In Washington, D.C. one tea shop is creating a safe and inclusive space for people of color to enjoy the benefits of plant-based eating with their haven of health in the predominantly black neighborhoods of Shaw and Brookland. The niche was filled by Calabash Tea & Tonic, which opened in 2015 and has been voted the Best Tea Shop every year since in the Washington City Paper’s reader poll.
Calabash’s new Brookland outpost, their second location, opened this summer, providing an ambiance that transports guests back to ancestral lands. The décor boasts African designs — Ghanian masks adorn the walls, bespoke Egyptian light fixtures inspired by calabash gourds illuminate the space, and an Afro-futuristic painting by Mazel Bowman hangs above the entrance. The global breadth of beauty of the African diaspora is a personal reflection of the mastermind behind the shop — Afro-Latina naturopathic doctor and vegan chef, Sunyatta Amen.
The vegan entrepreneur is a fifth generation master herbalist. Her upbringing impacted the way she views food as nourishment. “Food was always spoken of in terms of medicine, of what the food could do to heal you,” she says. Entrepreneurship is also in Amen’s blood. Her Syrian-Jamaican and Cuban parents once had a health food shop and juice bar, Pyramid Tea & Herbal, which opened in Harlem in 1976 next to the Apollo Theater.
“Tea began as a medicine in ancient times. My great-grandmother was a village healer and taught me that the real magic of a tea or tonic lies in the proper mixing of things. I respect and continue that tradition. I came to heal the people and consider every meal an opportunity for greater health,” Amen says.
She was raised plant-based, and her mother was a Black Panther, so she got involved with activism from an early age. “My parents would point out places where there were food deserts set up…