Artisans: Tea timing in the Waikato

By Cate Foster

Zealong tea. Photo / Supplied
Zealong tea. Photo / Supplied

Nothing like a nice cuppa tea! The sort of tea you find when you drop in at The Camellia Tea House in the heart of New Zealand's only commercial tea plantation. Drunk pale gold, just as it comes from the pot with nary a drop of milk in sight, it is smoky, delicate and aromatic.

In the early 90s Tzu Chen, a recent immigrant from Taiwan living in Hamilton, recognised the possibilities of growing tea in New Zealand when he observed how camellia thrived in every suburban garden. Being from the same genus, camellia sinensis, tea requires the same conditions to flourish. Fertile soil, crisp winters and hot summers plus lots of clean water, with at least a 10C difference between day and night. It even loves fog such as that which comes off the Waikato River.

In 1996, with his son Vincent, Chen imported 1500 plants from Taiwan, and from the few that survived quarantine, propagated the stock that now produces New Zealand's very own oolong tea. Every plant is grown naturally, fertiliser and spray free.

Marketed under the brand name Zealong, the tea comes in three strengths, pure, aromatic or dark, which indicate the amount of roasting the freshly picked leaves have undergone. Pure has none, while dark has more than aromatic. Zealong's tea is picked and processed by highly skilled workers, in three picking seasons in November, January and March.

The delicate new leaves at the very top of the plant are picked daily - around the clock, seven days per week.

Tea Master Yu comes in from Taiwan to control the taste and quality of the product in the same way the vintner does in a vineyard.

Freshness is paramount, the journey from plant to pack takes a total of 36 hours. Every pack can be traced back to the day of picking and the block from where it came.

Somehow tea from a soggy little bag will never be the same again.

Where to buy:

Online

Zealong Tea Estate, 495 Gordonton Rd, Hamilton, 0800 932 566

Farro Fresh, 951 Maahange Drive, The Base, Te Rapa, Hamilton

Apego Cha Lounge, 2B, 44-52 Wellesley Centre on Mayoral Dr off Wellesley Street Auckland CBD

Chapter Cafe, 442 Mount Eden Rd Mt Eden, Auckland 1024

- NZ Herald

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