Book Review by Jane Pettigrew

Jane Pettigrew (2020)

REVIEW OF “WISDOM IN THE LEAF”, published by Dilmah Tea

Merrill Fernando, founder of Dilmah Tea, the renowned tea company in Sri Lanka, has spent all his adult life working for the success of the tea industry in Sri Lanka and for the good of the Sri Lankan people. He and his sons, Malik and Dilhan, have constantly come up with new idea, new approaches, new projects to grow and improve their business, educate tea drinkers, and increase awareness of Ceylon tea around the world. They have also taken a wider view of the Ceylon Tea Industry and have worked to preserve its heritage and make the story of its history available to an ever growing audience through their History of Ceylon Tea website.

Their latest, extremely impressive contribution to the world’s understanding of tea and the tea industry comes in the form of this beautiful new book that was inspired by that website. It contains detailed essays written by and based on the first-hand experiences of tea planters, agricultural specialists, and scientists working in every tea-related field. This publication comes at a time when more and more people are growing tea, not just in traditional tea regions but in north America, in the UK, and in Europe. These relatively new growers, and tea producers anywhere in the world, will find invaluable information and advice on such topics as planting and care of the tea plant in its early years, water resource management, tea manufacture, processing machinery, climate change adaptation, and much much more.

The book is divided into 12 chapters which include text contributed by those who have years of experience of planning, preparing, planting, managing and advising tea estates. In the chapter on agricultural practices, we learn about land management and soil conservation, land selection and preparation for replanting, management of the nursery where seeds are propagated and new cuttings are nurtured, harvesting, pruning, nutrient management, diseases and pests that affect the tea plant, shade policy, etc. Other chapters cover forestry and conservation, rainwater harvesting, the training and development of employees, financial accounting and controls, diversification into other crops, and the health benefits of tea. Because all the authors have so much direct experience, the reader can have faith in the contents. This is highlighted in the book’s preface by Editor in Chief David Colin-Thomé, when he lists the contributors and writes, “Indeed all those names are highly respected in the industry, and their impeccable track records boast a combined experience of more than 500 years.”

And what is truly remarkable is that information which might appear rather dry and academic in an ordinary textbook is brought to life on these pages through the clever use of typeface, page layout, the division of the text into manageable paragraphs, and illustrations that bring the story to life. Some are clear manageable charts and tables, some are lovely sepia or black and white photographs from bygone days, while others are more recent, beautiful, brightly-coloured shots that show tea pickers on the estates, stunning landscapes, gently undulating fields of tea that sweep across the Sri Lankan countryside and closeups of tea processing inside the factories.

Everything about this book bears witness to the Fernando family’s passion for tea and for their industry, to their vision and determination to capture and preserve Ceylon tea’s past, recognise and value it’s present, and pass on everything that has been learnt to future generations of tea lovers and new tea growers and producers. It is a quite amazing work that all tea lovers will want to add to their tea library.

Jane Pettigrew - Tea Historian, Writer & Consultant


(In keeping with the objectives of this website, all COMMENTS must be made in the spirit of contributing to the history of this estate, planter or person i.e. names, dates & anecdotes. Critical evaluations or adverse comments of any sort are not acceptable and will be deleted without notice – read full Comments Policy here)