Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
When Mayor Maksud Ikramov of Dushanbe, Tajikistan visited Boulder in 1987, he announced the gift of a teahouse to celebrate the establishment of the sister cities. Both cities are about the same size, share the same latitude and have similar topography. At the time, Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union. The establishment of sister cities was a grassroots effort to connect people across cultures. Tea serves as the center of social structure in Tajikistan. A time for people to gather and talk over warm cups of tea, the Teahouse was a fitting gift to the city of Boulder.
Sara and Lenny Martinelli owned the cafe at Naropa University when they were invited to bid on operating the Teahouse in the 1990s. Sara, a clinical herbalist with a background in ethnobotany and nutrition, and Lenny, an appreciator of ethnic cuisine with a background in environmental design, were the perfect candidates. “When we were chosen to run the Teahouse, we had no idea how ornate it would be,” said Sara. “But we have really grown alongside one another. The Teahouse has been serendipitous with our personal interests and values.”
The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse reflects artistic traditions that date back 2,000 years. With its hand-carved and hand-painted ceiling, tables, stools, columns and exterior ceramic panels, the interior and exterior of the building showcase explosions of color and intricate design. “Our goal is to mirror the purpose of the gift. We want to provide a bridge between cultures and offer the opportunity to taste foods from around the world, trying to stay true to traditional recipes.”
Sara is a tea specialist and blender herself, helping create many of the Teahouse’s exclusive blends. “Operating the Teahouse has allowed me to learn so much about tea, and my entire career has been focused on tea, botanicals and the culture of food. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Both graduates of CU, the couple has formed deep roots in Boulder. “I’ve lived in the same house since I was 22 and raised all three of my children there. We’re huge animal lovers, so I love the way the city is so animal friendly – it makes me smile every time I see someone walking a dog or a dog sticking his head out a car window. We sincerely love Boulder, and we’ve been so fortunate that the Teahouse really suits the people of this area with its focus on health, sustainability and culture.”
Sara and Lenny have expanded to own Three Leaf Farm and multiple other restaurants including Leaf Vegetarian on the East End. At the farm, they grow food and herbs that are used at their restaurants and tea company. The goal of the farm is to provide organic produce to their restaurants and offer educational experiences about sustainable homesteading and food cycles. “We run many workshops and classes to help people learn more about sustainability and locally-sourced foods. Sign up for a workshop to expand your personal knowledge and come out to eat! Support local businesses - which in turn supports local farmers and producers.”
Follow along on social media (@boulderteahouse) to learn more about the historic Teahouse and ongoing events. And come inside to gather and connect with others, just like the people of Tajikistan intended many years ago.