Zealong brews up something new
01 Dec 2009
New Zealand is about to launch onto the international market with a pioneer brew that comes in a teacup, rather than a bottle.
Zealong - New Zealand’s first oolong tea - celebrates its launch today (1.12.09) from a 48ha tea plantation near Hamilton, in the North Island’s Waikato region.
The Waikato’s lush green dairy farms are better known for producing milk but, according to Zealong’s founding Chen family, it’s also the perfect environment to grow oolong tea.
"We saw that dairy farms were very healthy so we looked for a good farm to grow the tea," Zealong director and general manager Vincent Chen said.
Tea growing pioneers
Aside from a deep passion for tea, New Zealand’s commercial tea-growing pioneers had no previous tea-producing experience.
However, 13 years after starting, the business has grown from just 130 to over 1 million plants, and a purpose-built tea factory.
The Chens ensure Zealong tea remains authentic to traditional standards and quality by employing experienced tea workers from overseas to transfer their technical know-how to local staff.
Tea is one of the most highly consumed beverages in the world.
In the Chinese market, average annual tea consumption per person is 600g in China, and 1200g in Taiwan.
Oolong is a premium tea and can sell for up to NZ$11,000 per kg. It is mostly produced in the mountainous regions of Taiwan and Vietnam, and this is first time it has been commercially grown outside of Asia.
In Waikato, oolong tea thrives on the moderate climate and humidity that mirrors traditional tea-growing regions, and on the clean air.
Clean green NZ
Zealong operates to international HACCP food safety standards, and does not use chemical sprays, fertilisers and additives.
The company has achieved ISO22000 certification through SGS, the international leader in testing and certification, and from 2010 will begin converting 25% of its plantations to organic production.
Zealong’s clean green New Zealand credentials would have special appeal for Asian buyers, Mr Chen said.
"Customers are looking for products they can trust - that’s why we’ve gone for the highest international standards," Chen said. "I believe you can taste the purity."
Future plans for Zealong’s tea farm include developing a tourist centre. This will include a café and authentic Chinese tea house, guest accommodation and a state-of-the-art factory to enhance visitors’ experience of the purity of New Zealand.
Zealong sees their launch as the beginning of what could potentially turn into a premium New Zealand export product.
"Ten years ago, New Zealand wine was not popular overseas but now everyone knows Otago wines. It’s all over the world," Zealong marketing manager Gigi Crawford said.
"Ten years later, our aim is that people will be talking about tea from the Waikato region."
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