Calabash Tea & Tonic Owner Sunyatta Amen
Calabash Tea & Tonic Owner Sunyatta Amen Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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At Calabash Tea & Tonic in Shaw and in Brookland, baristas don’t ask what you want—they ask how you’re feeling. And if you’re the type of person who loves your morning coffee or tea, but loathes the subsequent caffeine jitters, your barista may recommend adding a spritz of CBD tonic.

Despite federal warnings that CBD has yet to be researched enough to assuage safety concerns, CBD, the legal chemical compound found in cannabis that doesn’t have the same psychoactive effects as THC, has found its way to D.C.’s coffee scene. 

One of the earliest adopters of CBD coffee was Gregory’s Coffee, which infused the oil straight into drinks. Last year, Gregory’s Coffee owner Gregory Zamfotis told City Paper that their signature CBD offering, a CBD latte, tasted like a gummy bear with strawberry syrup and oat milk. 

But this summer Gregory’s Coffee discontinued the offering after New York City’s health department banned CBD-infused drinks in July (the ban took effect this month). While Zamfotis says he would have loved to have kept the popular product in D.C., the coffee shop’s credit card processing company declined payments for CBD-infused beverages.

While no such restriction exists in the District, local coffee shops and vendors are still careful about how they offer their CBD products, citing concerns about potential federal or local oversight. Some steer clear of infusing beverages with CBD on-site like Gregory’s once did. Instead they sell coffee in whole bean bags infused with CBD, offer the CBD on the side, or only accept cash so there’s less of a record of the transaction. 

Washingtonians can try CBD-infused coffee and tea at Calabash Tea & Tonic, Qi Kratom CBD Tea, and Local Meditations, among others. “People are really excited about it,” says Calabash owner Sunyatta Amen. “They come in and ask about it.” 

Earlier this year, Brightest Young Thingstook a tour of the CBD coffee offerings in the District. Yelp reviewers of places like Qi Kratom CBD Tea, a cash-only shop on U Street NW, have praised its offerings. They sell a range of oils, which can be added to coffee or tea, as well as whole bean coffee infused with CBD

Preparation varies. At Local Meditations, a boutique CBD shop in Georgetown, CBD comes infused in coffee beans, which co-owner Tanya Duckett says can be brewed like regular coffee. Duckett, however, recommends grinding the coffee in a separate grinder to avoid contamination. 

CBD, which is known for its calming effects, is seemingly a foil to one’s morning coffee buzz. It’s like having one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. So, why do people seek it out? 

Duckett says people often ask if the coffee will make them sleepy, undoing what coffee or tea is intended to do. However, both Duckett and Amen say adding CBD to caffeinated beverages simply strips the unpleasantries of anxiety, jitters, and insomnia. 

“CBD automatically helps regulate your blood pressure,” Duckett adds. “But you’re still able to stay alert.”

Duckett says the clientele for the CBD coffee is different from the clientele who purchase the other CBD products in her store. While young millennials and baby boomers tend to purchase other products, she says people buying CBD coffee are often in their mid-20s to late 30s.  

Local Meditations gets its CBD from Jane West, a cannabis lifestyle brand based in California, as well as D.C.-based Little Green Helper. She, like many CBD product vendors in D.C., is picky. “There’s a lot of fake CBD out there,” Duckett says, which is why she uses CBD made by small businesses in small batches. 

The approach at Calabash Tea & Tonic is completely different: The oil comes as a tonic and isn’t directly infused into coffee or tea. Instead, patrons are advised to place it under the tongue for 30 to 90 seconds. The tonic comes with a bit of kombucha or hibiscus tea with the CBD oil floating on top. This cuts the hemp-like taste of the oil as well as makes the oil, a fat-soluble compound, easier to absorb.

“The idea of infusing CBD into tea and into coffees may not be the best way to ingest it,” Amen says. “It’s like taking medicine on an empty stomach.” Instead, she says her goal is making sure the chemical gets quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. 

Amen notes that coffee drinkers often suffer from secondary insomnia, or waking up and being unable to go back to sleep. But drinking CBD coffee, she says, gives people a more restful sleep.

At Calabash, Amen says many of her customers have one thing in common. “We have students from Howard or Catholic or American,” she says. “A lot are stressed out from studies, but there’s also folks who are past that point who are like, my mortgage is stressing me out, my children are stressing me out,” she says. 

Amen says she gets her CBD from biochemists in the Colorado Rockies who have been developing hemp-derived CBD for three decades. Both acknowledge that they’re picky about where their CBD comes from. 

“We start with the best product,” Amen says, adding that the entire staff tried out multiple CBD oils before settling on a product. 

The excitement around CBD coffee seemingly lies in its anti-anxiety effects. D.C. resident Melissa, who didn’t want her last name in print, says she occasionally drinks CBD coffee or tea to reduce anxiety. She also says she believes the infusion can alleviate stress and depression. 

D.C. resident Veronica, a barista who didn’t want her last name used, brews CBD on her own as the coffee shop she works at doesn’t offer it yet. One of the main considerations she has when brewing coffee is the taste of CBD, which she describes as earthy or leafy. She often uses flavored CBD oil that she adds to coffee with oat milk.

“It is kind of tough to get that balance if you don’t add that creamy element,” Veronica says. While she agrees with Amen and Duckett about the intended impact of CBD, she also warns of one potential pitfall. “I’m pretty diligent about dosing,” she says, “but this is where CBD gets tricky for first-time users.” If you have too much CBD in your coffee, Veronica says one can feel sleepy or groggy instead of mellowed out. 

Amen says that she has seen regulars and new clients willing to try CBD alongside their beverages, but also doesn’t disagree with concerns federal entities have. 

“There’s a lot of education around the awareness that it exists, but we need help with oversight as an industry,” she says, meaning she wants to see more establishments with knowledge of how to use CBD safely and how to explain its impacts to customers. Amen calls herself a trained herbalist. 

“We treat it like the medicine it is,” she says. “It is a sacred medicine to our ancestors. It’s not a marketing gimmick to us.”