back for dinner.

A Pudding Shop!

I uploaded a few of the pictures that I took this evening to a Picasa album. Here’s the link: http://picasaweb.google.com/pauliancastle/Istanbul

Go down to the end of this street and turn left and you’re at our place.
This seems to be how they say, “Don’t park in front of this building” in our neighborhood.
Kitty in the window
On a sidewalk near the Blue Mosque; I think I’ve seen these exact items on sale in Naif! 😉

More soon!

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Monte Carlo at Night, and more…

March 3, 2010

Posted by DaddyBird

A few more pictures from Monaco:

Here’s the Monte Carlo Casino again…

…and the Café de Paris, etc…

…The Hotel de Paris, next to the Monte Carlo Casino, across the square from the Café de Paris…

…and at the other end of the Hotel de Paris, looking back up the street towards my hotel, the Hotel Hermitage.

Here’s one of the lovely fountains in the park on the other side of the square from the casino.

Here are a few more random pictures from Monaco, mostly chosen for the glimpses of the high rocky terrain in the background. The area is rugged and mountainous, and yet surprisingly green. Quite naturally beautiful.

Looking towards the East end of Monaco, from the Fairmont Hotel…

…and much of the same view from the street below. (But with more of the terrain in the background.)

Near the square in Monte Carlo, looking the other way down the street from my hotel. (Hey, look! A construction crane!)

As you can see, there are quite a lot of high-rise apartment buildings in Monaco. Still, they are dwarfed by the towering surroundings.

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Three Nights in Monte Carlo

February 20, 2010

Posted by DaddyBird

I recently went on an unexpected business trip to Monaco. The magazine that I work for, Shufflegazine, had been invited to attend a trade show, but my boss was unable to attend due to other obligations, so he asked if I would like to go in his place. It took me about 3 seconds to say, “yes!”

The trip really was mostly business. The trade show, DISTREE XXL, is aimed at bringing together IT & consumer electronics vendors with distribution companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was a good opportunity for the magazine to find out about new tech products that night be coming to our region and to get acquainted with some companies that we may not have had contact with yet. That meant I spent as much time as I could talking to representatives of the companies in attendance and almost none seeing the sights of Monaco. I had hoped to slip away for an hour or two to visit the museum or a historical building, but time and the need to talk to as many as possible just did not permit me to do so. I did get a little free time late one evening, but by then all the historical sites were long closed for the day and even the little local restaurants were locking up for the night.

So my glimpses of Monaco were pretty much limited to what I saw on the walks in Monte Carlo, between the hotel I stayed in and the hotel where the trade show was being held. That being said, for an almost completely “all work, no play” trip, it really was a pretty nice time, and a beautiful place to be doing business for a few days. Attending a tech conference for the magazine and talking to people about their cool new products isn’t bad duty at all, and Monaco is one most lovely places to get to do it. Also, the food served to the attendees of the show at the Fairmont Hotel was outstanding. So while it was busy and tiring, and even though there were many things close by that I hated missing, overall it was still a great several days.

Here are a few pictures:

I got to stay at the beautiful Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo. Certainly the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. One of “The Leading Hotels of the World” according to the publicity literature. This fortunate geek boy certainly can’t dispute that. It was gorgeous, very comfortable and the staff was highly gracious.

The elevators in the hotel were small, but nicely appointed.

My room was too big to capture in a photo without a very wide-angle, fish-eye lens.

Many channels available on the TV, including French, Italian and other European channels. Interestingly, channels for Dubai and AbuDhabi TV were also included. An episode of “The Million’s Poet” is on!

It was a fairly short walk between my hotel and the Fairmont where the trade show was being held, with some nice sights in between, in particular the Monte Carlo Casino.

Adjacent to that was a fancy shopping mall and the Café de Paris.

And across from that was the most adorable little police station that I’ve ever seen.

It was just a little further to the Fairmont Hotel where the show was being held. The Fairmont is a much more angular and modern building than the others. If you’ve ever watched the Grand Prix de Monaco, you may have seen the Fairmont. As you can see in the picture, the hairpin turn on the Gran Prix course is right in front of the Fairmont. Also the course goes through a tunnel that is underneath the hotel.

The Fairmont is situated right on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and has bay windows running all along the seaward side of the building, so while at the conference we were constantly treated to spectacular views.

Sometimes the sea and the sky were unbelievably blue.

I have several more pictures from Monaco to share, but I put them in another post. Stay tuned!

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DaddyBird’s Birthday Party

February 17, 2010

Posted by DaddyBird

Last night, to celebrate my birthday, we had a dinner at my favorite restaurant, Aroos Damascus, with a number of our Dubai friends, most of whom we have gotten to know through Twitter. We had a great turnout, including ourselves 30 people showed up over the course of the evening, and it was a really wonderful time. Aroos Damascus serves very delicious Syrian-style Arabic food, and has a large menu, so there’s plenty of choice. The staff there is always very helpful and kind. I like getting people to visit this restaurant with us, but it can be difficult coaxing some to our part of town since the traffic can be very heavy coming this direction in the evenings. So last night, it was a particular thrill to have so many of many favorite people together at one of my favorite places.

Aroos Damascus has a large outdoor seating area which is very popular, and always full in the evenings when the weather is nice. We managed to monopolize several tables for our large group. It was a lovely way to spend a birthday evening!

Here are a few pictures taken by our friends at the party:

Our friend Mahdi took this picture of me, along with (part of) Muhammed Ali, Wajiha and Money:

Micheline had several picture to contribute, capturing much of our group:

Here’s Micheline herself flanked by Muhammed Ali and Ritesh:

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In The News Again, Again

November 22, 2009

Posted by DaddyBird

Our friends at Wild Peeta Fusion Shawarma Restaurant are helping to promote men’s health and fight prostate cancer by participating in the annual “Movember” event. They started a team called “Bu Shanab”, which basically means “the daddy of all mustaches”. They arranged for an interview about the subject with one of the local newspaper, so we went to lend our support. (I’m glad we did, especially since not a lot of other members of the team could make it that evening.)
As usual we had a great time at Wild Peeta with Mohammad and Peyman, the brothers who founded it, and several other friends on the team, all of whom we’ve met through Twitter.
There are other Movember teams and activities going on in Dubai this month, both for raising awareness as well as funds. As the article states, unfortunately there aren’t any men’s health organizations here in the UAE, so the funds raised will have to go to groups that support the cause elsewhere.

Read the article from the Gulf News here:
http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/tache-the-way-to-highlight-causes-1.530166

Find out more about the Movember event here: http://www.movember.com/

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Oliver, the Bread Thief

November 18, 2009

Posted by DaddyBird

The other day, while out and about in our area of town, Deira, I passed a small bakery. This was an old style bakery that produces large flatbreads, the bakers sitting on top of the tile-covered oven that took up the front room of the bakery and reaching down into the oven through a round hole in the top to place the pads of dough and remove the finished pieces of bread. You can buy large rounds of bread that have literally come ‘straight out of the oven’ right there from the bakers for 1 dirham each. They smell and taste wonderful, of course. (There are few of these bakeries around. I’ll try to do a blog post about them soon.)

I bought several pieces and headed home to include them in that night’s dinner. They were so hot that I thought that they might melt the plastic bag that they were put in before they were handed to me. Even after walking the several blocks back to our apartment the bread was still very warm and fragrant. I set it on the counter while I quickly cooked some mildly spiced chicken to pair with it.


Our cats, Oliver and Bert, lingered in the kitchen while I worked, which was not at all unusual. They like to be close and watch what I’m up to most of the time anyway, but food preparation is even more interesting than average, of course, especially when chicken is involved. So their intense interest in the process was no surprise. A surprise was still in store for me though.

I had turned away from my task for a few moment to do something else, when there was a noise from the cooking area. This wasn’t overly unusual either, as the cats- Oliver in particular- will sometimes try go where they are not allowed if left unsupervised. I turned back just in time to see Oliver making his escape, not with a piece of chicken, but with a whole flatbread dangling from his mouth. He had managed to grab it in the middle so it folded in half, which was lucky for him as it would otherwise have been to large for him to not end up stepping on as he retreated.

He bolted into the other room and promptly dropped the bread on the floor and started tearing off little pieces of it to eat. And to play with as well, of course. Children may be told not to play with their food, but there’s certainly no telling that to a cat with any result. I’m sure that food must taste better to a cat after it’s been properly subdued.


The bread was a bit too soiled by this point to consider repossessing, and the incident was so humorous that I thought Oliver deserved his ill-gotten gain, so I left it to him. Bert seemed to be enjoying it as well, so it was bread for the whole family that night. It was much too large for a cat, or even two, to eat all of, so it remained on object of both play and snacking for the rest of the evening. Later on I got some video of this, which is cute enough to share.

So, even Oliver agrees: that is some great bread!