I had spent the week mourning the loss of Storm in a Teacup from the Melbourne tea scene* by gallivanting around the ‘burbs trying to find a replacement hangout. It didn’t help that all my recent trips to Melbourne had centred on the Collingwood/Fitzroy area as I had chosen my accommodation based on dual proximity to the CBD and the tea bar. What was a displaced Sydney girl to do?
Coincidentally a writing acquaintance happened to be my tea sommelier in Storm’s last days. He had, in turn, invited some of his friends to see out the final hours. One was a bona fide tea connoisseur who recommended I check out Porcelain Tea Parlour.
For some reason in my head I pictured it as a slightly grungy bar, like a tea speakeasy or something, and steeled myself for a night rubbing shoulders with small mobs of hipsters. In fact, Porcelain is more like someone’s living room with warm teal walls and upholstered furniture—and it’s tranquil.
I ordered a Tea & Post ($16), which is a pot of tea accompanied by two sheets of letterpress stationery and a stamped envelope. I had inadvertently hurt two of my best (at the time) friends more than a decade ago. Only this year did one of them—the one I was still in touch with, though not close to—tell me why. The last time we met we didn’t have time to discuss it, so writing a letter while sitting in a tea parlour seemed the best way to deal with my residual guilt.
The ink flowed alongside the tea, a pot of Ancient Jasmine from Vietnam. I asked proprietor Scarlett Killaly whether she’d ever tried ancient tea from Vietnam without the jasmine. She hadn’t. “It’s quite a sweet green tea on its own,” I promised. From that she seemed to twig that I knew more about tea than the average punter so we started chatting about tea and it turned out she knew me—or at least my name—from the early days of AASTA, when I first nominated for the communications role.
The Tea & Post menu item was a nice souvenir from her last job in government, she explained. One day the computer system was down so they had to do everything manually. “It was actually nice to do things on paper.”
Porcelain is a different kind of tea venue from others I’ve visited. For starters the tea menu is quite short, just a handful of choices on one A4 page, and changes seasonally. You can also order small morsels of food (cheese, chocolate or macarons) as accompaniment. What you’re really there for, however, is the time out, the serenity, the headspace—and what better way to recharge the mind and body than with a pot of tea?
At the moment you can’t buy any tea to take home but I suggested to Scarlett that she should take advantage of the seasonal changes in menu by offering sample packs of all the teas in each season, a bit like a walk-in subscription. I really hope this comes about and I really hope locals from Carlton and beyond see this gem for what it is: a true salon where curated tea experiences, profound contemplation, robust discussion and my questionable handwriting can co-exist.
Porcelain Tea Parlour is at 149 Elgin Street, Carlton (VIC), open 7 days from 2pm.
(A.Tea visited Porcelain on 6 June 2015)
*Storm in a Teacup closed as a tea shop and bar on 31 May 2015. It will reopen in Northcote (VIC) as a tea education centre later this year.