Coffee & tea until 4pm, wine from 5pm with an itchy hour in between. Sounds familiar?
I’m just as picky about what’s in my glass from 5pm as I’m about what’s in my cup until 4pm. I can tell you at least 10 great coffee places in Auckland on the spot but when it comes to tea it gets a little bit more difficult and I do like a good cuppa. Not that bagged, bitter stuff you find in your coffee kitchen at work. I mean good, genuine tea.
So, a few weeks back I embarked on a trip down to Gordonton, which is close to Hamilton in the beautiful Waikato, about an hour drive south of Auckland. I visited Zealong, New Zealand’s only tea estate, and attended a traditional tea tasting to find out more about their inspiring story of taking risks and blending eastern and western cultures.
Mr Chen, a lover of tea and successful businessman from Taiwan, noticed that camellia plants are thriving in the Waikato region and given the similarities between this species and tea plants, he imported 1500 tea seedlings from Taiwan with his son Vincent in 1996. The pair was left with only 130 after rigorous quarantine procedures from New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture but after careful propagation they now have thousands of healthy tea plants spread over 40 hectares on their single estate. Winegrowers, sounds familiar? I bet!
This story is a great example of the east meeting the west with both parties not only benefiting – but learning from each other. At Zealong clean green New Zealand meets traditional knowledge from highly experienced tea masters resulting in a range of five organic and well-balanced teas.
Tea and wine obviously have a lot of similarities – terroir, tradition and tasting to name a few. Colour, aromas and flavours are all assessed during the traditional tea ceremony.
We tasted three oolong teas (pure, aromatic & dark) as well as a green and black tea. I was surprised by the array of aromas and flavours across the range given that they essentially all come from the same plant.
The degree of oxidisation influences the aromas and flavours of the teas, showing subtle floral aromas and flavours in the pure oolong tea and more complex nutty aromas and flavours in the aromatic tea. Caramel and even honey like notes characterise their dark oolong tea.
The green tea is again light-bodied and very delicate with floral and fruity notes. The heavily roasted black tea in contrast is full-bodied, showing a very masculine, woody and almost peanut buttery expression.
The tea ceremony was a great workout for my taste buds and I’m sure I’ll be back!