My first day digging into Melbourne had me stumbling around the South Yarra neighborhood with my close American friend, Gianna. We strolled into Prahran Market, languidly moving between meat butchers, farm produce, and split a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Towards the back of the market, we came across the wonderful Linmark tea shop. Small and unimposing, I was originally attracted by the colorful card display out front. As I turned my head deeper into the dark walls of the small Prahran Market stall, my eyes were joyfully greeted by a beautiful spray of tea and tea making accessories.

I love a good cup of tea and used to work for a wonderful French tea importer on the Upper West Side. On top of being a librarian, a recent owner of two kittens, I really feel like now I have a wonderful trifecta of crazy cat lady. My wedding gift from my Maid of Honor was a beautiful Japanese tea pot cause she knows me so well. I work in the mornings to a cup of green tea. I am a fan, to say the least. I’ve been looking an awful long time for a beautiful tea shop and more importantly, a place to observe traditional tea brewing practices. Why the fascination? Well, if one origin story for tea starring the Chinese emperor Shen Nong is to be believed, then humans have been domesticating the Camillas plant since 2737 BC. That’s 4,753 years of domestication! Approximately 1/3 of the time we’ve possibly been domesticating dogs which some claim has been roughly 15,000 years. Crazy, right? Or, it’s just crazy that I am comparing dogs to tea? Well, moving on.

White and blue porceline tea set on a wooden tray

 

Opened pop up cards

Why write about a shop experience that most of you may not get to? I just believe that good businesses deserve some props. Wandering without a real purpose can lead to great things. I’m trying to live my own experience a bit more spontaneously. I find nowadays in the world of reviews, ratings, and information overload- surprises are hard and few to come by.

The other half of Puzzled Pilgrim (my husband) made a good point that it’s a bit weird and funny that I would exemplify not reviewing information in… a review. He has a valid point here, I’m contributing to the case against spontaneity. But my hopes is that this post may encourage us to explore more often, versus researching. Revisit an old mall you haven’t been to in years, or drive into a section of town without using Google Maps. Let your friend lead you somewhere they know and love without asking too many questions about why you should both go there. Who knows! I also recognize that this is not everyone’s cup of tea (har har). So if researching gives you a thrill then by all means! There is no travel police that will come and arrest you either way. Do watch out for the Vegan Police however.

Small circular containers you can pick up to smell and examine tea

When my friend Gianna and myself stepped inside the shop, we poked around and was warmly greeted by Lin, the owner of the store. The name derives from her and her husband, Mark. She imports some of the teas herself from China, working with the knowledge of brewing and tea plantations she’s come to know from her own background. Her shop showcases tons of other varieties including tisanes (herbal blends), rooibos (African brews), and Japanese styles. When I expressed an interest in oolong tea, she didn’t hesitate to guide us through several types, and invited us to sit with her as she brewed and served us a sample of three different oolongs.

 

What really made the experience was Lin’s knowledge balanced with conversational ease. She told us a bit about herself and why she started her business, family history, and how she met her husband. It felt organic and natural to be trading observations and stories on life, love, and tea. I learned not only about the tea but about Lin herself, while Gianna and I chatted away about our own experiences. It was a social as well as a material experience to sit at her cozy table in the back and enjoy the different brews of tea. Not only brews of the leaves, but she served us each a 1st and 2nd steeping of the oolongs in question. I got a chance to finally observe a beautiful brewing ceremony that helped me put the technique into perspective as well. I can’t stress how much I enjoyed the warmth of both the small tea cup in my hand, and the glow of cozy company.

Picture of small boat framed above a wooden tray with porceline tea cups

Gianna and myself left with a beautiful set of 3 tins with our selected tea which we enjoyed back at the apartment and on wards for the rest of my trip. I enjoyed my time so much I came back just to take a few photos and give Lin my thanks for the wonderful company and tea enthusiasm. We found a new customer enjoying a cup of blossoming flower tea which are both aesthetically pleasing and tasty.

 

Lin, Puzzled Pilgrim, and an additional customer enjoying a blooming tea
Lin, Puzzled Pilgrim, and an additional customer enjoying a blooming tea. Thanks to Gianna for taking the photo!

Sometimes the best experiences come in unexpected places. I think I sometimes enjoy movies more when I go into them not having seen the trailer and experiencing an emotional buildup over months, or weeks. Take some time to walk down a street you haven’t visited, let your feet walk you somewhere, and don’t be afraid to step into somewhere unfamiliar.

Small scale businesses are a great place for retaining and passing down personal knowledge. The owners are often invested in seeing their work and process be successful. I visited another chain tea store that offered a lot of beautiful blends. The counter person engaged us but with variably shallow, pointless small talk that led into a sales pitch. Conversion is important more than organic engagement and interest in this experience. In a world where a lot of the places we step into are expecting a currency exchange to be the basis of our interaction, I really enjoy businesses that are in it to give to the world something other than what we walk away with in our bag. At Linmark Tea it was a chance to share and learn about tea culture from growing to drinking, as well as exchanging a bit of humanity between the three of us.

Matcha tea accessories and art panel
Matcha tea accessories and art panel

Sometimes the best experiences come in unexpected places. I think I sometimes enjoy movies more when I go into them not having seen the trailer and experiencing an emotional buildup over months, or weeks. Take some time to walk down a street you haven’t visited, let your feet walk you somewhere, and don’t be afraid to step into somewhere unfamiliar.

View of customer sipping tea inside Linmark Tea at small table surrounded by tea tins and pots

Visit their website

Shop Location: 

Prahran Market   Shop 99, 163 Commercial Rd,

South Yarra VIC 3141    (Next to Jasper Coffee)

 Trading Hours: 

Tuesday 9am – 5pm

Thursday Friday Saturday 9am – 5pm

Sunday 10am – 3pm

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