www.foodtechnology.co.nz 41 and this month. “We are incredibly proud of what Zealong stands for,” Kong says. “Our branding is the map of New Zealand, alongside a koru and a dragon. It combines the best of all those messages.” It’s no surprise that Zealong is snapped up in places like Harrods of London. Its products in China can sell for up to $450 a packet, and it last year opened a store in downtown Beijing. And, even better, some famous lips have reportedly sipped their fill of Zealong tea... Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker Bowles, Japan’s First Lady Madame Akie Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping are amongst the brand’s fans. The company’s growth is evident in its $8 million factory and visitor centre, opened last year by then Prime Minister John Key and a critical way of ensuring tourists and domestic visitors realise New Zealand can hold its own in the world of premium tea. More than 25,000 guests are hosted by Zealong each year, with people keen to experience the tea and food at the adjacent upmarket teahouse, and even experience a Chinese tea ceremony. It’s clear that nothing at Zealong is done in a hurry. From picking (with razorblades), leaves are stored in a greenhouse at 26 degrees for up to an hour, then withered in trays. From there, they are tumbled, oxidised, de-enzymed, rolled and dried, sorted and roasted, tested for quality control and sensory valuation, then packaged. The company employs 25 fulltime staff and another 80-to-100 seasonally, with Asian tea masters brought in from overseas to train and oversee workers. It’s a slow and costly way to do things, but Chen is adamant that only premium tea can come from premium manufacturing. The company also takes seriously international media visits…recent media hits have included Tea Time and China’s Economic Observer. The company offers green, oolong and black tea in five core flavours, and a new range using herbs and spices has been soft-launched for future commercialisation. Kong says New Zealand is building its reputation as a quality tea producer, and needs to be “out there” constantly. “We strive for perfection from planting through to packaging,” he says. “ These days, Chen is still involved with his company hands-on, but spurns the spotlight and media interviews. Instead, he’s found in the factory, tasting and refining the tea he once dreamt of producing in a region at the bottom of the world surrounded by dairy farms.
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