CCU opened the invite on her phone with shaking fingers, trying to figure out why anyone would possibly be hoping to contact her and be in association with SBS Food hero, Peter Kuruvita.
Scanning the message, she almost chucked her phone on the ground in a ‘touch down’ moment of happiness. But she didn’t. Instead, she sat down, and wrote a very calm reply while bubbling over with excitement, similarly to a newly opened bottle of champagne.
Finally, the day had come when, courtesy of Dilmah teas, she was going to have a high tea with Mr Kuruvita. Only she didn’t realise that high tea in this case, truly did mean high tea…
I don’t really know where I should start with this post, because in the past two years, this is one of the most exciting events I have been lucky enough to experience!
But I will give it my best shot 😉 – hopefully you will learn to appreciate both tea, and the effort that goes into creating it, after I am done!
The Dilmah tent where I experienced my high tea was actually located in a massive complex of various foodie tents and stalls, set up with tasters, food gurus and chefs giving out free samples and wine tastings. Bustling with bloggers and media to food lovers from all around Sydney, this show is known as the Taste of Sydney, aptly enough 😀
Located in the beautiful Centennial Park near the city, it was set up right in the central fields, with large signage and obvious hype surrounding it. Surrounded by massive geese, tall trees and flower bushes, all these pavilions were set up in rows on the grass, with the box office to the front. Featuring stalls from over 15 restaurants, countless breweries and with free goodies all round, it is no wonder they made this an annual festival!
I really liked the greenery surrounding the bright white tents, it gave the festival even more vibrancy, and would have looked gorgeous under the fairy-lights strung around (since the festival went will 10pm!)
I actually went with my daddy, as I had yet not taken him to a foodie event, and I was sure he would appreciate the high tea to come! In return, he became my official photographer (who is really the paparazzi people!) and as you may notice, the really fabulous photos in this post are actually courtesy of his ‘amateur’ talent 😀 – Thanks daddy and as I promised, I am giving you complete credit!
Anyhow, arriving a bit early, we toured the area, and saw the vast range of mustards and dips to try, as well as the free drinks flowing!
Beanbags for relaxing, the whole atmosphere was like a foodie’s version of a carnival! We were tempted many a time to purchase some ‘crowns’ (because the Taste of Sydney is too posh to actually use Australian dollars, you must convert them) but stayed strong and true to the real event we had come from!
And soon it was time to head back to the massive Dilmah tent. Beautifully decorated with green leaves around it, the friendly staff were giving out free goodie bags to passer-bys and those who had stopped to sample some exotic teas. We were greeted then on entrance by Peter Kuruvita! My heart stopped for a second, but I am glad I recovered, because fainting on idolised chefs is not my idea of a good first impression 😛
Before I start telling you about our fantastic chat, allow me give a little bit of background, shall I? Peter Kuruvita is a top chef in Australia, who has had 3 successful series on SBS Food, ranging from touring Sri Lanka to his newest series, Mexican Fiesta! He tours, delves into and showcases food, history and culture of amazing places, but does not stop there! He also has 4 restaurants, some are international and because he has lived in Sri Lanka for some of his childhood, that is a major influence on his style.
Furthermore, Mr Kuruvita (though he introduced himself as Peter!) is also the Ambassador of Dilmah Tea, whose tea is one of the finest international brands, promoted not only by their tea’s fresh taste, but all their humanitarian ventures in Ceylon. But I learnt a lot more about that after talking with him.
I actually came fully prepared with questions on a piece of paper, carefully thought out because, of course I had researched him beforehand, but what my dad and I received was an unforgettable lesson in tea gastronomy. I openly admitted to him that I had absolutely zilch knowledge of tea, very occasionally enjoying a good blend of organic tea, and he just chuckled and told me by the end, I would be an expert.
We sat on yellow stools, surrounded by yellow roses (fake or not, I was a little wary of looking weird if I just touched them), and Peter began recounting Dilmah’s story, and why, in his expert opinion, this company held most value for his tea.
“Ceylon is a beautiful country, but one struck down by poverty, and children, are often then left uneducated due to the lack of opportunity. Dilmah works with them, bringing them under their wing and allowing them to achieve their goals of being a singer or a dancer, a lawyer, a doctor.
Dilmah is not only committed to the fresh tea fields of Ceylon, but determined to also benefit the community there, hiring people to ensure employment, while increasing the awareness and importance of opportunity and education. Children are also subject to abuse at times, due to the harsh conditions and consequent strain on parents, in which case, Dilmah immediately removes them from their family and provides for them.
He got a little nostalgic at this point, as he has quite a bit of contact with these kids as well. He begins to recount his own experience with a small child, who wanted to be a DJ, so Dilmah placed him under Colombo’s best DJ! He went on to describe a troupe called “Dilmah’s Children” who were also routinely singing and dancing and now do world shows.
It just made my heart happy that a company could care so much, and be on a humanitarian level, it really did. He then surprised me by saying:
“No one really knows that Dilmah is associated with this. And they do not take donations from anyone, the company self-funds these charitable ventures. It is called the MJF Foundation.”
He looked a little sheepish at this point, I don’t think realising how much detail he was going into these projects that Dilmah sponsors but does not share, leaving off on the fact that to learn more, the best thing to do was to visit their site. I did, and I was quite genuinely amazed at the scope of activity work done in Sri Lanka.
Changing the subject, he got moving to the teas being sampled. We had 2 teas placed in front of us. Now, what you may realise is, that this high tea, was quite literally a high tea. He emphasised at the beginning of our chat how the concept of tea, and ‘light’ snacks (heavy really, with cream, butter and scones) is relatively new, and the traditional high tea did focus on the tea itself, and the revitalising boost it gave you in the afternoon to keep you going till sunset.
We were lucky enough to, by the end of it, try a lot of the Exceptional Range of teas. Bliss. Coming from a non-to-occasional tea drinker 😀
“The first tea, which is the best way to start off drinking tea, is the Fragrant Jasmine Green Tea. Until now, majority of green tea was grown in China, and has only recently been exported from Ceylon, as the pollution in China increases, affecting the tea. Furthermore, there has been a huge furore because the tea was tested, and found to be exceptionally high in toxic pesticides. Sri Lankan tea, comparatively, is all organic, with nitrogen increased in it by planting large trees within the tea fields. This increases soil nutrients, in turn, growing healthier plants.”
The green tea was very smooth, and mixed with jasmine, left a fragrant aftertaste in my mouth. It was refreshing, unlike the harsh green tea I have drank before, and very lightly coloured, almost a mint green. The reason for its texture, before even being asked, was explained by Peter.
“The method of tea production differs considerably for Dilmah than the traditional method of most tea industries. While they use mechanical pickers, Dilmah has hand picked tea, increasing employment in Ceylon and quality in their tea. They also only use the first two leaves of the bud, as otherwise, the tea will be more bitter. Most pickers pick up to 16kg of tea, per shift, three times.
Furthermore, the mechanical pickers also tend to crush the leaves (he actually picked leaves off a plant nearby and crushed it for emphasis), causing them to begin fermenting, so by the time the leaves have been sorted, dried and packaged, majority of the flavour, goodness and freshness has already been released. Green tea is also steamed, not roasted like black tea, to release its flavour differently.
Here is a fun fact I had no idea about.
“Basically all tea comes from the same tree, the Camellia Sinensis, though there are exceptions such as Japanese tea plants. But since Chinese developed the methodology of creating tea, this plant has been the base used.”
My daddy cut in at this point, claiming this tea is so smooth, yet the company we usually drink (no mentions) was quite bitter and harsh (he is experienced in tea drinking.) Looking bemused, and knowing we would now switch to Dilmah, Peter went on to tell us the difference…
“That company is not specific to one area, it is multinational and collects teas from around the world. As a result, it can have contact with pesticides, be mechanically picked and fermented, and after processing, sits in the corner of factories waiting to be shipped. While it can be approximately up to 6-8 months old, Dilmah ensures its freshness by making sure that every packet of tea is no more than 6 weeks old, since the leaves were on the bush… the same bush.”
Encouraging us to smell it, there was a slight scent of wood fire, beyond the Jasmine, which he claimed was coming from the method of processing it, as well as the smell of gardens in the village. I was smelling Ceylon. Sweet. 😀
“The reason for spring water is that it allows the gentler, floral flavours and the green tea to come out more clearly, as it is more soft (He then proceeded to open a loose leaf tea bag and show us what the green tea actually looks like). Note that it is wrapped in foil which keeps it in ‘suspended animation’, and optimum freshness till you rip open the packaging. Dilmah also came up with the now common ‘pyramid tea bags’ whose surface area increase allows for optimum flavour release into the water by greater contact.
On opening the packet, dried actual leaves fell out, no dust, he scornfully said. He really hates people calling the interior of tea bags as dust. 🙂
There was quite a generous amount in a teabag, and for dried leaves, it was actually quite large chunks. Jasmine and green tea leaves mingling together went on to explain how since it such a palate cleanser, the green tea works well to flavour salads, such as by steaming prawns in water infused with the tea bags. Pretty genius 😀
“There should be no separation in the tea, which is actually caused by brewing it in hard water. The vibrancy is also diminished by it. Pure water allows the tea to have ‘body’, so it isn’t all watery, but strong, smooth liquid.”
Then he describes the ‘simple’ process of using it to make liquid popcorn… simple… he says. It involves popped corn and milk boiled down, taking it out, blending and sieving it to be left with ‘popcorn milk’. He decided to go even fancier by frothing up Italian Almond tea and putting it on top, because he can 😀
I found this tea to be a little bitter (the almonds), yet my dad and Peter both found said it was sweet, enjoying the almond flavour. As nice as it was, it was not my favourite flavour, just because… almonds… I need a LOT of sugar if I eat almonds (like in macarons… :D) – but I think daddy fell in love and found his new favourite…
We then were about to move on to the black teas about to be sampled, so Peter got down on explaining the difference.
“Just like in the process of wine, tea is stronger according to the elevation in which it is grown. Low-grown will be much stronger black teas comparatively, which Russians and Arabs love, such as english break tea. Meanwhile, english afternoon teas are middle-level and jasmine tea, for instance, would be high grown as they are lighter.
You will also notice that none of these teas are drunk with sugar or milk. Honey is a much better sweeter, as it is organic and has little flavour, not masking the tea like artificial sweeteners.”
As we wait for our next batch of teas, which arrived with complimentary chocolate and sweet pairings made by Peter (Insert MASSIVE smile), he gives us a run down on the unique method of how tea is picked and processed for Dilmah. I will try to shorten it down as much as I can but seriously guys, it is super interesting! To read more, check out here and here 😀
“After being picked, the tea is taken to the factory, and thrown on a rack to get rid of any moisture, via fanned air from wood fire (hence, smokiness of tea flavour). The leaves,which despite being crushable, do not break, are then rolled gently to start the fermentation process, before being taken to three cutters, where they are assorted into 4 sizes. These then sit (sweep tea off the floors is kind of true! :P) to ferment into a golden brown.
The tea maker, like a wine expert, makes the call, if they are fermented enough. It is then sent to the drying room via wood fire (again) and it creates black tea (steamed if green tea), then sent to be ready to be assorted. 8 different types, these are sent to be tested, and then auctioning all around Sri Lanka, to prospective buyers.”
Reading back, it sounded like I was writing something for my marketing class… 😛
I would keep going, but you understand. It would be massive. The different teas were named according to how the teas were created (e.g. Fanning because Chinese used to fan it… :D) – He ensures us that despite not writing in detail which type of tea was in each box, Dilmah focuses on fair trade therefore you can be sure the tea is genuine in type.
We now got an assortment of chocolate and teas placed in front of us! After trying the Rose with French Vanilla, which Peter told us used a stronger tea because of rose’s intense flavour, we ate the Dilmah Rose Tea Infused Flavoured Jelly dipped in chocolate with it. Soft and sweet, it complimented its drink component perfectly, and I was in heaven. It was his take on a turkish delight 😀
We then tried the Ceylon Spice Chai, which Peter claimed was necessarily murkier, unlike the clear teas he had been advocating for before.
“This was a result of allowing the natural oils from the spices to infuse into the tea for extra flavour, regardless of the slight lack of clarity it gives to the tea. It also uses a special citrus oil bergamot which is very difficult to find! It is also very expensive, so is used scarcely (otherwise it would be $20 a teabag!)
Along with this chai, we ate a White Chocolate and Chai Spice Fudge. I didn’t find the flavour of the chai spice predominant enough, but it was very sweet and reminiscent of Indian burfi, making me smile, and went very well with the spicy tea!
As we ate, and slurped away, Peter was describing to us Dilmah’s annual , global Real High Tea challenge, where people create dishes and drinks with an emphasis on tea infusions and flavours. Needless to say, though judging sounds very gourmet and fun, after trying every dish of every contestant, it can get tiresome 😛 – I would still take that job any day!
A bit of banter and general talk later, with daddy and Peter discussing ‘old Castle Hill’ and how Sydney looked before the 21st century had me smiling, and listening, and remembering that comparatively… I was very young 😛
Connections were flying all over the place, with their close birthday dates and times when they arrived in Australia and all I could see was a potential bffl connection 😀
Our last tea to try was the true loved English Breakfast Tea from the Single Region Selection. No sugar or milk, just pure tea with a Earl Grey Infused Chocolate Truffle (dusted in tea leaves). While strong, it certainly was not bitter, and had a lovely dark caramel colour to it.
In the final moments of discussion, Peter advocated for a lot more than good quality tea.
“In today’s world, no one has the time to appreciate the tea for more than just a pick-me-up beverage. An average tea bag should infuse for 3-5 minutes for full flavour, in which time, people should just chat, and make time for conversation.
Dilmah’s tea also holds a story, and provides jobs for many men, instead of becoming part of the norm of mechanical, industrial companies that see tea solely as a profitable business venture, due to the high demand. No mixing, blending from different regions. It is about selling the value of tea in its own right, beyond a drink we take for granted.”
He believes that is important to give yourself the best, even if it is 15c per teabag instead of 10c. And he also gave a handy tip (all you caffeine addicts) – the first thing that rises out of a teabag is the caffeine so to get rid of it, simply place the bag in a cup of boiling water for 20 seconds, allowing the caffeine to rise out. After that, immediately transfer it for 3-5 minutes to another cup of boiling water, allowing yourself to enjoy all the flavour without any of the insomniac effects.
Ending on such a note, he then calls for a large gift bag to be brought out, generously containing an assortment of Dilmah teas, a calendar and some loose leaf products, as seen below.
He also generously gave me a volume of his High Tea recipes developed with a range of 8 Australian chefs, and signed it! And just a tip – Ayubowan translates to ‘long life’, from Sinhalese.
After such an interesting conversation, it truly made me understand the value of tea, the production of good quality tea, and how important it is to see this beverage beyond a drink. It is actually something allowing charitable causes to occur and having its own story.
I hope I was able to convey that to you, because honestly, it feels quite important to me that I do so you too, can appreciate its value 🙂
To read more about Peter, Dilmah and their many events, just click all the hyperlinks included throughout this post!
Disclaimer: Go Bake Yourself attended the Taste of Sydney show as well as the Dilmah High Tea as sponsored guests of Dilmah and Peter Kuruvita. Any opinions about the tea and sweets sampled are her own.
P.S. You know what goes wonderfully with fully organic teas? Fully organic foods! I reviewed Aimee’s Book, the Sexy Vegan Kitchen, last year, and I think some of its dishes would be perfect with this tea! Check out its posts now 😀
- Walnut Pear Salad – infuse some green tea into this one!