The Dylan Amsterdam serves the exclusive Kiona Malinka Tea: the most beautiful leaves, curated exclusively for The Dylan. We spoke with Kiona Malinka herself about the craft of creating and serving our favourite warm treat.
So, tell us, what is the Kiona Malinka tea exactly?
Well, for the last 5 years we have been importing tea under the Crusio Tea label, my interpretation of a heavenly taste. We recognized that we had a few special clients, such as The Dylan. These clients were ready for the next level: beautiful tea served with an eye for detail. We then launched the Kiona Malinka label exclusively for them and by invitation only.
And how did that all start?
I began with a passion for coffee but discovered that my tea suppliers couldn’t tell me where their tea leaves were coming from. Which farmers produced it? From which plantations do the leaves originate? I found it strange that I couldn’t get an answer to those questions, especially since my coffee and wine suppliers were able to do so.
I then dedicated myself to a mission and travelled to the most remote tea plantations. Anywhere in the world, I would jump on a four-wheel drive, hired a student as a translator and drove up into the mountains. Wherever I saw a nice plantation with beautiful leaves, I would speak to the tea farmers and learn everything about their craftsmanship. After 3 years of travelling and learning, I felt ready enough to start my own label.
And do you still work with those tea farmers?
Yes, and my job is to find the best teas in the world, so my contacts have only expanded. That is why I spend most of my time keeping up with the 65 farmers in 14 countries we do business with. And the travelling never stopped: once in a while I jump on a plane again and explore new plantations. I also try to stay for a bit longer then and sleep at the farms, just to make sure that I know all the ins and outs of the plantation.
Is that personal relationship also your way to look after sustainability and social entrepreneurship?
Yes, it’s just the farmer and me: the value chain cannot be any shorter. People generally don’t know how to spend donated money so I rather value people for what they do and achieve. With my investment, their tea may be improved so that we collaborate and grow together.
What drives you to do all of that?
I have a thorough personality and always like to be informed about just everything. For example, you would have been able to tell that I’m a perfectionist when we recently didn’t have any Darjeeling on offer. Simply because I couldn’t find the perfect leaves.
And do you have a favourite tea yourself?
Well, there are so many seasons, harvests and farmers, which makes it hard to put one particular taste in the spotlight. But oh, I could say that I feel very much at home in Japan. The Japanese are just as profound as I am and will never go for anything less than 100% quality.
We are quite familiar with wine-food pairings. Do you also pair your tea with food?
Absolutely, but there is one main difference: tea also has to be prepared. That active part makes it even more fun than working with wine since you can influence the taste through temperature and preparation. Another difference compared to wine is that there is no reference framework. A greasy sauce generally pairs well with a full-bodied wine, but with which tea? There are no rules for tea, so we can simply follow our taste buds.
Why is tea of importance for a hotel?
Tea is anchored in almost every culture and country: it is the most consumed drink in the world after water. That is why everyone remembers those magical moments of warmth and nostalgia when thinking of tea. It also makes tea a silent connector, providing a soothing home feeling.
Is that why your tea matches The Dylan?
Yes, the Dylan has an intimate atmosphere and focus on quality. The smaller scale of the hotel allows us to continuously push our service limits. That is how we can keep surprising guests of the Dylan at various moments during the day. Even if you order a pot for breakfast or a cup of tea during your meeting, we will always look after the full tea experience.
And what is that you like about the Dylan?
It’s just magical to arrive here, have the door opened for you and enter the historic property. But after all, it is the staff who make this such a fantastic place. Wherever I go in the hotel, everyone always pays attention, sees me and stops for a chat. That is a very special way of taking care of guests.
To conclude, what is the next step you will be taking?
Well literally, I will start tasting again in a bit. I taste nearly 200 samples a week. And in a few weeks, I will head over to China for another adventure, followed by a trip to Singapore to train the staff at the Raffles hotel. You see, I will never get bored of tea…