It Began With a Dream

Nearly 30 years ago, an enterprising tea-lover named Vincent was struck by the similarities between the local camellia plants growing at his home in the Waikato river valley of New Zealand, and the camellia sinensis, the plant that gives us real tea.   A dream began taking shape when he realized that the growing conditions of this lush, subtropical area of New Zealand compared quite favorably to those in Taiwan, a place he had also lived and a country long known to produce some of the finest oolong teas the world.

Vincent knew that much like wine, tea plants take on taste characteristics of the environment they are grown in- a concept known in the wine industry as terroir.   Much like a seasoned wine sommelier can pinpoint the origins of a good Cabernet, so can a good tea sommelier do with a good cup of single origin loose leaf tea.  Conditions that must be present to yield a truly great cup of tea at a scale that is economically viable include having the right seasonal growing temperatures, abundant rainfall, free-draining acidic soil, good sunshine, and even regular fog.   With all of those boxes seemingly checked, Vincent started fanning the sparks of his pioneering dream to bring world class tea growing to a completely new land, previously untouched by the tea farming industry:  New Zealand.  

So in 1996, Vincent embarked on a trip across the finest tea growing regions in Asia where he personally collected 1,500 camellia sinensis cuttings to bring back to New Zealand.   Following an unexpectedly long quarantine period imposed by the New Zealand government to help protect their land from non-native pests and diseases, only 130 of his carefully selected cuttings survived.   However, these 130 cuttings proved to be quite hardy and were carefully nurtured and propagated over the years. 

Today, the courage and perseverance employed by Vincent and the Zealong team has paid off with the Zealong estate now home to over 1.2 million plants spread across 48 hectares of certified organic land.   While not a well known brand in the U.S.A, it is one of the most 'decorated' and well established tea brands across Europe and Asia and is carried by some of the most discerning tea shops in the world.

The Estate Today

The estate where the tea is grown and processed is open to the public, where visitors can actually come and see the quality for themselves.   While there, guests have a couple of dining options.  Led by Jean-Baptiste Pilou, Zealong’s Camellia restaurant presents a French countryside inspired cuisine while overlooking the rows of tea growing on the hillside.   

Guests can also enjoy high a traditional high tea at the Zealong Tea room.   Led by Executive Pastry Chef Valencia Avecilla who trained at the prestigious Cordon Bleu in Paris, you’ll enjoy pairings of tea with exquisite pastries and locally sourced fresh produce that vary according to the season.   

The estate also has overnight accommodations, where guests can stay in the same original farm house enjoyed recently by the Princess of Japan on her trip to New Zealand.   And while watching a stunning Waikato sunset from the patio, you can have the same tea enjoyed by global dignitaries such as King Charles of England and President Xi of China.  

Visitors can also stop into the award winning Zealong Tea Shop to purchase Zealong tea and teaware to take home.   If you come during harvest season, you’ll see for yourself how Zealong continues to practice traditional hand picking methods where just the top three leaves of each plant are harvested to ensure the best cup of tea possible!