At the less well-trodden end of Elizabeth Street, in the midst of Redfern, you might occasionally notice a stoop with vases abloom sitting upon it, a curtain blossoming from a slightly open door and a swirling script stamped on the glass: Tea Parlour.
What is perhaps most wonderful about Tea Parlour’s overt prettiness is that it is so at odds with the immediate area; a pub next door, a few sleepy non-descript shops, and a stream of traffic finding its first real taste of momentum as it breaks away from the CBD. It’s exactly this kind of contrast that Tea Parlour delights in, celebrating an eclectic Rococo decadence while relishing in simple, routine pleasures.
With embroidered furnishings, gauzy curtains, florals, furs, silver and fine china, the single room where tea is served is brimming with details, and it can be hard to know where to rest your eye in such a cacophony of textures, surfaces and bric-a-brac (although the incredible peacock with its feathers fanned across almost the breadth of the room is a good place to start). The small space is unabashedly feminine, with the best of the best garage sales seemingly picked over.
Yet the point of this space is to delight in the little ritual of tea. “It’s just leaves in water…it’s more about tradition,” claims Amelia Hepburn, proprietor of Tea Parlour. “[The appeal] is just a result of fast-paced lifestyles. Everyone wants something that lets them slow down… and I guess a little bit of ceremony never goes astray.” Hepburn is all manners and little pretence, dressed impeccably but without the twee primness you might expect from someone who can claim to be a tea mistress. Inside the Parlour, it’s clear from her choice of music that her tastes aren’t confined merely to the classics, with playlists that slide from Ella Fitzgerald to Jay Z.
With teas sourced from Sri Lanka, China and Japan, the tea list unsurprisingly goes beyond the regular cafe staples. The counterpoint is that there is no coffee here – no beloved espresso machines or syphons or filters. “Sydney especially is so pedantic about coffee; I didn’t want to touch it because it’s something that has to be perfect.”
It’s exactly that appreciation for doing one thing specifically, and doing it with abandon, which has managed to keep Hepburn’s venture distinct during a time where every cranny and crevice is turned into a cafe or bar. The Parlour’s very niche-ness is what makes it a place of curiosity, especially in an area that has seen a parade of cafes crop up in the last year.
However, its distinctiveness (not to mention Hepburn’s love for taxidermy) is not without its detractors. “I’ve been collecting taxidermy for a few years. I really like it, but I know it’s not for everyone and there have been a few complaints over the internet,” says Hepburn. “People have said ‘Oh, that place is so tacky with all those gaudy fake flowers and taxidermy. It’s so passé.’ I guess bigger places deal with it better, but because it’s just me here – I run the place, I do all the cooking – so when people are writing horrible things, it’s not like I can share it with a team.”
But the perils of doing things differently must seem minor considering that Tea Parlour was been dreamt up over two years before its establishment near the border between Redfern and Surry Hills.
“It’s something I always thought would be a fun idea. I love old China and all this old tacky doily stuff. So I thought, ‘Well, surely everyone else does as well?’”
And although she says this with wry self-mockery, she’s right. Afterwards Hepburn relates an anecdote, with a mixture of pleasure and surprise: “I had a girl from Brisbane come in today and she told me she had this place on her to do list – she’d wanted to come here since she read about it – which was just amazing.”
Tea Parlour is available for small, private functions.
579 Elizabeth Street, Redfern