Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spotlight: PMD Tea

Have you heard of PMD Tea? If you live in the UK you have probably seen their teas at restaurants and shops.The family run company is trying to break into the lackluster US restaurant and hotel tea market. I cannot wait to start seeing their teas locally.

I've had the pleasure of trying a selection of their teas. The Ceylon teas are high quality and fresh. Definitely better than many I've had in the past. I was delighted to try so many different single estate Ceylon teas. You can see the attention to detail in these carefully selected teas. Flavors ranged from bold and malty to gentle and sweet with honey, caramel, and dried fruit notes. The Planters' Breakfast and New Vithanakand were two that really stood out for me. I adore robust black teas with some subtle sweetness and these did not disappoint. I even enjoyed their version of Earl Grey, the Planters' Earl Grey, when it's not a tea I usually prefer. The bergamot was not overpowering. I've recently realized I have a strong preference for black teas, and the flavor profiles in the PMD teas hit just the right notes on my palate.

I recently corresponded with Managing Director Dananjaya Silva who gave very thoughtful answers to my questions. I learned all about the family company, how their source their teas, and their ethical and sustainable values. Our informative in-depth interview is after the jump:

Why did the company choose to focus on Ceylon teas? Do you still only sell tea from Ceylon, or do you source tea from other areas as well?

We focused on Ceylon tea because it is known as the world cleanest tea industry as the tea contains the lowest amount of pesticide and herbicide of any tea industry globally. Sri Lanka also has some very distinct Argo growing regions that produce a large spectrum of teas from the thick, malty strong cups from the low lying plantations in Galle to the light thin bodied cups from Nuwareliya.

We now source teas from other countries our milk oolong from Taiwan is a great tea. We also offer Japanese teas from Japan to the hotels and will have them on the website soon.

How many tea estates do you work with? Do you have a direct relationship with them?

We work with a lot of plantations and have a very close direct relationship with 10 plantations who supply some of our best single estate teas.

I see the company was founded in 1945. Why was the company started?

My grandfather founded the company on Brunswick tea estate in Maskeliya. He left school at age 12 and travelled up to the tea country to find work. There he started working in the estate shop. He worked his way up and bought the shop and that's where the estate supply business started.

How has the company changed since 1945, and how has it remained the same?

In 1945 the company was based in Maskeliya and we ran our day to day operations in the tea country. Today we are based from London, but do all our sourcing, packing and shipping from Sri Lanka. The ownership of the company is still within the family and we have some employees who's families are now working with us for a third generation.

Tell us about the family values associated with the company.

When we source a tea we look at some basic principals:  How is it grown, What are the ethics of the plantation or the company,How are the workers treated. We don't supply a tea that we wouldn't give to our own. These are guiding principals of our sourcing.

Tell us about your ethical and sustainability values.

Ethics form the bedrock of our company. It is what has kept us in business for all these years. When we source we look at how a plantation is run its values must be in line with ours. It is very easy to do this in Sri Lanka because there is a lot of government regulation that ensures the safety of workers. More effort must be put in when we source from other countries.

Further to our sourcing we carry out all our value addition in the country of origin. This is so crucial firstly for the producer nation you are adding so much more, the printers, the brokers, packers, suppliers, shippers are all able to prosper by us carrying out our value addition at source. A lot of companies buy raw product and pack elsewhere, in Dubai or in the UK. We feel that it robs a producer nation of the true revenue that it can raise from its home grown produce.

Tea is a product of nature and thus sustainability is key. We look to keep our packaging to a minimum. All materials that we source we always look for a fully recyclable option. Sometimes however we have to find a balance between sustainability and product integrity.

Can consumers find your teas in UK restaurants, or shops as well?

Yes our teas can be found in some of the UK's most iconic towns and cities. You can sit down to a pot of PMD at the old course hotel in St. Andrews with views over the 17th hole of the worlds most iconic golf course. We also supply tea to the queens farm shop in Windsor a stones throw from her castle, and also at Harrods in London.

What are your goals for the US? Are you looking to start in restaurants or shops? Do you currently ship to the US through your website?

We want to introduce US consumers to pure single origin tea. There are already a lot of teas that offer flavourings with fruit pieces that don't tell the consumer where the product is from or who the people are who grow there tea. We want to introduce consumers to pure single origin garden fresh tea. And let consumers learn the beauty of how nature and people can affect the taste of a tea that essentially is from the same tea bush. We would like to work with US hotels and restaurants in offering teas for there in house services and then branch out to consumers through our website.

We do currently have a small following of customers in North America who buy their monthly supply of tea, they contact us directly and we organise their shipping for them in the most cost effective way.

What are your favorite teas that you offer?

New Vithanakande is one of my favorite teas! I fell in love with it the minute I tasted the tea for the first time, its rich honey aroma is wonderful. The plantation owner Mr Pilapitiya is also a lovely gent and I love the attention he pays to his small holder tea suppliers.

Our white teas from Maskeliya are another favorite of mine. The sweet apricot aroma and subtle delicate flavours are great, as you can infuse this many times. I usually brew a pot of this and settle down to reading a good book. I whole heartily agree with CS Lewis when he said " You can't find a cup of tea big enough or book long enough to suit me"

Do you have any personal daily tea rituals?

I usually wake up early before any one else and brew a pot of our Planters Breakfast. I have a 3 person tea pot all to my self and plan my day over it. My breakfast is always Porridge with a scoop of matcha tea that gives it a green colour and a wonderful taste.

In the afternoon my whole family sits down to a pot of tea and usually there is some sweet treat involved. This is the one thing that we do every day with out fail as a family. Honestly the world could come to end, aliens could come from Mars but in my house we all stop at around 5 pm for a pot of tea and cake and discuss the day. It's certainly a case of "keep calm, have a pot of tea and carry on"
I am so grateful to learn about PMD tea, many thanks to Dananjaya Silva for the interview. I wish them the best of luck in the US. I would be delighted to see their teas in restaurants in my area. The state of tea in US restaurants is erratic and unpredictable. Good restaurants will have poor tea service, and it's hard to find a place that knows how to brew a proper pot. There are a few companies that are slowly conquering the wasteland of US restaurant tea, and PMD is a company to keep an eye out for.

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