High tea on the Rototuna plantation
New Zealanders can experience the lingering charm of a high tea, surrounded by the country's first commercial tea plantation, just over the hill from Hamilton.
Having introduced oolong tea to New Zealand, Zealong Tea Enterprises director Vincent Chen has opened the Camellia Teahouse at his 48-hectare plantation near Rototuna.
Mr Chen said the teahouse idea had been around since he bought the property about six years ago and saw the view from the farmhouse.
After establishing the first stage of his tea plantation, the renovation and transformation of the home to a teahouse was a two-year process, including consents and building, he said.
Although the chemical-free oolong tea is primarily aimed at the top end of the Chinese market, where some teas can sell for $11,000 a kilogram, Mr Chen hopes New Zealanders will also come to understand and appreciate his Chinese-style oolong teas by seeing how the premium large-leaf product is served.
Camellia Teahouse co-owner and chef Wendy Turvey said there had been a great response since it opened in January. One of the days was "almost too successful", when a stream of eager tea drinkers had waitresses scrambling to keep up.
Now, with more staff, she says customers should expect personalised service and an explanation of the tea, including the story of how Taiwanese born Mr Chen brought tea-growing to New Zealand.
Pots of boiling water at each table allowed customers to re-infuse the tea leaves, making the experience more leisurely than a cafe-style "coffee ... muffin and out the door" concept, she said.
Mr Chen described the experience as akin to visiting a single-vineyard winery to taste its wines.
His next step will be an $18 million visitor centre.