Zealong Tea Estate was a recipient of the 2014 Tripadvisor Travellers Choice Award. Zealong Tea prides itself on being 100% pure with no chemicals or harsh processes used in production.
Even bug control is monitored by the Pukekos. Proud of its ISO22000 rating, it is likely the only tea estate in the world to achieve this high rating.
Purely organic, the Oolong teas (and black tea) produced here provides a unique tourist experience for a predominantly local market. Soon a green tea product will be added to their repertoire.
The Zealong Tea House, on the estate, offers a variety of high teas to suit a variety of dietary needs and complement their fine selection of tea. It is not hard to see why people enjoy this unique tea experience in the countryside near Hamilton, New Zealand. There are so many stimulating flavours introduced to your palate, as you munch your way through the tower of delights.
In addition to the Tea House, the Estate has the Pavilion, which was purpose built in 2011 to cater for functions up to 70 people. The future developments of the Estate were evident during my visit with the business and tourist centre being constructed. Longer term developments will see 5 star accommodation built on-site.
No visit to Zealong is complete without enjoying their Discover Tea Experience. Two sessions daily at 09:30 and 14:30, you can learn more about tea than you thought you wanted to know.
A short walk around the property, you are guided through the different stages of tea growth and production. Outside of the Pavilion are exemplar tea plants that help to demonstrate the different stages of tea plant growth from flush, shrimp leaves, and the fact that tea plants can live for up to 100 years!
After having your fill of learning about tea, a short video on the history of Zealong Tea Estate is shown.
Zealong Tea was started in 1996 with just 130 pioneer plants imported and quarantined for 10 months from China. It took new cultivation methods, developed with Jim Douglas, in order to grow over 1.2 million plants producing 20 tonnes of tea.
In 2005, the intense process of commercial tea development started. Pickers harvest the leaves and every 1.5 hours they are sent to the factory to a climate controlled room to be constantly turned and dried.
After 2.5 hours they are sent through a cooler environment in darkness to stop photosynthesis. Tumble blenders further oxidise the leaves, and finally bamboo trays are used for the last stage of drying. All of this is done on site during the first day. The second day sees all the leaves roasted and rolled. Moisture levels are tested for quality control.
The final highlight of your visit is a traditional Gong Fu tea ceremony, which has been taught to the staff by the Taiwanese owner. The attention to detail during the ceremony is paramount, with temperature and stewing times closely monitored. What I found most interesting is how the tea taste changes with each infusion, starting off quite intense then mellowing out to more of a sweet flavour.