By KATIE HOOS
A tea connoisseur and business owner specializing in the international tea trade, Domenick Ciaccia and his wife, Sue, value the gift of education and have, in turn, dedicated their time and resources to giving back to the Westchester community they call home.
The couple, who lived in White Plains for 27 years before moving to Harrison last August, said they feel they owe their success in international business and public relations to their modest upbringings and strong education.
Domenick, 55, was born in Bitetto, Italy, a small rural town outside of Bari in the southeastern region of the country. When he was 9 years old, he and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in the Fordham area of the Bronx near Arthur Avenue, a predominately middle-class Italian-American community.
According to Domenick, his father worked as a house painter to support the family and provide his four children with a good education.
“When my father came to this country, he was the sole breadwinner,” Domenick said. “We lived in a modest apartment in the Bronx, and yet he still sent us to Catholic schools because he understood the meaning of a good education, a good foundation.”
Domenick attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Grammar School in the Bronx, Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and Iona College in New Rochelle, where he got a degree in international studies in 1980 after interning at the United Nations in New York City.
Upon completing his degree, which Domenick said gave him a “general understanding of politics and economic conditions around the world,” he landed a job in international trading.
“It was totally coincidental,” he said. “I was looking for a sales job after college, but I interviewed with a British firm that was involved in plantation products like rubber and tea. The rest is history.”
He worked with the British company for five years and a Canadian tea trader for five years before starting his own business, Universal Commod-ities Tea Trading, Inc., a Bronxville-based tea importer, in 1990.
Universal Commodities Tea Trading, Domenick said, serves as the middleman importing tea into the United States.
“Basically our role is to represent the growers and then we sell to the packers all over the world; companies like Lipton, Nestle, Tetley,” he said. “We’re the one link in between.”
In addition to traveling around the world to meet with tea growers, Domenick also taste tests tea, which is derived from the camellia sinensis plant. Describing the process as similar to taste-testing wine in that the tester analyzes the quality of the tea by sampling it and spitting it back out, Domenick said the variation of the camellia sinensis plant, where it’s grown and the region’s climate conditions determine the tea’s flavor.
“My favorite origins for tea are Sri Lanka, India, and Kenya. But I also like a good, plain, old English breakfast tea,” he said.
Domenick also currently serves on the board of the Tea Association of the United States, which is involved in everything from promoting tea in the U.S. to enforcing trade regulations.
He is also the founder and chairman of the American Friends of Bitetto—a not-for-profit cultural organization that aims to preserve the medieval history of his Italian hometown—and was a founding member and trustee of the Westchester Italian Cultural Center in Tuckahoe.
Sue, 52, also grew up in the Bronx and attended Iona College, where she earned a degree in urban studies and eventually began working in public relations for both Iona College and the City of New Rochelle. After Sue and Domenick were married in 1984 and started their family, Sue left the workforce and began volunteering at School of the Holy Child on Westchester Avenue in Rye, where all three of the couple’s daughters attended. Over the years, Sue served on the executive board of the Parent Association, was a class parent representative and helped organize and co-chair the school’s annual gala.
“Growing up, my mom was a lunch mother and was very involved, so the school setting was a natural place for me,” Sue said.
Both Domenick and Sue agree their educations played an important role in their successes today and see volunteering within the community and at the School of the Holy Child as an important duty.
“We’ve reaped the benefits of people before us who’ve given to the community and to schools, and we feel that, if you’re in the position to give back, it’s only the right thing to do,” Domenick said.
The couple is being honored at the School of the Holy Child annual gala and auction on Saturday, April 12, for their continued service and support at the Catholic all-girls school.