The word “Zealong” is being bandied about in the tea world these days. Not many vendors are carrying it yet, but it is getting better known. This is a tea from New Zealand, a nation comprised of two large islands (and some smaller ones) located southeast of Australia between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. Yes, New Zealand has joined the growing list of countries growing teas.
So, just what is “Zealong”? It is an oolong tea from tea leaves grown, harvested, and processed in New Zealand. The growth of tea leaves that could make a suitable oolong with a taste similar enough to Taiwan oolongs began in 1996 with Vincent Chen, the son of Tzu Chen who was the founder of Tranz Group Ltd. The company was based in Taiwan but was expanding to New Zealand and set up in the Waikato region on the western side of the north island. The son began planting the finest tea plants from Taiwan on a piece of vacant land. Starting with 130 plants that had made it past strict inspections of New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture, they built up to thousands of plants over 50 hectares.
As of now, there are three kinds of Zealong teas that I know of:
- Pure — sweet, fresh-tasting, unroasted leaves that steep up a pure, naturally flavored liquid.
- Aromatic — briefly roasted leaves at high temperatures that steep up a lightly fruity/floral tasting and smelling liquid.
- Dark — leaves that have been roasted longer and that steep a liquid with a richer, deeper, slightly charcoally taste and smell with no bitterness.
I tried the pure and the dark; both had true oolong characteristics and could undergo several steepings (some say as many as seven). If you own a nice little Yixing teapot, try using it to steep this tea. (I used my buddy, Little Yellow Teapot, and things went fine.) Whatever style of teapot you use, warm it with a bit of boiling water, then cover the bottom of the pot’s interior with tea leaves. Add some boiling water and let the tea leaves sit a few seconds, then pour out the water. This is a “rinse” and gets the tea leaves started, since they will absorb some of the water. Then, add boiling water to fill the teapot and let the leaves steep for one minute. The “rinse” will even out your steeps, so that you don’t have a fairly light first steep, then a strong second steep. Decant the tea from the steeping teapot into another teapot or into cups.
As with any fine tea, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the tea leaves’ appearance and aroma before and after steeping and to inhale the aroma of the tea liquid with each sip, paying attention to how the flavor hits your tongue and the aftertaste that follows.
A side note: Both Australia and New Zealand have plants called “tea trees” that should not be confused with true tea from Camellia Sinensis or one of its varietals. The “tea tree” in New Zealand is Leptospermum scoparium (also called “Manuka”), and in Australia the “tea tree” is really Melaleuca alternifolia. Honey made from the New Zealand Manuka (usually labeled “New Zealand Tea Tree Manuka honey”) is seeing a growing worldwide demand, expanding the call for skilled apiarists.
I hope this has given you a bit of an urge to try this relatively new tea on the market. Enjoy!
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