For Roma Maraj Owen, tea evokes fond memories of growing up in the Caribbean. While coffee was served on special occasions, she and her family drank tea in the morning with breakfast and occasionally in the evening.
With her 5-month-old shop, RealiTea, the Trinidad native hopes to bring some of that experience to Richmond's Fan District.
"RealiTea was born out of frustration of not being able to get a good cup of tea and creating a relaxed, easy atmosphere like my Caribbean home," she says. "This is also why I have ‘Cocoa Tea,' a Caribbean specialty."
Owen, now 31, moved to Richmond in 2009 with her husband, Eric Owen, who is from Chesterfield County. They opened RealiTea in October in the former Grape & Cheese shop at 1531 W. Main St. The two met in New York City, where Roma attended college, received her master's degree and then went to work for Boar's Head Brand, whose delicatessen products are sold in grocery stores and delis around the country. During her first day on the job as a health and safety manager, Roma had some trouble with her computer. She called for IT assistance, and Eric came to take a look. Although he could have fixed the problem in just 10 minutes, he was so captivated by Roma that he spent three hours talking to her. The next day, he asked her out on a date. Here in Richmond, both of them continue to work for Boar's Head Brand while maintaining RealiTea. Roma's cousin, Avinash Ramjit, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, is also part owner of the business. One day, the three of them hope to branch out, opening other locations in the Richmond area and beyond. All teas at RealiTea are organic and fair trade, Roma says. The hand-picked, loose-leaf teas come from estates in India, Japan, China and Africa. The shop's only U.S.-grown tea is an organic mint variety that comes from an estate in California.
Roma says she travels to the Caribbean to see her family once or twice a year. Between visits, her shop offers some of the comforts of home. "I wanted something that would take me away, even for a brief moment, to happy memories and good tastes."