Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Northern - ZealongTea

ZealongTea

21 May 2018
Taking on the tea world, one cup at a time

The world’s most widely consumed beverage after water is … tea. Over a trillion cups are consumed each year, enough to fill 80,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Asia makes up over 60% of the world’s population, and Asia drinks tea.
 
With growing prosperity the demand for premium tea is growing rapidly. Asian growers are struggling to keep up. And atmospheric and water pollution, land degradation and questionable farming practices are combining to make it ever more difficult to grow safe tea in traditional markets.
 
Enter Zealong tea, New Zealand’s first and only tea producer.
 
Launched in 2009, the Hamilton based company is tapping into Asian markets with a uniquely New Zealand offering: delicious tea that’s fully traceable to the date and block where it was picked. Zealong is also the world’s only tea to be totally ISO22000 HACCP compliant, an international benchmark in food safety and security that is fast building a fan base among younger tea drinkers in China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Korea.
 
Taste the purity
Founder Vincent Chen explains Zealong’s combination of New Zealand provenance and international food safety credentials stand out in a market segment not exactly renowned for its transparency.
“When we say Zealong is the world’s purest tea, that is a fact.” In Asia, food scares are a daily reality, he says. People are looking for brands they can trust.
Zealong tea is farmed organically without chemical sprays or fertilisers, hand picked, and vacuum packed in Hamilton. Chen says customers can be sure of what’s in their cup of Zealong – and what’s not.
 
A brand is born
In 1996 Vincent and his family had recently moved to Hamilton from Taiwan. His father noticed how camellias thrived in the local conditions and wondered if tea, a variety of camellia, would grow here too.
With permission gained from MAF to import live cuttings, Vincent set out to prove his father’s theory. With no background in tea, it was a case of live and learn, and there was plenty of learning to do. From over-zealous quarantine and propagation problems, to New Zealand’s red tape and unseasonal Waikato frosts, Vincent refused to give up. Year by year, quality improved and the investment grew.
By 2009, Vincent was confident the quality and consistency of his tea matched the world’s best. He launched the brand in December 2009.
In 2010 Zealong tea exhibited at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, the Hong Kong Tea Fair and the Shizuoka Fair in Japan. Praise from the tea world was unanimous. Critics commended Zealong for  ts flavour, fragrance and freshness.
 
Discovering tea
The 48ha Zealong estate just north of Hamilton is a testament to how much Vincent and his team has achieved in 16 years. The estate’s 1.2 million tea plants all descend from the original 130 seedlings that survived quarantine.
The first impression is of a winery, with a terraced tea salon overlooking a lake and neat rows of verdant tea bushes. Beyond the terrace, birds, bees and butterflies thrive in the no-spray environment.
Tea is harvested three times a year in November, January and March. Harvests are frenetic affairs, with up to 60 pickers in the fields and 18 staff on the processing side. But for the rest of the year, all is peace and calm.
The Zealong estate is proving popular with local and international visitors, with over 10,000 visitors in the past year.
Camellia tea house is open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch, morning and afternoon teas with Zealong teas top of the menu, of course. Its signature high tea is a feature.
There’s also a purpose-built pavilion available for group meetings and conferences.
Hamilton Waikato Tourism chief Kiri Goulter is a big fan. “They work really hard at getting the details right. Like their tea, everything’s done in the best possible taste.” she said.
Nath Pritchard, Waikato District Council’s General Manager Regulatory is similarly full of praise. “I love the estate – and the tea. The packaging is so beautiful we use it as a gift for visiting VIPs,” he said.
 
The road ahead
Vincent Chen knows there’s plenty of hard work ahead. New Zealand tea remains a novelty in world markets, lacking the reputation of, say, our wine or manuka honey.
Zealong faces the challenge of conquering the world literally one cup at a time.
Fortunately, Vincent is patient as well as tenacious. “One day, I believe New Zealand tea will be as big as kiwifruit or wine.”

 

In New Zealand, Zealong tea is retailed through selected premium grocery stores and specialist tea shops. See zealong.com for a list of retailers, information on the Zealong estate or Zealong tea.

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