Though the seas may boil, the mountains crumble and the country remain forever polarized, the truly astute among us know well there is a cure for all ills — the hot cup of tea. Whether it be loose leaf in a Brown Betty, or bagged and steeping in a New England Patriots mug; whether it be the refined and ritualistic art of the English or a simple gossip with the neighbor, the sacred leaves of the Orient have pervaded every clime and culture to become the most consumed beverage on earth.
Whether your taste runs toward classic Victorian High Tea or the blithesome aroma of a downtown coffeehouse, here in southeastern Connecticut, the purveyors of the leaves are ready to warm you and welcome you with a cup.
If you’re the type of person who would be likely to pursue a rabbit in a waistcoat and a watch, then you may want to venture down the rabbit hole to Olde Mistick Village. Nestled in that part of the Village closest to Mystic Aquarium, you can’t miss the charming storefront — mostly because there’s a stretched-out Alice beckoning you to the mad tea party inside.
The sign, in the form of the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, is just the tip of the Wonderland iceberg. Inside the décor is a perfect marriage of the quaint and the whimsical, with a life-sized Alice coming down through the ceiling amidst a flutter of playing cards.
A glass cabinet filled with English style pastries will delight your senses (Try the macaroons, you’ll thank me) along with 80 different kinds of teas, both hot and iced. The rest of the room is filled with Lewis Carroll-inspired gifts, both from the original book and Disney versions.
But the best part is the Mad Hatter Tea Room, where they serve an English-style afternoon tea that the March Hare would approve of. Along with a three-tiered tray of baked British goodness, comes a teapot big enough to fit the Dormouse. This is the Wonderland experience you need to try; just keep in mind that the quaint tea room is a small, cozy place, so you have to book a reservation, which you can do online at aliceinthevillage.net.
In fact, its popularity has increased so much since it opened, that the proprietors are opening up a second shop at Patriot Place in Foxboro, Mass. Where the Mystic shop focuses on “Alice in Wonderland,” the new shop will focus on “Through the Looking Glass.”
Alice in the Village is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If your taste runs more toward the downtown coffeehouse — the type where you expect a poetry slam to break out at any minute — then the Essex Coffee and Tea Company is for you. Adorning the sidewalk of the already well-adorned downtown Essex, a place that looks like it was designed by Norman Rockwell, you’ll find the independent coffee house.
Beyond their impressive selection of fresh roasted gourmet coffee and organic loose leaf artisan teas, you’ll find an assortment of baked goods that are difficult to find outside of Grandma’s kitchen. And it’s no wonder; while many of the treats are made daily right in the shop (be sure to sample the award-winning coconut macaroons), there are several baked goods that are hand-crafted by local vendors. And there are gluten-free treats available too.
But the coffee shop’s true claim to fame is its dedicated support of the arts community, which the owners take very seriously. Inside you can find monthly displays by local artists, which all ties together with the tea, coffee, baked goods and coffee house ambience that make you glad to live in New England.
Essex Coffee and Tea Company is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As you walk into Tea Roses hidden in a small storefront on Main Street in Cromwell, you’ll feel transported to Victorian England. The barista will direct you to a pot of tea on a small table in the middle of the room, where she will pour you a small sample in a demitasse. You’ll feel you’ve died and gone to Downton Abbey.
Tea Roses is clearly a labor of love. The gift area boasts unique treasures, local artist’s wares, greeting cards, tea and tea accessories. Sprinkled among the teapots are small tables and chairs. In one corner there’s a small reading area with a selection of inspirational books.
In the back of the shop is the tea room, Scones, muffins, cucumber sandwiches and other dainties abound on a three-tiered tray. This is all accompanied by a pot of various organic, loose leaf teas including their own exclusive Tea Roses Tea Blend.
The Afternoon Tea is very popular, and the room is small and cozy, so it’s highly recommended that you make reservations, which you can do by calling (860) 632-1400. The tea room also hosts regular events, such as Gallery Readings, Angel Card Readings and tea Leaf readings. To see the schedule, visit the website at tearosestearoom.com.
Tea Roses Tea Room & Gift Shop is open Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you prefer a comfortable cup at home, then look to these local purveyors:
This Mystic retailer believes that fine tea is far more than boiling water and a limp tea bag. Hand-harvested organic tea is a gourmet cultural experience. They are moved by tea, the people who make it, and the culture that surrounds it. And they invite you to stop in and join them for a free tasting.
Located in Building 8H at Olde Mistick Village, Tigerlily Tea Company is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check them out online at tigerlilytea.com
The Spice & Tea Exchange of Mystic
Dedicating themselves to the mission of “creating and sharing the experience of a more flavorful life,” proprietors Greg and Cindy Wright and Jenn Asbury have brought a one-of-a-kind shopping experience and 18th Century Trading Post retail concept to life. The Spice & Tea Exchange offers more than 140 spices, over 80 exclusive hand-mixed blends, more than 20 naturally-flavored sugars, an array of salts from around the world, and more than 40 exotic teas.
Located at 80 Whitfield St. in Guilford, The Spice & Tea Exchange is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Check them out online at spiceandtea.com.