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Owners Brew Up A Perfect Blend At Culture Tea In Wilton

Shu-Chuan Chen and Alex Higle, owners of Culture Tea, and Wendy Fellows, an employee, stand behind the counter at the tea room in Wilton Center. Photo Credit: Carolyn Mueller
Shu-Chuan Chen points out the components of a traditional Taiwanese tea cup, gaiwan, which refers to the lid used to keep tea leaves out of the drinker's mouth when sipping tea. The gaiwan can be used for both brewing and drinking tea. Photo Credit: Carolyn Mueller

WILTON, Conn. — Residents are welcoming Culture Tea, a gem tucked away in Wilton Center that opened at the end of August and that is run by Alexander Higle and his wife, Shu-Chuan Chen. 

Higle and Chen turned their shared dream of running a tea room into reality. And their tea room is different from others. 

The couple has made a study of tea room culture, visiting various tea rooms in the region. Chen has also observed the differences in the tea rooms of Taiwan, where her family lives, and those of London, where she lived for several years while earning a doctorate in sociology. She also has an interest in modern yoga.

“What’s the relationship between tea, tisanes and yoga?” Chen found herself pondering. “It’s a way of life. I learned tea could be very, very good for people in their daily lives, for health and inspiration.”

In Culture Tea, she and her husband combine their favorite aspects of the different traditions. And while the Unites States tends to focus on coffee-drinking, they believe there is space here for their kind of tea room. They have created a lovely place with a calm atmosphere, where people can sit comfortably and enjoy tea served in beautiful teapots and cups, paired with perfectly matched food.

Higle describes it as a place where friends can meet to share a pot of tea, or where you can bring a book to read while sipping tea. He would prefer that customers take the time to enjoy the experience of drinking tea. But at the request of customers, they do make tea available to go upon request — however, it takes time for the tea to brew properly.

As their name implies, there is an emphasis on culture at Culture Tea. Scheduled events, such as classes in tea education, musical performances, story-telling and perhaps most uniquely, Improv: Tea Buffet & A Show, are planned regularly.

The first planned improv night included performers Higle knows from his days in improv. But he has given up performing and full-time work as an administrator to work in the tea business, even becoming a certified tea specialist.

Higle speaks easily of the complexities of properly preparing tea. Different teas require different and very specific brewing temperatures as well as different brew times. 

"The temperature of the water is very important," Higle said. "If it's too hot, you could burn the tea. If it's too low, the leaf won't release the flavor. There is both a science and an art to brewing tea."

Some teas lend themselves to having milk and sugar added, others taste better without. The tea menu also lists tasting notes, similar to ones found on wine lists.

“It’s very full-time,” he emphasized, of running Culture Tea.

Chen demonstrated the use of a gaiwan, a traditional Taiwanese vessel for brewing and sipping tea. 

"Gai means lid," she explained, showing how the lid is used to prevent tea leaves from floating into the tea drinkers mouth while tea is sipped from the gaiwan in which it was brewed.

As in the tea rooms of England, European-style desserts and pastries are available to enjoy with a pot of tea. Cream tea and high tea are on the menu, as well as breakfast and lunch items. The tea menu includes varieties from around the world as well as wellness tisanes. Other beverages are available for those times you want to enjoy the tea room without drinking tea.

Higle described the complementary approaches he and his wife bring to the world of tea.

"I"m a scientist with tea and an artist in life," Higle said. "She's a scientist in life and an artist with tea."

For more information about Culture Tea, including upcoming events, click here.

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