Thursday, February 27, 2014

In praise of hipsters.

You may be mystified like I am about why the hipster craze caught on. Seriously? Mustard and burgundy at the same time? Anaemic young men in ankle boots? With no socks?
I've never understood it. I've tried on shapeless dresses with strange openings and closings and I've seen the blunt, short fringes and I've said to myself, 'I am unwilling to be part of this.' But. Having said this, I love the south end of Smith St. If you haven't been there, it's part of Hipster Central in Melbourne (or Malbin, in hipster-speak), which is a region defined by Smith, Brunswick, Cecil and Gertrude Streets, and Northcote. It sells vinyl records and old books and bicycles and funny shoes and there are at least twenty places that will do you a strange hairdo that only makes sense to other hipsters, and for the rich inner-urban types who take their cues from their younger, porcelain-skinned counterparts, there are expensive (breathtakingly so) homewares shops.
I didn't discuss any of this with Hannah, who owns the tea shop in the south end of Smith St, as we were sitting in her establishment, nestled in a precinct with a knitting shop and several art galleries, featuring modern pieces made out of blue concrete and bits of string (don't you just want to stand around them, holding a short mac saying 'but is it art?').
We discussed tea. Specifically, whether you can fall in love with tea without becoming an inaccessible tea wanker who can no longer buy tea at the supermarket. I now have an answer to this question: yes, you can. You can fall in love with tea and still buy it at the supermarket, and without ruining tea drinking in normal establishments forever.
You will probably just only buy certain types of tea.
Other types will make you groan and wince and go ever so slightly pale, but you can still drink them. Things to look for in good tea are, as mentioned previously in this blog, shiny leaves and no dusty or powdery appearance. We took photos.

This is tea that is shiny and not dusty or powdery. It could be the first tea that Hannah made me. The interesting thing about tea, is, well, it's the interesting thing about the world and taste and many other things. The interesting thing about clothes are that there are great clothes that look good on just about anyone. But when you get to the really expensive, top of the line clothes, you see things that look violently horrible on practically everyone, but look utterly fantastic and unique when worn by just the right person in just the right lighting.
With tea it's the same. Hannah brewed me a cup of an utterly priceless tea and the smell, well, I immediately said 'wet, woolen fifty year old jacket.' I wasn't guessing. Growing up, we had exactly that jacket, which looked like it had been felted out of camel hair, and this tea smelled just like it when it was damp. 'This is the fifth brew,' said Hannah. 'I think I can get twenty brews out of it.'
It's an oolong from the high mountains of Taiwan. Hannah doesn't know its name, or what she would charge for it. It was a gift from a friend. It's twenty years old. It was like a conversation. There were numerous flavours and aromas in it. I named them, and then forgot the names, and now all I can feel is a flat band of steel or metal running through it. 'It's like concrete,' said Hannah. And it was. It almost tasted blue. 'Can you taste it getting sweeter as you drink it?' Hannah asked. I couldn't, but could taste sweetness in the end of my cup.
'It's like beer,' said Hannah. 'When you're young, you taste beer and it's horrible. Then your palate develops around the taste, and you realise how awesome it is.' A lot of things are like that. So I've now tasted an interesting, prized tea and been surprised by it.
What I love about tea is that it's rich and serious at the same time, and I would expect a prized tea to be more of that, but instead it was different and not what I would have picked. I think I liked it more. Something that surprises you can keep on surprising you. But something predictable will eventually get tiring.