Twin Cities’ Largest Tea Tasting Event Doesn’t Disappoint
Mrs. Kelly’s family friendly get-together kicks off the holiday season
By: Joe Kelly
(Note: I am not related to or affiliated with the family of this business)
On a little corner in Northeast Minneapolis, a plain warehouse sits next to Bunny’s Bar and Grill. There’s a loading dock at the back, its doors empty and sign less. I was a little confused if this was the right place. However, the GPS told me it was the right building: Mrs. Kelly’s Tea. A group of three elderly people shuffled through the cold wind and slush towards the side door, and I followed them inside. People lined up in front of a desk where you could sign in and donate a suggested $3 to one of their charities. “You won’t be disappointed,” the man working the front desk told me. After all, this was the Twin Cities’ largest tea tasting event, bringing warmth to an otherwise cold and slushy weekend. Mrs. Kelly’s Tea has been hosting annual tea tastings for more than two decades, and this year the event fell on December 1st and 2nd.
Behind the clerk was a long hall leading to a green vendor sign and a bright red door that read “Mrs. Kelly’s Tea, Welcome!” Inside lay shelves upon shelves of tea, separated into sections that included green tea, herbals, whites, blacks and blends, and oolongs. Small white cups with empty tea bags were provided for sampling. I counted over 100 flavors, anything from spearmint to crème brûlée. I went around smelling bags, spooning out ingredients, putting them in the empty tea bags, and filling the small cups with hot water, all while Christmas music played overhead. Customers of all ages wandered the shop happily and curiously, chatting away with beaming faces.
I sampled 16 total tea blends, including Chai, Apricot Ginger, Pancakes ‘n’ Bacon, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Orange, Peaches and Cream, China Rose, and more. Many of the blends were lightly sweet, smooth, and pleasant. One of the highlights was the Chocolate Mint Rooibos, which had a mint and chocolate-y aftertaste. My absolute favorite was Cinnamon Roll, which smelled and tasted exactly like its name.
I came in originally planning to interview Mrs. Kelly herself but thought better of it after seeing her busily running around the place serving customers. However, I stumbled upon her daughter, Brenna, and asked her about Mrs. Kelly’s Tea.
As an entrepreneur during an era when coffee was all the craze and bagged tea was the norm, Mindy Kelly saw an opportunity to expand on something that most businesses weren’t doing: loose leaf tea. Twenty-six years ago, in 1992, Mindy made two different loose-leaf teas for a farmer’s market, but it wasn’t until 1995 when Mrs. Kelly’s Tea became a full-fledged business that stuck. When asked why her mom started the business, Brenna explained that she is one of four of her children, and her mom wanted to support them.
For most of the year, Mrs. Kelly’s Tea is a warehouse where they hand-prepare loose leaf tea from family recipes based on individual orders online. In other words, they don’t have a supply of certain teas waiting on shelves ready to send out. When you order it, they make it. All employees in the business are family members, including in-laws.
“We do this every year at the beginning of December as a way to kind of kick off the holidays,” Brenna explained. Along with all the charm and positive energy, there was a certain buzz around the place that seemed more than just the caffeine in everyone’s veins. I wouldn’t be exaggerating by saying this would be the perfect event for any occasion: a date, business meeting, or friend get-together. But above all, this would be a perfect outing for a family, considering that a passionate one is behind the business that has stuck around for over a quarter of a century.