Calabash Tea and Tonic opens its second D.C. location today, bringing the Brookland neighborhood a new sun-soaked respite to sip wellness-minded drinks while soaking in colorful art pieces sourced from around the globe.
Some 150 herbs, flowers, and medicinal plants sprouting across an outdoor patio garden make their way into more than 80 organic tea blends stocked at 2701 12th Street NE, an outgrowth of the original Calabash in Shaw.
Dr. Sunyatta Amen, a fifth-generation master herbalist and naturopathic physician, relies on her Cuban-Jamaican great-grandmother’s recipes to create drinks that advertise health benefits.
The alcohol-free zone hopes to capitalize on the growing trend of zero-proof cocktails around the city.
“We are bubbly enough,” Amen says. “I like to say we are the queens of mocktails — it’s been our thing for many years.”
A box positioned on the bar houses freshly-cut plants, herbs, and flowers that go into muddled kombucha-based mocktails that are artfully presented in mason jars. Some of the plants growing right now are holy basil, mint (ginger, chocolate, or apple), and chamomile flowers. Amen’s also working with local purveyors, like H Street’s Cultivate the City, to source more produce.
The 900-square-foot corner building is slightly larger than the original Calabash. It features large bay-windows with a design that Amen describes as “Mid-century meets Marrakesh.”
Drinks she’s brought over from Shaw include “all the hits, none of the misses.” In addition to its star teas, there’s kombucha on tap and an expanded “superfood latte” menu that comes in flavors such as charcoal, 14-mushroom, and beet-ginger. In-vogue CBD shots will be in the mix too.
More eating options at the new location include a soup of the day, “detox” salads, vegetarian sandwiches, gluten-free desserts, savory vegan pies, and Jamaican patties filled with seasonal vegetables. There will be a daily drip coffee, cold brew, and rotating lemonades on tap (think lavender mint).
“We always have something chilled that is not caffeinated,” Amen says.
Weekend brunch adds options like high-protein waffles with Greek yogurt into the mix.
A teabag packaging machine and spacious cabinetry stocked with alphabetized herbs will help ramp up manufacturing for its growing wholesale business, which currently sells to 25 establishments (Baked & Wired, WeWork D.C., Cove, and Culture Coffee, to name a few).
Like the Calabash in Shaw, fuchsia-toned jewel walls represent the color of the crown chakra, the top energy center observed by yoga practitioners.
“It reminds people to just be mellow. We are going to put you back in balance. It’s energetic but calming too,” Amen says.
All of the ottomans and pillows were made in Turkey from scratch by the same designer who outfitted the Shaw store.
Two masks from Ghana that Amen glazed greet guests at the door, hovering above a restored dresser from India. Succulent air plants housed in glass orbs dangle nearby along the windows.
Even the bathroom gets lots of design thought. It’s splashed with a metallic blue hue they hand-blended themselves. Sherwin-Williams “loved it so much,” Amen says, they coined the color Calabash blue, she says.
Metal punch-holed pendant lamps were made exclusively for Calabash by Amen’s friend in Egypt. They’re intentionally inspired by the shape off a gourd, which is the translation of calabash.
Rugs sourced from Syria and Lebanon, passed down from Amen’s grandparents and great-grandparents, line the slick floors.
“My family didn’t have a whole lot but, when they left an old country for a new one they said ‘we have recipes and we have rugs’,” she says. “The good R-and-Rs.”
A Quaker church pew she found in a basement had seven layers of paint that took three months to scrape off. She took it apart and added a soft vegan leather. Light copper stools pop up the materials.
“That’s how I feel about furniture — I rescue it,” she says.
The architectural design was handled by Wanda Briscoe, and Amen did all the interiors herself. That included stenciling a West African-inspired tribal design under the 22-foot bar.
She sourced part of a century-old Indonesian wedding bed, hand-carved from teak wood, to house tea products. The traditional frame gets a “super sexy glow” at night via backlighting weaved throughout.
Despite its overall Old World charm, the space is outfitted with modern-day accents and eco-friendly lighting and cooling elements (her husband, an environmental lawyer, helped in that regard). There are hidden outlets and charger ports everywhere, strategically placed next to almost every seating area to support WiFi-enabled workstations. A Kickstarter campaign last fall helped fund the final details necessary to get the space up and running.
Dozens of requests have already been flowing in for summer book signings, album release parties, and use of its garden patio area. Classes outside will teach participants about harvesting fresh herbs. Raised planter beds, made and signed by students at Idea Charter school, come with informational tidbits about each plant’s medicinal perks — like how Thai basil may alleviate headaches.
“I’ve been stalking corners in D.C. a dozen years — we finally found one that wasn’t occupied by a liquor or hardware store — they never are using the outdoor space.”
Ideas for its patio, which will be dotted with seating soon, include children’s classes to boost science and planting knowledge. A sprawling mural outside is in the works, but for now, kids can lend artistic talents by grabbing sidewalk chalk and drawing flowers they see growing outside.
“I want to feel like this space is for the community,” she says.
Initial hours are Wednesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).
The plan is to eventually extend nighttime hours to attract a later neighborhood crowd. Earlier hours on weekends encourage parents to bring their kids.
“Sometimes Brookland has the reputation of being a little sleepy and we’d like to change that,” Amen says.