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Editor’s note: This story was first published in the September 2018 Ocracoke Observer and is updated for this posting.
By Rita Thiel
Maria Holt’s Moonraker Tea Shop in Spencer’s Market greets visitors with walls of dozens of loose-leaf teas—at least 250, by her count.
“I have all the necessary elements to get the perfect ‘cuppa,’” said Holt, 27.
The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Moonraker is a nautical term referring to the topmost sail used on clipper sailing ships.
“It sounds magical, mystical,” Holt said about the name of her newly enlarged shop where she also can hold tea tastings for customers to taste what a “properly brewed cup should taste like.”
In honor of the 1969 moon land and the 1979 James Bond “Moonraker” movie, Holt will hold a special James Bond day on July 20, featuring a 7 percent discount.
Teas became a passion for Holt when, as a college student in Pittsburgh, Pa., she discovered her first loose-leaf tea shop and her use of commercially made tea in bags went out the window.
That led to her previous job at Blue Monkey Tea Shop in Pittsburgh.
“Tea popularity is on the upswing,” she said.
She’s taking a break from academia, having earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Kansas in 2015 in classical antiquities and archaeology followed by a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Her goal is to pursue her master’s degree in archaeological conservation.
Visiting Ocracoke off and on over the past 20 years with her family, she has wanted to “gain a foothold on the island.”
Holt’s idea to open a shop of her own began to form in 2017.
“Opportunity presented itself, so we decided to go for it,” she said.
Holt rents seasonally here with her mother, Charlene Langer, who with her husband and Maria’s father, Bill Holt, helped open the shop last year.
The shop closed over the winter while the family expanded from its original space beside the former Roxy’s Antiques into the rest of the Roxy’s space.
Start talking teas and Holt will rattle off steeping temperatures, brewing preparations, and what she doesn’t know about teas she will research.
“I’m not an herbalist,” she said. “I’m still learning.”
Jars of standard teas such as green, oolong and black, blends such as Last Mango in Ocracoke, Belly Be Calm and Jasmine Green grace the shelves. One of her own creations, Lighthouse, is available, with more blends to come. A few of her teas are organic.
Holt carries “kid’s teas” which can be cold brewed or warm-brewed in the microwave. These are caffeine-free tea blends of fruit, spices and chocolate sporting names such as Tea-Rex, Red Riding Hood and Monster Brew, all in decorator tins.
Holt also makes fresh-brewed iced tea on the spot and island youth have discovered “magical lemonade,” which starts out purple and turns silver.
In addition to teas, Moonraker Tea Shop carries a variety of culinary and medicinal herbs and spices. Eventually, Holt would like to offer her teas to local restaurants, hotels and B&B’s as something they could serve or provide for their customers and guests.
Having a longtime interest in Japanese culture, she hopes to bring more of this into her shop. At present, she carries a small selection of Japanese-inspired candies.
British “digestives” (tea cookies, also known as biscuits) and flavored bulk sugars, including vanilla cream and toffee-caramel, occupy the shelves next to a variety of tea pots and strainers.
Tea fans have found the shop.
“We love tea and to be able to have a place to fuel that passion and support the island,” said Dr. Tim Smith of Winston-Salem, who with his wife, Julie, visited the shop in the spring.
Tim, who is the tea drinker of the couple, liked the selection of oolong teas.
“Flavored oolongs are very interesting and refreshing,” he said.
Holt said the Ocracoke community has been welcoming as she experiences rural life here.
“It reminds me of an Old West town, with indoor plumbing, some modern conveniences, but where you still go into town to get your mail,” she said about island living.
She expects to add more products, tea classes, tea and craft sessions, maybe high tea events.
Holt enjoys owning her own business.
“I’m in control and I don’t have to answer to anyone,” she said. “I can do what I want to do with my shop. I can express myself the way I want to express myself.”