Drinks News

A quiet place to experience a Japanese-style tea ceremony in inner-city Melbourne

In a city known for its boutique coffee, there's a place that's offering specialty green tea sourced from a seventh-generation plantation near Kyoto.

By Audrey Bourget
Rie Ohnuki at Harvest Index.
There's a sense of calm that descends as soon as you step into Harvest Index. The tea studio, located on Johnston Street in Melbourne's Collingwood, looks part-modern Japanese teahouse, part-chemistry lab. Olive-green velvet curtains cover the walls, and in the middle of the room stands a handsome stone bar. It's the heart of the studio's operations, where customers can take part in a 30-minute tea ceremony, and purchase Kyoto-harvested teas from the leading Japanese retailer.
"We wanted to provide a space that was welcoming and comfortable," says Lachlan Sinclair, who created the concept and space with business partner Benjamin Wright under their design agency LVDI. "We want people to feel it's worth making the time for a tea ritual."
A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is highly ritualised, with as much emphasis on participants' gestures (washing hands, bowing) as the consumption of tea. Harvest Index offers a modern ceremony where tasting is the focus. "It's a simplified Japanese ceremony that's tailored for the customer," says Wright.
Matcha tea powders at Harvest Index. Photo: Supplied
Rie Ohnuki, the studio's tea ceremony specialist, inquires after your tea and taste preferences (bitter, sweet or umami; green, black or matcha), and when you intend to drink the tea. Matcha, for example, has a high caffeine content, and is best enjoyed in the morning – the stimulant is released slowly throughout the day, and helps to maintain alertness. Hojicha, a low-caffeine option, is ideally consumed in the evening for unwinding at the end of the day. Depending on your preferences, Ohnuki selects and brews up to four teas to sample.
The exterior of Harvest Index. Photo: Supplied
Despite Melbourne's reputation for boutique coffee roasters and laneway cafés, Sinclair says the local market is also very discerning with its tea. "Our assumption was that matcha would have been the most popular, but that wasn't necessarily the case," says Sinclair. "Hojicha and genmaicha have really resonated with our audience so far."
The teas are sourced from the same seventh-generation plantation in Uji, a mountainous region south of Kyoto renowned for its high-quality tea. And that quality comes at a cost – a 33-gram box of their deluxe-grade matcha retails for $88. The studio also sells tea equipment – thermometers, chasen (the bamboo whisk used to make matcha), Hario drip-brew tea systems – for serious home brewers.
"We're very excited about encouraging people to take part in the ritual, and taking the time for themselves," says Sinclair. "It's something to take pride in."
Harvest Index, 74 Johnston St, Collingwood, Vic, Wed-Sun 10am-6pm. Bookings are recommended for tea ceremonies, which are free of charge. harvestindex.co