Sunyatta Amen (Calabash Tea)

In D.C. Dream Day, we ask our favorite people in the area to tell us how they would spend a perfect day in the District. See previous dream days from Mayor Muriel Bowser, BYT’s Svetlana Legetic, Story District’s Amy Saidman and more.


Calabash Tea in Shaw lists its tonics, teas and drinks on the menu, but you’re better off letting owner and self-described witch doctor Sunyatta Amen figure out what you need. Amen, an herbalist and naturopathic healer, has a gift for detecting if you need a soothing lavender tea, energizing kombucha or spicy chai just by looking at you — all thanks to lessons from her grandmother. “She used to say … you can treat the body, but anything that’s happening in the body is happening in the psychospiritual realm, and it manifests as a physical ailment,” Amen says. Calabash’s second location — set to open this summer in Brookland — will feature a spacious patio and garden filled with labeled herbs Amen uses in her concoctions, so you can learn to do a little healing on your own. Amen has one rule for her perfect day, which she’d spend with her partner and her 14-year-old daughter: “If it’s my day off, I’m not cooking!”

First thing I would do is some family yoga. It’s rare that we get to do it now in our house. I’ve been a certified yoga instructor for about 20 years, and [my family are] the most stubborn students I’ve ever met.

Next, I would offer my family a little bush tea. Traditionally, a bush tea is your grandmother going outside and she cuts flowers and herbs, and maybe digs up some roots, like ginger or turmeric. Those things get cut and put into a large pot of water, then brought up to a boil. Everybody in your house is getting a cup of this tea. It puts you in tune with your environment, because you’re eating what’s growing around you.

One of the things I absolutely love to do is go to the Franciscan Monastery. They have all these gardens inside — it’s like a little botanical garden in there. There are all these sculptures and statues and religious iconography. I’m not much for that, but the flowers are great. You could take great selfies OR you could meditate.

From there, I would go to Meats & Foods. I usually pick up some lunch for my staff, because my grandmother told me that armies march on their stomachs. They have vegan chilito and vegan sausage and my staff loves that stuff.

I like to go to a bookstore to hang out. One of my favorites is Politics and Prose. In our cafe we have a huge quantity of books that people can just peruse, so I love to pick up some extra things for it. Recently I picked up a couple of copies of Junot Diaz’s children’s book called “Islandborn.” The children and adults in our shop love that book.

After several hours of that, we would go and have an early dinner. I really like [Thai restaurant] BKK Cookshop. They have the nicest people. You can tell that it’s in their tradition to be hospitable. And the food is fabulous. I’ve traveled and eaten all over the place — I have never seen anybody make drunken noodle [like this]: They use this tiny, linguine-style noodle that makes it a lighter dish. It really allows you to taste all the spices that are happening in it.

I would definitely go to The Anthem. I like that venue a lot. The last show I saw there was Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

There’s always time for more food. For a nice little snack, I would go to Kith and Kin. Chef Kwame [Onwuachi] is amazing. It’s easy to see why he’s Questlove’s and lots of other people’s favorite chef.