Colorful jars of loose leaf rooibos, chai and oolong line the shelves at Studio 550 — a fittingly artistic display for the new tea shop and café at the downtown Manchester community art center.
“It was actually part of the original plan,” founder Monica Leap said.
Studio 550 opened last December and offers classes for all ages in various artistic mediums. The center hosts African dance, Tai Chi classes, book and paper arts classes, stained glass, drawing, wheel throwing, children’s art classes and family workshops and even theatre performances. Now, a tea room has been added to the heart of the community center.
“Food is an art, too,” Leap said. “It’s also the idea that a kitchen tends to be the center of the home, and the idea that the tea shop or the café would be the center of the studio.”
The café is located in the main entryway and lobby area of the center across from the seating area, with art adorning the walls and shelves all around, giving the feeling of a cozy living room.
“It’s a community art center, and what I tend to say is that it’s not a community art center unless people are using it,” Leap said. “It just needs to be a comfortable, welcoming space that’s nurturing where people can come and not be afraid to do whatever they want, because art can be a very scary thing.”
Many have already come to call the art center a second home, Leap said. Students in the various classes, from dancing to pottery, can order tea before or after their class, or come in just for the café.
“Having that tea shop, or the kitchen, or the center of the home is kind of of adding to the effect of the studio being people’s home away from home, or their second home,” Leap said.
The teas are sourced from MEM Tea Imports, located in Watertown, Mass., and A&E Custom Coffee Roastery in Amherst. Sweets and pastries are purchased from the Manchester School of Technology in support of its culinary arts and
“What we’re trying to do with the tea shop also is to have cups and mugs by a lot of different artists so you actually get a whole variety. You actually get a different experience every time you come here,” Leap said. “We also do a lot of pottery here — obviously that’s what people know the studio as — the reason why I personally like pottery is because it’s art that becomes part of your daily life. It’s just something that you get to interact with more.”
Guests can purchase tea to drink, order it to-go or purchase tea to take home. Leap said that there’s also a Mug Club program, where guests can have their own handmade mug to keep at the shop, but there’s a challenge. To join the Mug Club, customers need to try a cup of each of the teas on the menu or purchase at least an ounce of each within six months.
All the teas are loose leaf and brewed to order, since some certain teas need to steep for a certain amount of time.
“They’re all so different. I want something between 20 and 30 [teas],” Leap said. “Everybody has a different flavor and everybody has a different mood, because you know, you have to have the right tea for the right mood. There are some that are really roasted, and some that are smokey, and some that are light and fruity.”
The menu includes black teas, like English Breakfast (Assam), Pu-Erh and organic Earl Grey, green teas (including Moroccan Mint and Jasmine Yin Hao), rooibos, chamomile, a dark Oolong Wuyi, Mate and Chai varieties.
“It’s giving people the chance to try something new,” Leap said. “There’s definitely an education factor to it.”
As seen in the December 19th, 2013 issue of The Hippo