I’m about to let you in on one of Aotearoa’s best-kept secrets: Zealong Tea Estate at 495 Gordonton Road, Hamilton. Just why it has remained under the radar for so long for so many food-and-drink-obsessed travellers is a mystery to me, so it is well and truly time to put this incredible New Zealand experience on your list when visiting the mighty Waikato.

The story of tea – according to legend – began in 2737BC as a Chinese emperor sat beneath a tree waiting for his servant to boil drinking water. Some leaves from the tree accidentally blew into the water and the very first calming tea infusion was created. Since then, the tea story has become one of many culture clashes, serious political intrigue and great advances within the world of science and technology. China is the world’s largest tea producer, growing over 2.4m metric tonnes of tea per year; India is the second largest with 900,000 tonnes produced and Kenya comes in third producing over 305,000 tonnes.

Tea is cultivated across the globe in more than 60 countries and Zealong Tea Estate produces the only commercially grown tea to be found in New Zealand. There are many different kinds of tea, but they all come from one plant, the Camellia sinensis.

In 1996, Zealong founder Vincent Chen realised that tea is a kind of camellia and that if camellia trees could grow here, perhaps tea could, too. He imported 1,500 plant cuttings but after a quarantine period of 10 months only 130 cuttings survived. Those cuttings must have had the strength of Hercules because they formed the base for over 1.2 million tea plants that thrive on this magnificent estate today, and the team invests a labour of love to continue his dream and produce New Zealand tea.

Zealong tea is 100% organic, completely traceable and produced by a team that is committed to making it the very best tea that you can find – an ambition underscored by a prestigious list of tea honours from the USA, United Kingdom and Hong Kong, including a triple win at the 2023 UK Tea Academy’s annual awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award). Factor in that the exquisite tea is available in some of the world’s largest speciality tea collections – Harrods and Fortnum & Mason in United Kingdom, TeeGschwendner in Germany and all-new export markets developing in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Japan and the USA – and you might start to wonder why you are not paying more attention to this highly sought-after premium tea that is readily available in your own backyard.

Located within the golden triangle of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, the estate is a must-visit to simply enjoy the picturesque setting as well as the extraordinary tea.

The team at Zealong, led by CEO Gigi Crawford and General Manager Sen Kong, never does anything by half-measures – from the growing, to the production, to the packaging and, more recently, to the re-scaling of their food-and-beverage offering.

Delivered by a team hailing from France, Argentina, Japan, the Philippines, China, Cambodia and India, this hospitality offering includes a new tea room cleverly designed to showcase the surrounds, and a new look and feel for the menu at the estate’s restaurant Camellia. It’s here at Camellia that the stage is set to show off classic French flair bursting with fresh New Zealand flavour.

The recently added special ingredients for this new food-and-beverage focus are two incredibly talented players, Valentina Avecilla and Jean-Baptiste Pilou. Their combined skills and valuable experience – gained within their own restaurant in Argentina and in prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants – are highly evident across both venues. Valentina is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and has worked in the Paris- based kitchens of Restaurant Guy Savoy, Pierre Herme patisserie and Restaurant Hélène Darroze. Jean-Baptiste has excelled in roles at Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires – endorsed by Relais & Châteaux – Restaurant Guy Savoy and Relais Louis XIII, and has worked with renowned chef Michel Roth at the Ritz Paris. Together Valentina and Jean- Baptiste have revitalised the menus at the two restaurants at Zealong, giving you good reason to make a visit.


Get ready for a superb taste of civilisation as we know it: gaze at the lush and tranquil tea fields while enjoying sensational savoury bites as well as a sweet selection that is almost too pretty to eat. Almost. The art of precision and French technique hangs in every mouthful, while the tea leaves weave a magical spell of their own. Prosecco, cocktails and Champagne are also available and I guarantee that if you are a lover of afternoon tea, or high tea, then you might not know it yet, but you need this in your life.


In what was once the original dairy farmhouse, you will find a classic French-inspired menu that demonstrates all that can be so wonderful about chefs exploring New Zealand products and produce with fresh eyes. Tender white asparagus from local grower Greenfern, with a blood orange hollandaise, John Dory from Gisborne, surrounded by vibrant spring greens in a deeply fragrant white wine emulsion and stunningly sweet Cambridge strawberries in a lemon and vanilla mousseline are a masterclass in French cooking, while a diverse wine list showcases local and international stars.

Whatever you do at Zealong – discover the art of tea appreciation at a tasting followed by a signature high tea, take a tea walk along the estate tea trail to explore unique sculptures and learn the intricate layers of the tea production process, experience the classic menu at the restaurant, or make a full day of your Zealong adventure with an overnight stay at the relaxing guest house – there is something about this place that is very special.

I encourage you to make a pot of Zealong premium green, oolong or black tea and watch the leaves dance. The hand-picked leaves in that pot are the top three leaves from every stem, harvested and processed by specialists with the utmost pride and care, and after one sip you will come to understand that there is no other tea in New Zealand that comes anywhere near close.

I’ve been a fan since my first cup over four years ago and I wouldn’t give up my magical morning ritual of a pot of loose-leaf Zealong for all the tea in China. zealong.com