Tourist in Your Own City: Afternoon Tea at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

Streaks of sunlight pour through the southwest-facing windows, highlighting the puffs of steam drifting up from my freshly-brewed cup of tea. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a devout coffee drinker, and not exactly the most relaxed person—but the pleasant floral smell tickling my nose, and the taste of the warm tea as it passes my lips and soothes my throat puts a smile on my face and slows my thoughts for the moment.

It’s 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is full of comfortably-clad characters enjoying a late afternoon cup of tea, and the flavorful tastes of the variety of ethnic dishes that chef and proprietor, Lenny Martinelli, has included on the restaurant’s menu. Dotted throughout a collection of exotic plants of all different sizes, are an array of tables of all different sizes—some topped with elegant white table cloths, and some bare. As part of my Afternoon Tea reservation, I’m seated at a clothed table, my knees tucked neatly against the pressed fabric. I’m feeling a little unsure about spending a quiet afternoon deep in my own thoughts, but I’ve waited the three minutes to allow my tea to steep, poured myself a cup, and continue to wait patiently for the dainty tea sandwiches and sweets I’ve been promised. I’m kicking myself for not taking the waitress up on a glass of champagne, but all is forgotten when the tray of tiny, crustless sandwiches and a mix of savory and sweet pastries is set before me. I’m in my own little bite-sized heaven. The only things missing are a pair of white gloves, a lacy fan, and possibly a fainting chair to complete the moment.

The ritual of Afternoon Tea is said to date back to Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, who struggled with a “sinking feeling”during the afternoon. The idea of a tea break and sweets before early evening was apparently uplifting, thus began the beloved custom that lives on today.

With my tray of afternoon nibbles before me, I quickly devour the buttery and flaky, savory pastry first, followed by the adorable cucumber tea sandwich. I dab up every bit of crunchy sugar from the scone, and I obliterate the light and airy slice of carrot cake—down to the candied decoration shaped like a carrot on top. I pour another cup of warm tea, and brush the crumbly evidence of my un-ladylike dining habits off of the pristine table cloth. The Duchess of Bedford probably wouldn’t approve of me using my finger to scrape up every bit of frosting leftover from the lemon cake before the waitress takes the empty tray, but it’s so good, and I’m just so weak.

Tourists from all over the world descend on the Dushanbe Teahouse every year to view the intricate and colorful architecture of the building which was a gift to Boulder in 1987 from its sister city of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The teahouse was shipped to Boulder in 200 crates and forty artisan workers from the teahouse’s hometown took two years to construct the beautiful building as we know it today at its current location in downtown Boulder, just off of the Boulder Creek.

Afternoon Tea during the week is a wonderful way to experience this Boulder landmark without having to battle for a seat. It’s traditionally served between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The cost per person for a beautiful spread of afternoon treats and a pot of your choice of tea is $22. Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance, and it’s totally up to you if you choose to channel your inner Duchess and accessorize your afternoon with the white gloves and the lacy fan. You’ll find no judgement here.

Photo Credit: Tyra Sutak