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The tea spot: a holistic instructor creates a sexy new environment for an age-old beverage.

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AFTER WATER, IT'S THE NO. 1 DRINK ALL OVER THE world--except here in the U.S., where it ranks No. 7. But Sunyatta Amen, N.D., a naturopath and belly dance and yoga instructor, is determined to improve tea's U.S. standing. She's off to a promising start in Washington, D.C., where 18 months ago she opened SiTea: The Spice Boutique (www.siteaspice.myshopify.com). "It's unapologetic about being infused with magic," is how this fifth-generation master herbalist describes her space. Amen also feels it's an expansion of her family's legacy. Her Caribbean-born parents owned two side-by-side businesses: a sporting goods store, and one of the first juice bars and holistic health stores in Harlem. Amen is looking forward to opening her tea boutique in cities across the U.S. "I feel like this is a reimagining of what my father started: the belly dancing and yoga studio on one side, and the tea shop." Only sexier, she adds.

Decorated in warm, rich colors and tapestries, the shop instantly transports visitors into serene, relaxing interpersonal exchanges. Through her apothecary Amen sells a wide variety of international teas and spices, as well as small plated dishes that include vegan desserts, samosas (pastries stuffed with curried vegetables), and soups. "I work with private farmers all over the world, some I know personally and others I've been introduced to. We communicate via e-mail and Skype." Amen purchases only organic products, such as black tea from Sri Lanka, mint from Morocco, lemongrass from Thailand, and cinnamon, cardamom, and a bold relative of ginger called galangal from Vietnam. She blends--by hand--special recipes, which all have exotic names and effects. "I blend for health and wellness, energy lifting, sensuality, and hair, skin, and nails." Chocolate Mandingo chai, made with Assam black tea, cloves, ginger, and other spices, is a favorite of Top Chef contestant Carla Hall. "It's a top seller," says Amen. Love Potion Number 10 (Amen's grandmother's recipe) is a blend of Sri Lankan black tea, black peppercorn, cinnamon, ginger, and aphrodisiac spices; My Last Good Nerve blends soothing herbs like lavender, cloves, and hibiscus; and Idris (named for the actor Idris Elba) is a Dominican chocolate-infused chai melded with other spices.

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SiTea also offers unique summertime treats. Tea-finis are served in chilled martini glasses rimmed with ginger or habanero sugar. "The alcohol culture is really about the environment and the experience," says Amen, who sees tea as medicine. "As an herbalist and purveyor of these spices and teas, my job is to evoke for people a complete sensual experience," she says, particularly since many of these flavors and scents offer comfort and healing. "Sometimes it's nostalgic and sometimes it's brand-new." But she promises it will be one her customers will cherish.

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Title Annotation:CONCIERGE SELECT; Sunyatta Amen's SiTea: The Spice Boutique
Author:Alleyne, Sonia
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Restaurant review
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:May 1, 2012
Words:470
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