Tea Buds Thrive in New Zealand’s One and Only Tea Garden

Zealong’s Vincent Chen moves from skyscrapers to tea fields.


New Zealand is known for many things–Lord of the Rings, hobbits, Flight of the Conchords–but tea is not usually one of them. Why? Because there’s only one tea plantation in the entire country, it’s not a traditional tea-growing region, and until this year, a fully-functioning tea plantation did not even exist on the Kiwi islands. But a Taiwanese real estate entrepreneur, Vincent Chen, who’s background is in building massive skyscrapers, has changed all that with his new company, Zealong.

Mr. Chen brought 1,500 tea seedlings from Taiwan to New Zealand in 1996 to start his very own plantation, which has now become a 50-hectare farm. While Mr. Chen was not present at the Hong Kong International Tea Fair, his delegation was and when I inquired about the motivation to start New Zealand’s first tea plantation, I was told that tea was simply a personal passion of the 30-something year-old Chen. Once again, this just points to tea being the new status symbol for the world’s global elite. Got some money? Open a museum, invest in wine, or, why not just start your own tea brand? Not to mention the statement it makes about how agricultural advancements could lead to a more diverse landscape of products.

But how is the company actually doing? Well, Tony Gebely, founder of the Chicago Tea Garden, is the first and sole importer of Zealong to the United States and Fast Company sought him out to find out just how great the tea really is. “Zealong is great — customers really like it,” says Gebely, and the tea is “very fresh tasting — much different from the same tea grown in China
and Taiwan. Their goal is to make a tea that competes with Taiwan and I
think they are right on track. Sales of it have been wonderful.”

About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.