Zealong Tea Estate

On the Trail of Tasty Treats in Hamilton

From breakfast to dinner, Denise Stephens samples local fare in Hamilton.

Hamilton’s streets were quiet as I headed to the Waikato Farmers’ Market, eagerly anticipating breakfast treats. This was the start of a relaxing Sunday spent feasting on fresh local food, tasting new flavours, and buying some gourmet goodies to take home.

The market was already buzzing when I arrived at 8am. Some people were leaving with bags laden with fresh vegetables, milk and other produce, while others chatted over coffee at tables outside. Through the wide open doors of The Barn, I glimpsed shoppers browsing stalls filled with a wide array of food.

NZMCD The outdoor seating area at the Waikato market
The outdoor seating area at the Waikato market


Finding breakfast was first on the agenda. Locals were queuing for Volare’s award-winning bread and pastries, so I had time to examine the extensive range before ordering. Sourdough, ciabatta, grain loaves and baguettes filled the shelves. The selection on the counter included their renowned croissants, scones, pain au chocolat and Danish pastries. I decided on a peach and pistachio pastry, and a morning bun with a deliciously sticky filling of cinnamon, sugar and citrus peel rolled up inside.

While I was looking for a latte to go with the pastries, the aroma of freshly roasted coffee drew me to Manuka Brothers. They roast small batches of arabica beans in a wood-fired roaster, which gives the coffee a distinctive flavour. The stall displayed a range of coffee including single origin beans and their own Manuka Brothers Blend, served at the nearby espresso machine.

The pleasant outdoor seating area was surrounded by trees. A musician played the guitar and sang while people enjoyed the coffee and food they’d just bought. After breakfast, it was time to go inside for some more serious shopping.

NZMCD Fresh produce at the market
Fresh produce at the market


The market has been going since 2006, offering local producers a place to sell their wares. Many stalls sold organic produce, and some specialised in a single seasonal item, such as persimmons. These orange fruit were magnificent, and the man behind the counter commented that they were larger this year. A sample slice proved they tasted as good as they looked, so I bought two kilos.

The next stall, Over the Moon Dairy from Putāruru, displayed a tempting array of cheeses made from sheep, cow and goat milk. Even after sampling several it was difficult to choose, but I settled for wedges of Burgundy Moon and Creamy Blue. Burgundy Moon is rind-washed with merlot grape skins, giving the rind a distinctive texture and a slightly fruity flavour. The Creamy Blue was recommended as an accompaniment to my persimmons. I tried this at lunch, and it was a delicious combination of textures and flavours.

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Specialty cheeses from Over the Moon
The great range of specialty cheeses from Over the Moon
NZMCD Sampling Over the Moon cheese
Sampling Over the Moon cheese

I wandered along the aisles, past stalls selling vegetables, preserves, fresh pasta, salami and raw milk, stopping to taste morsels here and there.

At Sweetree Honey, as I sampled their location-specific honeys, I learned more about the vegetation that gives them their flavour. Kirikiriroa honey comes from hives in the city, including some at Hamilton Gardens, so the bees collect pollen from suburban garden plants. Horsham Downs is a pasture honey, recommended for sweetening tea. After tasting several, I added a jar of the smooth Kirikiriroa to my shopping bag.

By the time I left the market, I had supplies for lunch and dinner, plus some special local products to take back home.

Kirikiriroa honey comes from hives around the city, including Hamilton Gardens
Kirikiriroa honey comes from hives around the city, including Hamilton Gardens


In the afternoon I drove to Zealong Tea Estate, 20 minutes away from Hamilton. The Discover Tea Tour introduces visitors to the history of tea while they stroll through the beautiful grounds.

Our guide, Abby, started by serving us a sample of Fire and Ice, a warming blend of black tea, mānuka and ginger, with a refreshing touch of mint. We followed her down the Tea Path, past neat rows of bushes, while she explained how tea is grown and processed at Zealong.

The estate only grows a single variety of oolong tea bush, with 2 million bushes all propagated from the 130 original plants. Tea masters create different flavours using their expert processing techniques.

NZMCD The Zealong factory is surrounded by tea fields
The Zealong factory is surrounded by tea fields

The journey from the bush to the cup starts with tea pickers removing only the top three leaves on each stem. The leaves are then sun-dried and tossed. Oolong and black teas go through an oxidation process, which deepens the colour and changes the flavour, while green tea is left as it is. The leaves are tightly rolled into heavy cloth bundles and then dried. This process may be repeated several times as the tea master works towards the desired taste.

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Although we could see the fields and factory building from the Tea Path, to avoid contamination we couldn’t go into either place. Zealong is fully organic, with several international certifications, and maintaining hygiene and food safety standards is an important part of their business.

NZMCD A tea master rolls the tea into bundles to improve the flavour
A tea master rolls the tea into bundles to improve the flavour

The tour ended with a tasting on the verandah of the tea house. We sat at a table made from a highly polished cinnamon slab, with small cups and bowls in front of us. Abby demonstrated how to pour tea from our cup to the bowl by holding them together and turning them upside down. Then she started the ritual of pouring hot water from a height, warming the pots, jugs and cups first, before making pots of tea.

We tried five varieties – green, jasmine oolong, aromatic oolong, dark oolong and black tea. Starting with the green tea, we inhaled the aroma and sipped each tea in turn to compare all five. Abby recommended dark oolong for coffee drinkers. Although its toasted flavour was appealing, the coffee lovers at the table decided the slightly smoky aromatic oolong was more to our taste. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a packet at the end of the tour.

Driving back to Hamilton, I looked forward to finishing the day with a delicious meal with local vegetables, pasta and cheese, followed by a good cup of tea.

NZMCD Zealong tea tasting
The tea tasting included five different teas

More Information

Waikato Farmers’ Market is held every Sunday from 8am to 12 noon in The Barn, Claudelands Event Centre, Gate 3, Brooklyn Road. 

Another market is held in Cambridge on Saturday from 8am to 12 noon in Victoria Square.

More info: waikatofarmersmarkets.co.nz

Zealong Tea Estate

495 Gordonton Road, Hamilton

More info: zealong.com

Hamilton Cosmopolitan Club offers its carpark as a Park Over Property (POP) to NZMCA members.

32 Claudelands Road, Hamilton East

More info: www.cossie.org.nz/motorhome-parking

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