When Lydia Lin made a life-changing decision to open a second location of her shop, Seattle Best Tea, in the University District four months ago, she was taking a chance. So far, it has paid off.
Since opening, the location is working. Everyone, especially college students, enjoys the variety of products that make their tea memorable.
Lin and her husband, Joe Hsu, still run their first location in Chinatown International District (CID). But when she found out that Sound Transit construction could impact that shop, she was determined to find other ways to keep her business alive.
Sound Transit’s plans for new light rail stations may disrupt accessibility and shift businesses in that area, including Seattle Best Tea. While they wait for those plans to proceed, they are focusing on building their University District shop just in case.
Lin was born in Korea, and moved to Taiwan where she met her husband Joe Hsu. After they got married, they moved to Seattle in 1992. After realizing the CID had zero tea shops, Lin and Hsu created Seattle Best Tea in 1996. Their products are made from traditional Taiwanese and Chinese teas that promote health benefits, Lin said.
The family-owned business focuses on importing organic high mountain tea, also known as oolong tea, Lin said, while also educating their customers about their teas.
“We focus on quality, not advertisement,” Lin said.
The quality of work, as Lin described, is what sets them apart from other businesses. Specifically their water quality dictates the outcomes of their tea. Because they use multiple water filters, spring water, and high quality tea, the community is spreading word about the store through word of mouth, Lin said.
Along with the quality of tea, the longevity of their 27-year-old business also distinguishes them.
Lin spreads her knowledge and skills of making tea through teaching classes at her shop in the CID, but had to pause the classes due to the pandemic. After three years, she is now teaching classes again once a week.
“I want everyone to make good tea. For example, if you buy a very good steak, but don’t know how to cook it, you totally ruin the steak,” Lin said.
Tea is beneficial for physical, spiritual, and mental health, she said. She describes its history as coming from all over the world, including China where they honor tea in ceremonies, drinking it to relax, or making it for others.
“Most people in Taiwan or China or all over the country, they love tea,” Lin said.
However, Seattle Best Tea won’t be able to continue their legacy in CID if the shop is impacted by Sound Transit’s plans.
The risks of displacement came from Sound Transit’s proposals for a second light rail station in CID. One proposal (endorsed by the Sound Transit Board) suggests two stations be built with north and south locations. The second proposal advocates for a station built between Union and King Street, along Fourth Avenue. The greatest threat came from a proposed station on 5th Avenue that was entertained in 2022 (and later abandoned) by the Sound Transit Board. Because Seattle Best Tea in the CID is located on King Street, it would have been directly affected by the construction of a new station on Fifth.
Despite the controversy, Lin and Hsu are planning for the future of their businesses. The University District will offer them new opportunities.
“I want to emphasize that the University helps lots of stores, you can tell. Things are changing because they support us,” Lin said.