Boulder's Dushanabe Teahouse

Follow the Dushanabe Teahouse in Boulder as enthusiastic epicures embark on a journey through the world of food.

Joshua Hardin

(This story originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)

GAZING UP AT the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse’s painted ceilings, with their vivid colors and intricate designs, patrons tell the restaurant’s chef and co-owner, Lenny Martinelli, that they’ve never seen a place like this. That’s because it’s the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

Teahouses like this one are native to the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, where they serve as community gathering places. So what’s this teahouse doing in downtown Boulder?

In the 1980s, Boulder became sister cities with Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. This was a big deal during those Cold War days, as Tajikistan was then a Soviet republic. As a sign of friendship, the sister cities decided to exchange gifts: Each city would send the other a restaurant. It took 40 artisans in Tajikistan two years build the teahouse in the traditional way – no power tools – and it was then disassembled, packed into crates and shipped to Boulder.

Some 200 crates weighing 30 tons arrived in Boulder in 1990 – and then sat unopened for another eight years, as Boulder lacked funds to put it back together. When the city finally unpacked the boxes, they were unprepared for just how beautiful the building was, a dazzling assemblage of hand-painted wood panels, ornate exterior tiles and carved cedar pillars. It was erected in 1998 on the site of the Boulder County Farmers’ Market.

Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Lenny and Sara Martinelli won the bid to operate the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse restaurant, but then they had to figure out what food to serve. The obvious choice for a traditional Tajik teahouse would be traditional Tajik food, but they opted to take a broader interpretation.

The city of Dushanbe was a stop on the Silk Road, the old trading route that saw caravans travel between China and the Mediterranean Sea. A teahouse was a safe haven on the road, a place for travelers from across the world to meet in peace. The cuisine at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse embraces that spirit, incorporating dishes from every continent in the world. “Except Antarctica,” Lenny said, smiling, though he adds that he’s working on that one, too.

It wouldn’t be a teahouse without tea, and from the beginning, the Martinellis have worked with world-renowned tea expert David Lee Hoffman to import rare teas to Boulder. They also commissioned Boulder’s own Celestial Seasonings to create the proprietary Boulder Tangerine Herbal Tea. Tea also is incorporated into recipes for entrees and cocktails.

Despite the focus on tea, Lenny initially doubted many customers would actually order it. In all the years he had worked in restaurants, it was a rare occasion when someone asked for hot tea. On opening day in 1998, he had only ordered two dozen teapots. That turned out to be woefully inadequate. “We went through all of our teapots within an hour,” he said. These days, the restaurant’s teapot supply is far more robust. “Everybody drinks tea when they come to the Teahouse.”


Mexican Tinga Poblano

Tinga Poblano is a traditional Mexican dish with rich, warm flavors. The slaw cools down the heat of the spices, and the purple potato hash adds heartiness.


Pork Rub

2  tbsp smoked paprika 

2  tbsp ancho chili powder 

2  tbsp salt 

1  tbsp black ground pepper 

2  tbsp brown sugar

5  lbs pork butt, trimmed and portioned into 8-oz pieces


Braising Mixture

1  tbsp garlic, chopped 

1  tsp fresh thyme

1  tsp fresh oregano 

1  bay leaf 

3  oz tomato paste 

1  medium onion, chopped 

1  carrot 2  celery stalk 

2  poblano peppers, chopped 

2  Fresno chilies, chopped                

vegetable oil


Purple Potato Hash

2  medium onions, sliced 

3  tbsp butter

10  medium purple potatoes, boiled 

salt and pepper to taste


Cabbage Slaw

3  cups Napa cabbage, fine chiffanade 

1 ½  cups red onions, fine sliced 

1 ½  cups red peppers, fine sliced

6  green onions, fine sliced 

3/4  cup cilantro, chopped

3/4  cup lime juice 

1  tbsp salt 

1  tsp black pepper 

1  tbsp sugar



 6  oz queso fresco

12  sprigs fresh cilantro 

12  corn tortillas


Serves 6

Pork: Rub portioned pork butt with rub, using the entire rub. Let rest overnight in refrigerator. Combine ingredients for braising mixture in a medium mixing bowl. Spread these vegetables on a baking sheet. Drizzle vegetables with oil and roast in oven at 400° for 30 minutes. On stove top, heat some oil in a braising pan (or large, ovenproof 4-quart skillet, or Dutch oven) and sear all sides of pork butt. Combine oven-roasted braising vegetables with pork in braising pan. Cover with water. Cover braising pan with foil or tightly fitting lid and cook in oven at 350° for 3 hours.

Purple potato hash: In a large pot boil potatoes until al dente, about 10-15 minutes. Cool and dice potatoes; set aside. In large skillet, brown onions in butter until golden. Add potatoes to onions. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cabbage slaw: Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Plating: In a large serving dish layer the potato hash, pork and slaw. Ladle some of the jus from the braising pork onto hash. Garnish with fresh cilantro and queso fresco. Serve with warm corn tortillas.


Boulder Tangerine Gingerbread

The restaurant’s first recipe to incorporate tea, this gingerbread has been on the menu since opening day. Boulder Tangerine Tea, developed in conjunction with Celestial Seasonings, is only available at Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.


10  cups flour, sifted 

2  tbsp baking soda, sifted 

2  tsp powdered ginger, sifted 

2  tsp cinnamon, sifted 

4  cups canola oil 

8  eggs 

2  cups honey 

2  cups molasses 

2  cups sugar 

4  cups of brewed Boulder tangerine tea (available at Boulder Dushanbe     teahouse) or herbal orange-spice tea


Orange Syrup

2  cups orange juice

1/2  cup granulated sugar 

1  star anise 

1  cinnamon stick


Five-spiced Whipped Cream

8  oz heavy whipping cream

3  tbsp five-spice powder 

5  tbsp powdered sugar


Serves 6

In large bowl, mix eggs with sugar until well blended. Add oil, molasses and honey. Pass tea through a fine strainer and mix with other liquid ingredients. In separate large bowl, sift and combine flour, baking soda, ginger and cinnamon. Mix well. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture. Mix very well, breaking up all flour lumps. Pour into nonstick-sprayed baking pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Rotate cake to avoid burning and bake another 5 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not refrigerate. Cut gingerbread into equal squares, then cut each square in half, into triangles. Drizzle medium plate with orange syrup. Place gingerbread pieces on plate. Finish with five-spiced whipped cream.

Orange syrup: Combine all ingredients in sauce pot. Boil on stove top at medium heat, stirring frequently, until reduced to syrup.

Five-spiced whipped cream: Combine all ingredients and whip. 


Orange Blossom Mojito

The traditional Cuban mojito, a refreshing mix of mint, citrus and sweetness, gets a new twist with the addition of Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse’s Snow Blossom Green Tea.


12  mint leaves 

1  mint sprig

1  oz orange blossom simple syrup

4  lime wedges

1  orange wedge

3  oz silver rum

1  tbsp white sugar 

1  tbsp granulated brown sugar

1 bottle club soda


Orange Blossom Simple Syrup

1  oz Snow Blossom Green tea (available at Boulder Dushanbe teahouse) or other green tea        

1 orange, zested

2  cups hot water

1  cup sugar


Serves 1

Put tea leaves and orange zest in a mesh tea ball or other tea infuser. Steep in hot water for 3 minutes, then remove. Add sugar and stir to make simple syrup. Rub rim of 14-oz Collins glass with lime wedge, rim with mix of white and granulated brown sugar. Add mint, simple syrup and juice from 3 lime wedges to mixing glass. Muddle. Add ice and rum. Shake and pour into  Collins glass. Top off with ice and club soda. Garnish with lime wedge, orange wedge and mint sprig.

(This story originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)

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