The recent rebranding of destination Hamilton/Waikato as ‘The Mighty Waikato’ has been warmly welcomed by Zealong Tea Estate, which champions the Waikato region on its tea packaging around the world.
The country’s only commercial estate, which welcomed more than 50,000 visitors through its gates during the 2018 calendar year, is proud to call Waikato home. Their story started when founder Vincent Chen noticed the abundance of garden camellias, a relative of the tea plant, thriving effortlessly in Hamilton. The rest, as they say, is history, and now boxes of Zealong tea destined for overseas boast a New Zealand map with the words “Waikato, New Zealand” alongside its organic certification and Fernmark logos.
The majority of these packages are headed to tea stores across Germany, UK, Switzerland, and Czechia; China and Japan; and the United States; and general manager Gigi Crawford says it’s no coincidence that these countries are reflected in their visitor numbers.
“After we signed our agreement with [German tea retailer] TeeGschwendner in 2016, we noticed a lot more German visitors.
“When we talk to them, very often we find they are a TeeGschwendner employee or customer, or maybe they have a friend who works there.”
Aside from New Zealand, the top countries of origin for Zealong’s guided tour last year were US and UK, followed by Australia, Canada, and Germany; they are countries which also happen to be home to a growing market of consumers who are interested in the craft behind their food.
Many know the stereotype of the tea-loving Brit – the UK and colony countries do have strong tea cultures (despite being overshadowed by coffee in recent years), but beyond drinking tea, there is simply not a huge amount of knowledge about tea history, what tea is and the process it goes through before it ends up in the bag.
Zealong tea’s origin information, organic and traceability certifications all provide credibility of a genuine paddock to cup story. However, being able to visit the tea estate and have a hands-on experience with the process creates a new level of connection to that story, and to existing tea rituals.
“When people try our tea, or find out that New Zealand grows tea, they want to learn more – they visit our website and find out they can even visit our estate in person,” Crawford says.
“Word of mouth is still our number one referrer, and it’s not just from people who have already visited, it’s people who drink our tea who say ‘Hey, on your trip to New Zealand you should stop at this tea farm’.”
Crawford tells the story of some European visitors who had spared half an hour to stop by on the recommendation of a friend.
“They ended up cancelling their plans and staying four hours, because our passion for producing excellent tea using traditional methods really resonated with them.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just about selling our tea to the world, but bringing the world to visit the fantastic ‘Mighty Waikato’.”