Have you been to the Zealong Tea Estate on the outskirts of Hamilton? You really need to if you haven’t…
I love drinking tea, dunking biscuits in tea, smelling it, walking around in the cold and learning about its history and also how it makes me feel when I drink it.
Tea is the most widely consumed beverage on earth, second only to water and it was historically only used for medicinal purposes. Only in the last 300 years or so has it been consumed commercially. There is a quote around that says something like “No problem big or small, cannot be solved with a pot of tea”. I think its pretty accurate and love serving guests tea with pretty china, attending high teas complete with scones and jam, or having a nice herbal tea in the evening before bed. I even have tea-cup and teapot tattoos. I just love tea!
Naturally when I found out Hamilton is home to New Zealand’s only tea estate I went nuts and booked in a tour and it didn’t disappoint! The Zealong Tea Estate is home to over 1.2 million tea plants, which are all still hand-picked and not using machines. This careful process ensures that only the highest quality leaves are picked for the amazing transformation into this fine beverage.
Our tour began outside walking around the Zealong grounds, our tour guide filling us in on the history of tea in China. There were really cool accompanying statues that went along with our tour guides story like the ones shown in the photos below.
We then made our way along this amazing row of large copper teapots, all while our tour guide was teaching us the history of these particular grounds. We were told everything from how the cooler Waikato weather affects the Camellia (tea) plants, to the brand spanking new factory and events centre they have built which will be open in November 2015.
We came around the side of the Estate building where all the high teas are served and were shown what tea plants actually look like. They looked like little hedges with really dark green, thick leaves that have serrated edges. We were told that in the warmer months the trees get much higher, but that they had recently been trimmed right back.
I couldn’t believe that all types of tea came from this particular plant including black tea, oolong tea, white tea and green tea. The difference is in how long the leaves are oxidised and the way they are processed. This is what gives you the different flavours and strengths of tea.
For example, the small leaf tips on top are carefully picked purely for the needle in the middle which makes white tea. Imagine how many of those tiny needles are needed to make a cup of delicious white tea!
Once this part of the tour was over, we walked up into the tea serving room which had the most beautiful view overlooking the grounds . The Waikato weather was clear and crisp. It was such a beautiful place to hang out located in an extremely peaceful part of Hamilton. Talk about a lazy Sunday!
Once inside, we watched a short 8 minute video on the man who started Zealong Tea – it was amazing to see such persistence, and determination in someone who had a dream and did everything he could to make it happen. Just goes to show that nothing worthwhile, comes easily and that if you have a dream and try as hard as you can it will become a reality. This first video was followed by another shorter video on the tea-making process from start to finish.
I learnt that the Zealong Tea Estate is the only fully certified tea company in the world which is why they say they proclaim to have the “purest tea in the world”. A pretty amazing achievement for little ol’ New Zealand. They are 100% organic, and I believe them after tasting the difference in how clean and fresh it tasted.
We were able to try five different teas which make up their entire range; green, pure, aromatic, dark and black. First of all, we had to drink the tea in the traditional way, pouring tea into the taller cup – putting the round cup on top and carefully flipping them over then removing the lid so you actually sip out of the larger round cup. You smell the taller now empty cup and then you drink the tea in three sips, no less and no more. One small sip, one main larger sip, one after-taste sip. The whole ritual is obviously harder to document without seeing a video or doing it in person but it was pretty awesome to take part in.
The Black tea was definitely my favourite as it was the naturally sweeter tea of the lot with a brown sugar/honey after-taste to it. It really amazed me about how different fresh tea tastes compared to supermarket brought brands. I couldn’t believe the difference in flavour and aroma. Once finished, we got to try a delicious macaron which had a passion fruit and tea filling and was sprinkled lightly with tea granules. Such a great way to finish off the tastings.
I would highly recommend visiting next time you’re in Hamilton, it was such a wonderful experience and so interesting to learn about tea grown right here in New Zealand. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who not only loves drinking tea, but even those who don’t drink tea would find the history of this drink and the Zealong grounds fascinating. They have also recently done a collaboration with Whittaker’s Chocolate and they also stock tea at the mighty Harrods in London. That is a pretty amazing accomplishment!
The tour was 1.5 hours and costs $20 per person. Once parked, you meet the tour guide at the beginning of the path next to the car park where the seated area is.
I would highly recommend booking yourself in before you plan on visiting, I just sent them an email and they replied really quickly.
Visit the Zealong website here.