Just in time for the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, the recent rebranding of destination Hamilton/Waikato as ‘The Mighty Waikato(external link)’ has been warmly welcomed by Zealong Tea Estate(external link), who champion the Waikato region on their tea packaging in China and around the world.
The country’s only commercial estate, which welcomed over 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 exported, headed to tea stores across Europe, USA, and even to China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of tea. General Manager Gigi Crawford says it’s no coincidence that those export markets are also reflected in their visitor numbers.
“Chinese tourists in particular have always been an obvious market for us: they are so interested in how we grow and produce tea according to traditional Chinese methods, but with New Zealand’s clean environment and high food safety standards,” she said.
“But once we opened our first Zealong flagship store in Beijing four years ago, we started seeing a rise in Chinese visitors who first heard of us through trying our product at home.”
Tea is a huge part of Chinese culture and daily life, and visiting a tea plantation in New Zealand is truly a taste of home in a foreign country. Zealong’s Chinese guests are knowledgable about tea history and culture, and how tea is made, yet they, along with the rest of the world, are growing increasingly concerned about issues like organics, chemical residues, and country of origin.
Zealong tea’s origin information, organic and traceability certifications all provide reassurance and 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 their perceptions of New Zealand as a centre of quality food, both during their travels here and once they return home.
“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 us, it’s people who drink our tea over in China who say ‘Hey, on your trip to New Zealand you should stop at this tea farm’.”
“At the end of the day, it’s not just about selling our tea to the world, but bringing the world to visit our Kiwi tea estate in the ‘Mighty Waikato’—even when they have their own tea plantations.”