Local St. Paul tea shop is steeped in tradition

Just a short drive from campus, Lady Elegant’s Tea Room honors the English custom.

Barbara and Peggy Haselman enjoy tea and pastries on Wednesday, July 24 at Lady Elegant's Tea Room & Gift Shoppe in St. Paul.

Courtney Deutz

Barbara and Peggy Haselman enjoy tea and pastries on Wednesday, July 24 at Lady Elegant’s Tea Room & Gift Shoppe in St. Paul.

Becca Most

Hidden within the small grove of quaint shops and gardens in Milton Square in St. Anthony Park, Lady Elegant’s Tea Room transports its guests to another century.

With white paper doilies, floral wallpapers and long tables of dainty saucers and teacups, the tea shop is set up like a traditional English sitting room. Here, customers are encouraged to take a break from their hectic schedules and enjoy a cup of tea with those they love.

“[At Lady Elegant] there’s no TV, no wifi, so in the moment people will sit down and concentrate on being with each other,” said Wubitu Ayana Sima, who owns the shop with her husband. “You sit down and you have your tea. Nothing else.”

Although the shop has been open for more than 15 years, Sima and her husband Admasu Simeso bought the tea house in 2014, planning to turn it into a coffee shop.

Growing up in Ethiopia, where coffee was widely available, Sima said she didn’t have much experience drinking tea. But, after being encouraged to test out the tea shop for a year before deciding whether to convert it into a coffee shop, she ended up falling in love with it. 

“I was looking at the menu [and] just sitting and reading about the tea before even deciding to buy this place. And [it was just] so fascinating. I started reading about tea online, just reading anything about tea … and I said, ‘Let me give it a try,’” she said.

Sima said the tea shop is a place that appeals to all generations of customers, especially women. Often times she’ll see daughters bring in their mothers for tea, or grandmothers with their granddaughters. She has hosted a number of bachelorette parties and birthday parties, too.

“I think it’s kind of nice to keep that [English] tradition alive in a place where we just don’t do that kind of thing anymore,” said Kathryn Hunter, who went to the tea room with her young niece Ryley in April. 

“It’s very feminine, so it’s a kind of thing you can do with your girls,” Hunter said. 

Some customers dress up for the occasion too, donning suits and ties, long white gloves and dresses. There is even a coat rack at the back of the shop where tea drinkers can borrow period-accurate hats to add to their ensemble.

Hunter said her niece was very excited about the whole outing, even drinking the hot chocolate in her teacup with a pinky raised. 

“It kind of forces us to reexamine etiquette … and it helps us to keep some of that [history] alive, even if for a moment,” she said. 

To add to the English tea tradition, each month the shop offers a new tasting menu, consisting of four courses with homemade soups and salads, sandwiches and scones. 

Andrew Maggio, who goes to Lady Elegant every month, said he has come to feel like family with the owners.  

Whenever he makes a reservation, Maggio said they make sure to have his favorite cherry chicken salad on-hand and Sima will greet him with a big hug.

“I would feel really lost if she ever decided to close up, I really would,” he said. “I just love it.”