Mystery is not an app that finds you a date. It's for people who already have a date and want to know what the hell to do together. Co-founders Vince Coppola and Shane Kovalsky had noticed that everyone around them had sort of given up. Not in general, but with leisure time. The same old story of being tired and opting for Netflix instead of going out into the city and trying something.
"I just think the best part of life is experiencing things and being able to get out there and do something new," Kovalsky told me. "And the problem is, it takes a lot of planning, and planning is like homework."
Mystery officially launches on Valentine's Day, but my boyfriend, Harry, and I tried it when it was in beta. Right now, Mystery is just a website (trymystery.com), but the app launches in March. On the website, we entered our information, our preferences, and our budget—and then we left our Saturday night up to chance. All we knew was that the attire was casual and that a Lyft would pick us up at 6:30 p.m.
The car arrived on time and dropped us off at a Fremont cigar shop. We looked at each other, puzzled. Then Harry's phone buzzed. More instructions: "Your first stop is at B. Fuller's Mortar & Pestle. You will be doing a one-hour tea tasting. Will is your guide."
The sign was just up the street. It was attached to a hole-in-the-wall shop I must have walked past a hundred times and never noticed. We pushed open the door, past the "closed for private tasting event" sign. Every inch of wall space was covered with jars of loose-leaf tea. A man wearing a steampunk three-piece suit pulled out the pocket watch tucked into his vest. "Are you here for the tea tasting?"
Will rolled out a huge wooden tea cart. There were beakers and electric kettles. There were mason jars filled with tea. We were grinning. How did we end up here?
Mystery pairs people with an experience that's personally curated for them. As Kovalsky explained to me, "I wanted to create something that gave you a way to basically cheat and have this awesome experience without having to do any of the work." The app polls you on whether you like classes or physical experiences, if you're into loud settings, and what kind of food you like. It takes the stress away from looking at a Yelp page with a thousand different high-rated options that aren't necessarily the right fit for you.
"There's this option paralysis that makes you go to the same spot every time you go out," Kovalsky said. "People really want to do something, they just need an avenue. We're providing that."
Harry and I sipped different strains of green, oolong, and black teas out of dainty tasting cups. We learned that all tea comes from the same plant, called camellia sinensis. Did you know that? We didn't. We tried a bunch of tea leaves packed into a dense cake called pu'er. The Chinese age it like wine. It tasted kind of like dirt, but we both liked it. We had seconds, then thirds.
After an hour and a half, we got another text: "Your next stop is just down the street at a speakeasy called the Backdoor. Have a drink, the first two are on us."
Part of what's great about Mystery is that it's hands-off. It's entirely card-less. Everything is arranged and paid for. You have to pay, too—but in the moment, it feels like a magical experience.
At the Backdoor, I sipped a cocktail called an Aphroteasiac, to fit with the tea theme. Harry ordered the bartender's choice, Ya Gotta Have Faith, to fit with the theme of giving up control. The light coming from the chandeliers was gentle and soft. We held hands the whole time, joking about our future as tea enthusiasts.