Samui Wining & Dining
An Ideal Blend

Zazen and Dilmah tea fuse to create a delicious afternoon experience.


32Luxury abounds everywhere at the beautifully stylish Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa. But Le Salon de Ti, reminiscent of the days of Somerset Maugham, is stunningly designed in classic colonial style. It’s not difficult to imagine the great author himself, reclining on the custom-made Louis XVI furniture whilst enjoying his afternoon tea. Zazen’s Le Salon de Ti provides the perfect backdrop in which to step back in time to a bygone era for a unique and ultra chic experience.


Since Le Salon de Ti opened, its popularity has grown immensely. But this is not due entirely to the superb décor and design. An important part of its success is down to the unique relationship between Zazen and Sri Lankan tea producers, Dilmah. Alexander Andries, Zazen’s Managing Director, headed over to Sri Lanka on an extensive mission to find the perfect tea for his tea salon. And this he found at Dilmah. These two companies are not only a perfect partnership because of their shared ethical values, but also in their enthusiasm in striving to provide the highest standards of quality possible.


The Dilmah story itself really is quite remarkable. A family business through and through, Dilmah is the brainchild of Merrill J Fernando who, since the 1950s, has devoted his life to tea. His sons, Dilhan and Malik (after whom the Dilmah brand is named), are integral in the running of the business. And their own children have now also joined the ranks in readiness to form the next generation of tea producers.


Merrill’s lifelong passion for tea has led him on an incredible journey from the early days when he declared that he would bring quality back to tea, ethically. From the valleys of Uva, Sri Lanka, it took him nearly four decades to fulfil his mission when as a young man his ideas were considered naive and idealistic. His ambitions were fiercely opposed by the multinational tea producers but, against all odds, his love of tea and also his natural obligation towards social justice helped him build up the global brand of Dilmah, the first producer-owned, garden-fresh, hand-picked, unblended, ethical and single origin tea in the world. This tiny, upstart tea company that he formed in 1988 in order to change the exploitation of his country’s crop by big traders, has grown to become one of today’s top 10 tea brands in the world.


With his desire to offer authenticity, Merrill pioneered the concept of single origin tea, and packing tea garden-fresh, at source. These initiatives were not easy as his struggle pitched him against corporations many times the size of his fledgling business. It brought him into conflict with his peers and government who didn’t share his belief that tea could be picked, packed and shipped direct from origin by growers themselves.


But with sheer determination and grit, Merrill persisted and 40 years after its initial conception, Dilmah tea is still ethically produced and hand-picked to this day. In the valleys of the Uva region, Merrill’s plantations produce the unique, signature taste which is the product of a climatic phenomenon. It gives each valley and each region its original identity in tea. Merrill’s Dilmah is distinct in being traditional tea that is single origin and packed garden-fresh. And these are the three very important initiatives that the Fernando family business is built on.


As his dream of ethically produced tea grew, along with his business, Merrill began to offer financial support and profit-sharing to the families of the 18 staff that Dilmah originally employed. As Merrill’s Dilmah tea became a relatively small but internationally available brand, the scale of the much larger social obligation required the establishment of the MJF Charitable Foundation to handle the expanding scale of humanitarian assistance. This period in the Dilmah story marked the evolution of Merrill’s philosophy from caring and sharing for his originally tiny staff, to a wider group of tea estate workers and then, finally, on to a national level. More than half a century after he dreamed an impossible dream, it became a reality.


And the MJF Charitable Foundation is much more than just a charity. It represents a genuinely sustainable and fair way of doing business. Funded by the revenues of global sales of Dilmah, the MJF Charitable Foundation now enhances the lives of over 10,000 people each year through more than 100 different humanitarian projects within the poverty stricken areas of Sri Lanka.


In parallel, a commitment to working towards environmental sustainability was developed with the formation of Dilmah Conservation. The prime objective was to widen the scope of the MJF Charitable Foundation to incorporate environmental conservation as well as social justice efforts. Programmes were designed to help make indigenous communities sustainable, ecosystem restoration, promoting sustainable agriculture, protection of biodiversity and environmental education. Ten percent of the profits made by the Dilmah tea companies is directed toward community and social upliftment programmes carried out by the MJF Charitable Foundation and also the environmental protection efforts of Dilmah Conservation.


Apart from the extremely high quality of the product, the ethical and environmental awareness practiced by Dilmah was one of the defining reasons that Zazen chose this exclusive brand for their Le Salon de Ti. Zazen are renowned for their own efforts in these areas with their philosophy of the ‘Three R’s’ – reducing, reusing and recycling. Their involvement in the Green Island Project here on Samui is ongoing. And their commitment in-house to promoting a lifestyle that ensures environmental impact is minimal is extremely important and promoted throughout the resort. Various methods of green living have been integrated into the daily running of Zazen, from composting to using only ecologically responsible cleaning products. Staff receive training on green issues and there’s a ‘Green Agreement’ in the employee handbook. Guests are also encouraged to ‘go green’ with conservation signs promoting a linen reuse programme in all guestrooms along with a ‘Green Information’ page.


With all of this in mind, the partnership between Zazen and Dilmah is surely a match made in heaven. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate tea producer for this environmentally-aware resort to have chosen to partner Le Salon de Ti. Their shared passion for tea, together with their commitment of providing a sustainable environment ensures that this relationship will flourish for a long time to come.


Kathryn Amberley


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