It would be difficult to find a couple more passionate about tea than Will and Amy Riffle.
The two opened LizzyKate in downtown Kirkland in July as a tea shop, tea bar and tea cafe. The Riffles plan to add tastings and classes to their already impressive selection of loose-leaf teas.
“There are a lot of coffee shops out there and some decent tea shops, but nobody really specializes in tea,” Will Riffle said. “We wanted to bring high-qualify tea to introduce to the people of the Eastside.”
Now, LizzyKate’s inventory dominates the view of customers as they walk in the door. Around 100 varieties of tea from across the globe cover the wall behind the counter, each in a container color-coded based on the type of tea it holds.
There are teapots and kettles, teacups and mugs. Perhaps the most eye-catching gadget sits near the cash register: a BKON Craft Brewer, which uses reverse atmospheric infusion to brew just about any type of tea in around 80 seconds.
Perfect temperature, perfect taste, quick delivery; all dialed into Will Riffle’s system. The brewer is clear so you can watch your tea steep before your eyes.
Among the 100-or-so teas stocked by LizzyKate, one can expect to find some oddities. There are the basics — an English Breakfast and an Earl Grey — but things start to branch out from there. There’s an Apple Strudel, a White Butterscotch, Coconut Cream and Chocolate-Orange Rooibos.
One of the green teas is listed with the name ‘Peanut Butter and Jelly,’ a surprising and almost unsettling twin to its namesake.
Amy does the background research on the teas, and Will handles the nuts-and-bolts. They make final decisions on inventory together.
But how does a couple with a background in tech come to own a tea store?
The pair have lived in Kirkland since 2007, and on the Eastside for the last 22 years. Will is a native to the Bridle Trails area. Both worked in the tech industry, and when the Riffles sold their website-building business, they began looking for new ventures.
“We both agreed we didn’t want to sit behind a computer the rest of our lives because that was the world we were in,” Amy said. “People always say to follow your passion and do something you love. I was like, ‘Well, I really like tea, let me learn more about it.'”
“I felt like there was a gap between what Americans know about tea and what the rest of the world knows about tea,” she said. “It seemed like there was a demand there.”
But for Amy, learning more about tea went further than a couple hours on Google and a few local tea classes. Amy has a degree in Asian studies, and spent several years in Japan after graduating from college.
“Even before I lived in Japan, I was never a coffee drinker,” Amy said. “I’d always had tea. It was just a beverage — just something to drink. Iced tea in the summer and hot tea when I didn’t feel well.”
Once the tech business had sold and tea became a possible future, Amy visited Japan for a tour of the tea growing regions.
“We wrote a business plan thinking we wanted to do an online tea store,” Amy said. “We went back and forth thinking, ‘Is this what we want to do?’ and then one day it was just like, ‘Let’s go buy some tea.'”
The Riffle’s online store opened last fall with decent success. LizzyKate booths appeared at various markets around the Eastside, but Will said they realized the pop-up locations weren’t going to cut it.
“When people can taste what we have to offer, it’s really good,” Will said. “They tend to buy more often. But we were running the online store through our house, and we can’t have the public at home.”
When Savrika Tea closed its 115 Kirkland Avenue location, LizzyKate moved in. The store and tea bar prepares three of its coldbrew teas every day for customers to sample, and hopes to begin offering sample flights of tea in the near future.
Amy also said LizzyKate is planning a schedule of classes this fall.