Christine Snyder was interested in tea since she was a child, but found that teas in the United States were often full of chemical flavorings, high sugar content and lower quality than teas from countries where the drink has been a cultural staple throughout history.
“Over the last 10 years I’ve tried to start a tea business, but nothing really stuck,” she said. “I tried to think of a creative tea business to introduce tea culture to America.”
Snyder worked as an engineer at Gore for the last five years, but always tried to grow her tea shop idea on the side.
About a year and a half ago, the idea for Lia Leaf Tea House started to take shape, and Snyder was able to open the shop in Aspen Place at the Sawmill in February.
“I like to think of tea the way some people think of wine,” Snyder said. “With wine, there are all sorts of varietals and different kinds of grapes, and tea is just the same, and even more so. The variety is incredible.”
All the teas at Lia Leaf are free of chemical flavorings and little to no added sugar. The blends are made in-house and the shop also offers specialty drinks.
“Everything we have in the tea is real ingredients,” Snyder said. “We don’t add chemical flavors, which unfortunately is really common.”
Her interest in tea from a young age inspired her to do her own research, and learn as much as she could about it.
“I’ve learned a lot about tea from my own research,” Snyder said. “I’ve read tea books about the history of tea, and the importance of it in different cultures.”
Snyder’s father used to travel to Japan often, and would bring her teaware and different types of teas to try, which she thinks might have sparked her interest in teas.
Snyder is originally from Seattle, but moved to Flagstaff to get her master’s degree at Northern Arizona University. Now, she and her husband have a 1-year-old son and the new business.
“It’s been really great,” she said. “I’ve never worked so much, I’ve never been so stressed out, but I love it. It sounds cliché, but I get excited for Monday.”
The shop employs six other people and offers about 65 different menu choices. Another three new teas will be added in the next week. Including those, six types have been suggested by customers and added to the menu.
“We’re listening to what people have to say,” Snyder said.
So far, people have enjoyed the store and the tea available.
“People really like the space,” Snyder said. “I was trying to introduce the tea in an environment that felt familiar.”
Customers have also been excited about the selection of different teas.
“What’s been popular is different than what I thought would be,” Snyder said.
Snyder is particularly proud of the chai.
“I worked on it for a really long time and it’s been received really well,” she said.
In the past several years, tea popularity has grown in the United States, and Snyder hopes curious customers will try her shop to see what the world of tea has to offer.
“I think tea is the next new frontier for the beverage industry,” she said. “It’s something new and exciting.”