Sista Teas Owner Says Consumers Keep Investing in Quality Tea

Shantay Owens is the founder and CEO of Sista Teas, a once “side hustle” that’s now a thriving online tea business that recently had a brick-and-mortar tea shop in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to becoming a tea entrepreneur, Owens served in the U.S. Navy as an information systems technician and worked IT contracts to support the Marines and Airforce. She also has experience in the medical IT industry.

Born in the Bronx, N.Y. and raised in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Owens is a first-generation American born to a Jamaican father and a Montserratian mother. She said her parents are responsible for passing down their culture and love of tea, which she plans to pass down to her children.

“I started educating myself about tea at my first job, Teavana,” said Owens. “At first, it was expected for us to know the basics of tea. I love learning about tea, so I took it upon myself to really delve into all I could know about tea.”

Founded by Owens in 2019, just before the global COVID-19 pandemic, Sista Teas is dedicated to serving premium, quality loose-leaf tea to “a community of sistas, to bring relaxation, satisfaction and sophistication into their lives.” The brand offers a variety of tea blends, honey, teaware and bundles.

Today, Owens said she’s witnessing a growth in appreciation for loose-leaf tea. “When I worked for Teavana, there were not nearly as many people who knew, loved or experienced loose-leaf tea as they do now,” she explained. “Customers are realizing the value of steeping a full-leaf/herbs vs. getting the tea bag tea with crushed down tea leaves and herbs. They experience a difference in medicinal benefits as well as taste and the quality of the color of their tea. More people are starting to value their self-care rituals and do not mind investing in better-quality blends.”

World Tea News chats with Owens to learn more about Sista Teas, how she navigated the pandemic after launching her business in 2019, trends she’s paying attention to, and her advice for other up-and-coming tea entrepreneurs.

Sista Teas Founder and CEO Shantay Owens
(Photo: Courtesy of Sista Teas / By: Bennie Mack Productions)

Question: Hi, Shantay – thanks for your time! When did you first become interested in tea, and what led you to launch your own tea business, Sista Teas?

Answer: Yes, of course, Aaron! Tea has always been a lifestyle for my family and me. My father was born in Jamaica and my mother was born in Montserrat. So, growing up, my sisters and I always experienced a culture of tea from both Caribbean islands.

My parents and their parents – and so on – believed that tea cures everything. Have a cough? “Go drink some tea.” An itch? “Drink some tea.” A broken bone? “Drink some tea and lie down.” This was always the motto! We would always drink a variety of tea, however, my love for tea started growing when I was hired to work for Teavana back in 2013. I had no clue that teas could be mixed and blended to create extraordinary flavors! My favorite part of the job was the fact that they allowed us to have unlimited cups of tea during each shift. That’s when I started learning more about tea from around the world. I would research the history of each tea as a hobby. Not knowing that this hobby was all a part of God’s plan when I felt like He revealed to me that I will be starting a loose-leaf tea business back in 2018.

Question: What do you love the most about tea?

Answer: There’s a quote that says, “Tea is a hug in a cup.” I absolutely believe that! I love that cozy warm feeling that I get when I’m drinking hot tea out of my favorite mugs. Or that bold “I can do anything” feeling when I’m drinking an iced tea with just the right amount of caffeine. I also love that I can share these feelings of either comfort or determination by mixing and blending unique and flavorful blends with others.

Question: What is your brand all about?

Answer: From a personal standpoint, Sista Teas is what I like to call a “traveling name.” When it first dawned on me to start up the company I had my blood sisters in mind. I would mix and blend these flavors and have them give me critiques on what they are tasting and experiencing when they sip on a cup. I thought of Sista Teas as a “small thing” back then. That’s until my husband – who is also my business partner and coach – help me see that Sista Teas is much bigger than I thought it was.

Sista Teas is about legacy. I have two daughters and they are the “Sistas” of Sista Teas. As my husband, Kanaan, and myself are managing the legacy, we are responsible for sharing Sista Teas with sisters – and brothers – all around the world. That is until they are old enough to take over so that they too can share cups of hospitaliTEA all around the world.

Sista Teas Founder and CEO Shantay Owens
(Photo: Courtesy of Sista Teas)

Question: What sets Sista Teas apart from other tea companies?

Answer: Sista Teas offer unique, complex and flavorful tea and botanical blends with a Caribbean flair. Our focus is on creating an experience for our customers. We know the stresses of life, and one way to help combat or prevent unnecessary stress is to have a cup of tea. At Sista Teas, our goal is for our customers to experience wholeness, mindfulness, relaxation and sophistication with each cup.

Question: Tell us about the teas and tea-related products your company offers?

Answer: Our most popular tea is called Blue Moon. It consists of lemongrass, ginger, butterfly pea flower and soursop leaf. I love experiencing our customer’s initial excitement because of the blue color of the tea. The real joy kicks in when I get to witness them taste it. Most of our customers never knew that tea could have such an amazing and unique taste. We’re responsible for turning hundreds of people into tea lovers. Considering that our other most loved teas would be our Remedy tea, Ginger Rose Matè, Orange Moroccan Mint, Tropical Day, Vanilla Blossom and Blooming Berry.

Question: What can you tell us about how you source your teas and blend your teas?

Answer: We get our raw tea ingredients from our distro in California, and they source the tea and herbs from around the world. All of our tea blends are uniquely curated by me with the exception of our Jasmine Green Tea and Tropical Day. My husband gets all the credit for the recipe for Tropical Day!

Question: You officially launched your business in 2019, before the global COVID-19 pandemic. How did you navigate that, and did you see more customers interested in tea during that time?

Answer: I think launching the business in 2019 was perfect timing. In 2019, I was able to get my feet wet and get a feel for the brand and which direction it should go. I was also able to learn some foundational requirements for business and read up on tons of resources.

During the 2020 pandemic, it was such an awkward feeling because everything was closed down and I didn’t know how the business was going to hold up. I was still a full-time employee working the IT help desk for a major hospital in the Bronx. There was literally a shift in the atmosphere. I remember getting calls from panicking nurses and doctors because their computers were not working and they needed someone out to their unit ASAP to fix them. That timeframe was super intense.

Sista Teas, at the time, was considered my side hustle and to my surprise, we were able to generate sales because people were in search of holistic healing that tea could potentially provide relief during such a trying time.

Sista Teas Founder and CEO Shantay Owens
(Photo: Courtesy of Sista Teas)

Question: How would you describe the U.S. tea market right now?

Answer: It is said that after water, tea is the most popular drink in the world. I believe that the tea market in the U.S. is extremely popular, considering that the United States is a melting pot of all different ethnicities and races. You can go anywhere – like a gas station, a restaurant, a supermarket, co-working spaces and coffee shops – and experience tea being served. I personally believe that there are so many untapped areas in the U.S. tea market.

Question: Sista Teas is an online tea retailer, however, you recently had a brick-and-mortar store at a mall in Raleigh, N.C. What was the process like of launching that store? And when did you officially open that shop?

Answer: At the beginning of 2021, I made a bold statement to a group of women that my crazy goal by December of 2021 is to be a full-time entrepreneur. At the time, Sista Teas was still considered my side business and I was still living in New York.

My husband and I felt an immediate nudge to pick up and relocate ourselves to a new city and actually put execution behind becoming a full-time entrepreneur. I could speak for myself that it was such a rollercoaster of an experience. Moving to Raleigh, N.C. was easy. My husband suggested a re-brand of Sista Teas and we did just that.

We unveiled our newly rebranded business in June of 2021. It was a great experience business wise, but personally we had yet to see any fruit. Our backs were against the wall, so now it was time to get creative. I suggested that we go to the mall and get a kiosk. We opened-up a kiosk on Aug. 1 of 2021. However, we knew we wanted more out of our retail experience.

During our kiosk experience, Kanaan, my husband, would walk the mall almost daily looking for an in-line store that we could move into. I didn’t believe that we could open-up a store because financially we weren’t there. However, he said to me, “When opening up a store, money would be the least of our worries.” Needless to say, Oct. 1 of 2021 we were able to open up our first in-line store at the mall. We out grew the space fast, and in January of 2022 we moved to a bigger location in the same mall.

Sista Teas Founder and CEO Shantay Owens
(Photo: Courtesy of Sista Teas)

Question: What challenges did you face with opening and running a physical tea shop in a high-traffic location?

Answer: All of the challenges that I faced while opening up a physical location had to deal with my mindset. I realized that without my husband, there would have been no Sista Teas retail experience. Any time I experienced doubt, I would either run to God and pray about it or borrow the belief of “Yes, we can,” from Kanaan. In our recent location, we desired to have a tea bar, however we couldn’t find a bar that made sense to fit the spot. My husband’s belief in his ability to do anything he puts his mind to runs so deep that he decided to go to “YouTube University” all hours of the night to learn how to build a bar – and he did just that! The bar was equipped with electricity and all.

Question: What did you learn from interacting with customers in-person at your store and educating them about tea?

Answer: Interacting with our customers was an exciting experience. We had a system in place where we would take our customer on a “tea journey.” This is something I’ve learned from working at Teavana.

First, we’ll ask our customers if they would like to have a sample of tea. Then we will take them inside the store and tell them all about our teas and the various options. One thing I love about this tactic is the servitude attitude. I’ve learned that people love to be served and taught, not sold to.I’ve also learned that most people want to have an experience with tea and how it would bring value to their lives.

Question: What advice or tips do you have for other tea entrepreneurs who have a brick-and-mortar store or who want to eventually open up a physical shop?

Answer: As an entrepreneur it is extremely important to check pride at the door and adopt a “student” mindset. Especially as a tea entrepreneur, we are tasked at learning all about tea – our market, our branding, our systems, opening up a store, hiring employees, etc. It’s possible to simply not know an answer to a question or learn something from someone who may not be as experienced as you.

I love learning because I realize the more I learn, the more there is to learn about what I just learned There’s always a way of improving. Also, do not be discouraged! There is always an answer to a problem that you may be experiencing when opening up a physical shop.

Lastly, don’t avoid your dream of opening up a store because you don’t know how. Change the “I don’t know” thought to “how can I?” That’s when creativity starts to flow.

Sista Teas Founder and CEO Shantay Owens
(Photo: Courtesy of Sista Teas)

Question: What do you think needs to happen for more tea entrepreneurs to open up brick-and-mortar shops?

Answer: It amazes me by how few tea shops there are. Most times when a new customer stops by they express how much they miss Teavana. I also completely agree with them because I miss Teavana tremendously. I do believe that we are heading in the right direction in the next couple of years to experience more brick-and-mortar tea shops because although tea has been around for centuries, it’s now becoming hip and people are learning how valuable tea truly is. With that, there will be a demand to have it more accessible.

Question: What advice do you have for other tea entrepreneurs or those who want to start a tea business?

Answer: Have fun creating your brand and the experience it gives. People desire experiences because it is memorable. One thing about tea is that it already did half the work for you, now it’s up to your brand to do the other half! What’s your brand vision and mission, what are your brand colors, what message would you like to get across to your audience?

Question: What are some of your major successes thus far?

Answer: Coming from nothing to building a six-figure company with my husband is a big deal to me. If you asked me if I had seen this for Sista Teas back in 2019, I would have said “No,” or maybe in 10 years.

Question: What’s been your best marketing tactic for your business thus far?

Answer: Collecting data from our customers during check out. We have determined that the customer experience shouldn’t stop at one exchange at the store, but to build a relationship with our customers through our online experience as well.

Question: The 2022 holiday season recently finished – how did that go for you, and did you have apply any special strategies to your sales effort? What helped you succeed through the holiday season?

Answer: The holiday season went fantastic for us! People in general love tea as a gift, so this year was the first year we implemented our Holiday Gift Guide. It came equipped with recipes, gifts ideas and more.

What helped us succeed during this Holiday was listening to our staff members and how they were feeling so they wouldn’t experience “burn out.” We believe in not pouring from an empty cup – because it’s not possible! We took the time to listen to our staff members and scheduled them strategically so that way there would be less of the “holiday burn out,” from an employee point of view. In turn we had our biggest holiday season ever. I love taking care of the people who take care of Sista Teas.

Question: What else do you want the tea industry and the tea community to know about Sista Teas?

Answer: Sista Teas is dedicated to leaving a mark in the Tea industry! We want to share our culture of tea with tea lovers – and future tea lovers – from around the world.

Question: Thanks for your time! Last question: What does the future hold for Sista Teas?

Answer: Of course, thank you Aaron! The future for Sista Teas is bright. We have been offered opportunities to open up another brick-and-mortar shop, however, at the moment we decided that we are going to focus our efforts solely on our e-commerce platform. The more we’re learning our brand and the tea industry, the more we want to implement change from our end, so we are currently in the process of rebranding to ramp up the quality and look for Sista Teas. So, stay tuned!

To learn more about Sista Teas, visit

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