Think time for tea and chances are your mind will focus on China, India, Sri Lanka or perhaps Kenya. That’s no surprise. After all, together they are responsible for 75% of all the tea produced in the world. Yet if it’s time for tea, you’re unlikely to think of tea in New Zealand, but there’s one place in the country that needs to be on every tea lover’s itinerary: the Zealong tea estate. Located just 10km from the centre of Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island, it’s the only commercial tea estate in the country. But how did it come about?
Enjoy Tea in New Zealand
It all started with a camellia
Founder Vincent Chen noticed that locally grown camellias weren’t too dissimilar to the tea bushes his family had grown up with in Taiwan. A couple of decades ago, he decided to experiment to see whether tea could actually be grown in New Zealand. Logistically, it wasn’t easy. Tea cuttings had to be imported from Asia and as a result of New Zealand’s strict laws regarding agricultural products, the number of specimens that eventually made it through quarantine was a mere 130 out of the 1500 that Chen purchased. Fortunately, that was enough to establish the plantation and a dream was realised.
The estate today
These days there are over a million tea bushes on the Zealong estate, located on land which was once a working dairy farm. Fortunately, the fertility of the soil and the mild North Island climate is well suited to needs of tea production. And row after row of the sought-after bushes flourishes in the Waikato sun. Despite having just three short seasons to harvest the leaves, production on a commercial scale is possible and the estate is thriving. Best of all, the estate’s team are happy to share their knowldege with visitors. It’s an interesting excursion if you’re in the area.
Take a tea tour and taste the produce
Visitors to Zealong can do much more than just drink a cup of the stuff. The estate’s tea tour has proved very popular since its inception. Participants learn about the history of tea, thought to have its origins in China; tea containers have been uncovered in tombs from as early as the Han Dynasty. A guided walk leads visitors through the extensive grounds of the estate; as they learn about the production techniques used there.
After the tour, visitors have the opportunity to taste the five Zealong blends in a tea tasting activity. They learn about the differences in leaf styles and how they can affect colour, aroma and taste. At the estate’s Teahouse, there’s a good range of food to accompany the perfect blend. For anyone who enjoys a brew; this is one place you’ll want to include on your tea in New Zealand holiday itinerary. For another sweet outing while down under, consider taking a honey tour.