At his third-wave cafe, Proud Mary in Collingwood, you can see from the second you walk in that they’re doing things differently – and it isn’t just the über boiler in the counter that gives it away. Lurking under the coffee hoo-ha is another avant-garde idea that’s slowly catching on: specialty tea.
“Of course we’re still serving the crowd pleasers like English breakfast,” says Nolan, acknowledging that change should never be forced. “But we’re also offering another tea menu: all single estate and specialty teas.”
It’s a trend that’s growing at cafes around Melbourne (think Monk Bodhi Dharma), and it’s timely considering the apathy that surrounds tea drinkers and the lack-lustre tea service that has prevailed for too long.
Nolan credits his wife as the driving force behind the cafe's interest in tea (“She’s not a coffee drinker, so it’s frustrating for her when tea at a cafe is average.”), but he also believes that the rising interest in tea is part of a greater concern with the quality of food generally.
“People are being fussier and understanding that smaller companies, local produce and making things on site are important. The little guys are getting a run. People hunt quality. That’s part of what’s happened with tea. And with coffee coming ahead in leaps and bounds, tea was always going to have to catch up.”
As with everything at Proud Mary, attention to detail is vital, and while they’re busy brewing coffee to specific recipes (ratios of water volume and temperature to coffee and brew-time), the same goes for brewing the perfect cup of tea. Each tea has its own recipe – including the amount of tea, temperature of water and steeping time. It’s paramount to heat the pot, and with any tea that can over extract, a clever dripper filters out the leaves.
Not only is the final result appreciably different but the theatre involved rivals that of the coffee-drinking experience, thus ending what Nolan terms ‘tea-anger’: the sense of somehow having missed out when you get an average cuppa.
From jasmine pearl to golden tips or an infusion of fresh lemongrass and ginger, each tea is brewed to get the best cup possible. Service might include a glass teapot to showcase the infusion, an oriental-style pot to fit the theme or a sommelier’s wine glass to draw out the bouquet. Either way, it’s tea service at a cafe like you’ve never seen before.
And this from a coffee guy.