It’s a little hard to describe Curiosi-Tea House, located in North Mankato, but that’s part of its charm.
The walls are different splashes of pastel color, ranging from cream to deep purple, while an odd and endearing assortment of seating is scattered throughout the building. Chairs range from minimalistic barstools to classic white dining sets to overstuffed leather lounge chairs. One side of the entrance is taken up by a floor-to-ceiling bar set, stocked with more teas than you can count, while a bathroom features a half-finished painting of Alice in Wonderland winding its way up the wall. Of course, the scene wouldn’t be complete without tea sets, and there are dozens of mismatched cups, saucers and teapots that guests can use.
Owner and proprietor Heidi Wyn describes the style as “Steampunk Victorian,” but don’t be put off if that’s not your usual aesthetic. Wyn insists that tea is versatile enough to offer something for everyone.
“People have different experiences when they come into the tea shop,” she said. “They may be looking for something to remind them of a place they’ve visited or a family memory. I had a gentleman come in [who] said, ‘This is just like the tea I had with my dad when I was 20 and we were in London.’ It’s like drinking a memory. It’s a really neat thing to be able to offer that experience to somebody.”
Filling a need
Wyn grew up in Mankato, heading to South Dakota to pursue a teaching degree. After graduation, she taught in two one-room schoolhouses, a small school district and even a Hutterite community before returning to Minnesota. After working in the education field for several more years, Wyn decided to try something new.
“My whole background taught me that if you’re open to new experiences, you can learn a lot from them, and you can kind of do anything you put your mind to,” Wyn said. “You don’t have to do what you’ve always done; you can use things that you’ve learned in a different way.”
Wyn had run her own thrift shop for a little while, and she was interested in starting another business. Around that time, Wyn had discovered white tea, which tends to have a very low amount of caffeine. Wyn is caffeine-sensitive and can’t drink coffee, so the tea became a new favorite of hers.
“I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one who’s interested in this,’” she recalled. “There’s got to be other people out there like me who had no idea what my options were.”
So Wyn decided to open a tea house. She put together her own business plan, pulling advice off the internet, before attending some entrepreneur classes. Then she started going to vendor fairs, trying to gauge if there was enough interest for her business dream to float—and there definitely was.
Wyn opened Curiosi-Tea House on River Street in Mankato in September 2014. When she first started, she needed to remodel the kitchen, so the first nine months were only retail-based. Eventually, she was able to expand into offering a place for tea lovers to linger. Customers could choose from a variety of games Wyn had on-hand, or just curl up with a good book and a hot cup of tea.
Growing and expanding
Wyn eventually outgrew her original location as people kept asking to bring in bigger groups. In January 2019, she moved up the hill to North Mankato. She purchased the current building, which is larger and able to offer more seating, a larger kitchen and a designated retail area. There is also some outdoor seating, including an intricate wrought iron gazebo.
According to Wyn, business has been good. In fact, they’ve had more business every day at the new location compared to the old one, except for the day after the “polar vortex” in January.
“That was the only day that we’ve been slower, sales-wise, than downtown,” she said.
Looking to the future, Wyn said she hopes to add more “grab-and-go” bulk food items, such as prepackaged quarts of soup, so people can swing by and take something home. She’d also like to add more outdoor seating and make it pet-friendly, with the hope of hosting more outdoor events, such as live music.
The tea house already hosts several different kinds of events, from tea-and-painting to themed tea parties. In August, Wyn organized a Jane Austen-style morning tea party, hosted by none other than Lady Catherine De Bourgh herself, and Wyn said she’s hoping to host a Harry Potter-themed tea party on Halloween this year. People can also rent the tea house during its off hours.
But the best deal might be the weekly tea tastings. On select hours of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, tea lovers can purchase an unlimited amount of five different types of teas—and add unlimited servings of the teas of the day for another 50 cents.
“It’s the whole idea of educating people,” Wyn explained. “Come in and try something and be open to trying something new. If you don’t like one tea, there are many more to choose. We tell people, ‘Try them all, and come back and drink more of the one you like the best.’”
Types of teas
Within the first two years of her business, Wyn’s tea options expanded to more than 200 varieties. She rotates them throughout the year depending on the season; people tend to favor fruity, floral teas in the spring and spicier, hardier teas in the fall. Around the holidays, she pulls out more chocolate or nut blends. She has created about six of her own blends, including a green chai tea made entirely out of her own ingredients. Her most popular tea is pistachio shortbread, a black tea that contains notes of pistachio, marzipan and rose petal.
“If you put sugar and cream in it, it’s totally a cookie-in-a-cup dessert,” she said.
Wyn also offers a variety of food options, which are all plant-based, vegan and gluten-free. She and her employees make 15 types of soups from scratch and also offer salads and sandwiches. There are also sweet options such as cookies, tea candies and other vegan dessert options.
Wyn said when she first opened, people warned her that she’d need to offer other beverages, such as coffee or soda, but she said she is committed to selling only healthy foods.
“It’s about putting good-for-you things in your body,” she said.
Wyn said she’s heard from several customers about how they didn’t think they liked tea—until they tried hers.
“We try to do events where we put teas in people’s hands,” she said. “We’ll hear, ‘I don’t like tea,’ and then we do an event and hear, ‘I didn’t know I liked tea,’ over and over again. If you don’t like one, we have 200 different kinds.”
If you go
What: Curiosi-Tea House
Address: 1745 Commerce Drive, North Mankato
Phone number: 507-317-5354
Facebook page: Curiosi-Tea House
The Curiosi-Tea House Vision
“Our vision is to provide high quality teas and products that are healthy, flavorful, unique and affordable for daily consumption. We strive to be considered an exceptional, health-minded and value added business in our community. Stop in and you will find a friendly locally owned business offering unique global products and tea education in a comfortable artistic setting that encourages conversation and relaxation.”
By Grace Brandt