Not even a year ago, I was invited to check out one of the hottest new coffee/tea shops in the area. Decked out in pink and white, Bobae Coffee & Tea had set up shop at a popular strip mall in Woodinville. At the time, owners Joey and Karma Lee, described their business as sort of an "awkward turtle" between a coffee shop and a boba shop, because they offer both. Awkward or not, the business continues to grow in popularity with customers and employees, as well. It’s a place where they want to work. Besides making great drinks, this couple is all about building human connections.
When I took my wife to experience Bobae in Woodinville, she tried the house-made lemonade where she was given the choice of sweetness. Karma suggested that she try some aloe bits to her drink and my wife was sold.
Having only been in a business for about two years, and most of that during COVID, I was surprised to learn that the couple was opening a second location in Kirkland. When I asked them why they were opening a second location so soon, Karma jokingly tells me, "I guess that we’re addicted to pain and suffering." But in reality, it just felt like a good time and a good place to make new memories.
Unlike their first location, which was formerly a Starbucks café and had all the plumbing and electrical needs set up as they would need it, the Kirkland shop had to be totally revamped. The space used to be a small clothing store that had no plumbing at all. As one would expect, revamping the space to accommodate the needs of the future beverage shop was going to take a lot of work. And some might consider the Lees to be perfectionists. But it’s all good. Karma and Joey tell me that they never want to get too comfortable. Challenges help them to stay humble.
Though smaller than their first location, the new shop looks amazing. It is distinctly Bobae, complete with their signature pig logo, which was drawn by Karma herself. The new shop offers a wide range of espresso and boba tea drinks, all of which are customizable to each customer’s tastes. They feature a variety of dairy milk and milk alternatives, a keto-friendly menu, special toppings like mango-popping boba, organic chia seeds and different jellies.
You’ll also find their own boba ice cream with unique-sounding flavors like Bo’s First Girlfriend, Bo’s Affogato and Bo’s Japan Trip. (Bo is the pig.) Ask them about each flavor and you’ll get a story. Everything this couple does comes with a story.
You would be hard-pressed to find a harder-working couple who loves their community as hard as they do. “People before profit” is their motto and it has served them well.
“You never know what that next person in the door might teach you,” says Joey.
This appreciation for people also extends to their staff, whom the Lees say they hand-pick for their personality over their capability. If you are a person with a good heart and can be coachable, then you would make a good fit at Bobae.
“We are what we are because of our staff,” says Karma. She wants Bobae to be a place where her employees will want to stay and build their careers.
Though Joey and Karma can’t be in two places at once, they expect to visit both locations on a daily basis to keep their dream and "awkward turtle" alive. And as special as the Woodinville shop is, they expect that this new location will have the same heart as the original. And I have no doubt about that.
Jeffrey Totey is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. See more of his work here.