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A Tea Grows in Boulder

I’ve never been interested in “afternoon tea,” “high tea”, or any type of formal tea custom. To me, it was a group of older, dowager-like ladies with pinkies erect, pressed lace collars, and big royal-sized purses at their feet.  A snooty way to sip a spot of tea and nibble on tiny cucumber sandwiches.  The whole routine seemed stodgy and a bit grandmotherly.

I’m not a hot drink guy, but I’ve had my share of dunking tea bags. When I was growing up, my grandmother had a penchant for tea, and it was always polite to share a cup with Nana. In our house it was Lipton® all the way. Don’t even mention Tetley® or you’d wind up with one lump or two on your forehead.

In the last twenty years’ tea has become much more popular in the US. There are special blends, flavored herbal brands, and green teas which are linked to health benefits. Iced tea and tea in general is surpassing coffee in some US households. Even Starbucks® jumped into the teapot by promoting tea in their vast network of coffee stores. 

The coffee giant even acquired Teavana® - the high-end tea store located in a mall near you. The tiny leaves seem to be dropping right into the purses of retail America. Of course, there’s the Tea Party and the “Teabaggers,” but that’s another story. They have put the word “tea” in the media’s mouth, and isn’t that where “teabagging” should be?

Recently on a trip to Colorado, a very good friend recommended the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder to my partner and I. I wanted to say that I had no interest partaking in Afternoon Tea or learning about proper tea etiquette.  Had I even packed the needed garb? I didn’t know if I’d need a monocle, a tweed jacket or a waistcoat. Would I be required to meet Colonel Mustard in the study?

Our friend has very good taste and an expert architectural eye, so I wanted at least to see the teahouse. By the description, I knew it would be different than the lace-curtained, doily-laden, tea shop in our town. I can’t say the tea shop smells like a grandmother’s closet, but it’s what I imagine. Thinking about the smell of moth balls, musty antiques, and the sound of teaspoons clinking loudly against bone china, has kept me away from tea rooms, tea houses and teetotalers. I guess I have a strange, twisted Dickensian image of afternoon tea. “Please sir, may I not have some more?”

We agreed to let our friend make a reservation at the teahouse. It was vacation and this might be an interesting adventure – a place to relax after exploring Boulder. I committed to attending even with all my trepidations and preconceived notions. I was pretty sure Lipton Tea would not be on the menu, so I was already at a deficit.

The Dushanbe Teahouse is a unique building. It was created as a gift to Boulder from its sister city Dushanbe, which is the capital of Tajikistan. It took forty artisans a period of two years to complete this handmade structure. There were no power tools used in the construction. The artisans used traditional Persian designs when creating the teahouse. After the teahouse was completed it was dismantled and the pieces were packed into about 200 crates, and shipped to Boulder.

Due to financial restrictions, the city of Boulder could not afford the reconstruction. The crates sat for almost ten years before it was finally reassembled. It opened to the public in 1998. Now everyone visiting Boulder can see the intricate detail of the vibrant colored ceiling and hand carved cedar pillars. There is handmade traditional Tajikistan furniture, a fountain with seven bronze statues of women based on a 12th-century poem, “The Seven Beauties,” and original oil paintings by a Tajik artist.

At least I can say I don’t do anything half-way. If I was finally going to try an afternoon tea, I was going to do it in a real teahouse. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the tables were occupied by a diverse mix of people. I didn’t trip over any huge Queen Elizabeth handbags and gray-blue was not the color of everyone’s hair.

We were greeted by a handsome waiter with a slightly Prada model look. He was a combination of Dieter from Sprockets and Colorado crunchy in his all black waiter’s outfit and Invisalign® braces. He was friendly and eager to help us enjoy our Afternoon Tea. I can’t remember if his name was Hans, Franz or Moonbeam, so for my purposes he will be – Hanzbeam.

We exchanged obligatory pleasantries and Hanzbeam offered us a glass of champagne as a starter. Any alcohol to kick off the experience was alright with me. In fact, if nothing on the list of teas looked appealing, I already had a fallback drink.

Hanzbeam directed us to a list of teas and told us that we could try as many as we wanted. There were hot teas and, luckily enough, there were several iced tea options. Maybe, this tea experience was going to be much different than I expected. The teahouse provided a beautiful atmosphere, the waiter was cute, I had a glass of cold champagne in my hand, I didn’t smell mothballs, and I hadn’t heard anyone mention Downton Abbey.

Bring on the pots and the pastries. I was ready to give this thing a whirl. I am not a fan of chamomile, ginseng, and I’m sure he was a very nice man, but I don’t like Earl Grey either. I hoped I’d find at least one suitable selection. I didn’t want to leave staggering into the fountain from an over-indulgence of the bubbly.

I reviewed the menu and noticed a teahouse favorite - Boulder Tangerine. The description stated it was blended exclusively for the Dushanbe Teahouse by Celestial Seasonings. A mix of tangerine, cinnamon and spices sounded very tasty. If it turned out not to be a delicious tasting tea, it would certainly make a delightful potpourri for my underwear drawer.

Anything that’s exclusive is meant to be tried, so I made the selection. My official tea adventure was underway. Hanzbeam informed us that we’d be served a selection of savories and pastries chosen daily by the chef. I had a postive feeling I’d be seeing more than cucumber and water cress sandwiches.

It didn’t take oolong (sorry I couldn’t resist) before we were brought our teapots. We were given our own personal timer to let us know when the tea would be done steeping. I opened the lid of the pot to remove the tea infuser and the aroma of Boulder Tangerine wafted into my nostrils - perfection. It was nirvana. The smell of citrus and cinnamon was intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to taste my exclusive tea.

It was awesome. The right selection for a tea virgin. I could understand why it was a bestseller. Such a perfect blend of flavors. It reminded me of holidays, home and comfort. I knew I was destined to be in Boulder for a perfect tea experience. My head was spinning or maybe the champagne and the altitude was making me a little tipsy. I expressed my appreciation for the tea to Hanzbeam as he delivered a three-tiered tray to the table.

He smiled a cute Invisalign® smile and advised us what treats we were receiving. There was a top tier of three types of small cake desserts – carrot cake, double chocolate and lemon. The second tier had tea sandwiches and wraps. The sandwiches were the traditional cucumber - somehow I knew they would get shoved into the mix. The bottom tier was scones and phyllo dough pastries. I could certainly ignore the dreaded cucumber, since there was plenty of other delicacies. Also, there were small containers of jam, clotted cream and lemon curd.

English food has a reputation for being pretty bad. I really believe some of it comes from poorly named dishes and condiments. They need better marketing for their food. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, but anything clotted does not sound appetizing. I don’t even think the word should be referenced with food. There is an English dessert called “Spotted Dick.” Evidently enticing people to eat is not a priority for the Brits. This is what plays out in my head.

Reggie: “I went to the doctor and he told me I had Spotted Dick.”

Alfie: “Oh blimey! Is there a way to get cured?”

Reggie: “An application of clotted cream.”

Curd does not sound inviting either. What about new names like “sweet dessert cream” and “lemon butter?” That sounds much more appealing. Perhaps that’s another reason why I’ve never given a bubble and squeak about Afternoon Tea.

The food at Dushanbe was exceptionally good, and I stayed away from clots and curds. I drank my tangerine tea, and was ready to try something else. I decided on an Iced Chai Tea, followed by an Iced Tropical Tea with pineapple juice.  I slowly became waterlogged. Each drink had such a great flavor, that I just wanted more. I was in a tea zone. When I thought I had enough, and we were paying our bill, Hanzbeam reminded us the Afternoon Tea was a set price and it included as much tea as we wanted. In a short span of time, I was becoming a Boulder Tangerine addict, so I ordered another pot.

It was herbal crack. If I couldn’t drink it all, I would just enjoy the aroma.  I ordered a four-ounce bag of the tea to take with me. I couldn’t leave Colorado without a stash of my favorite tea. Hanzbeam gave me website information, so I could make future orders online. I will be eternally grateful to my pony-tailed supplier.

I sat back in my chair, as my stomach sloshed, contemplating wearing a Depend®. Checking out more of downtown Boulder was going to involve visiting many of their fine restrooms, and I had to be okay with that. My thirst had been quenched at the Dushanbe Teahouse. I had gained an appreciation for tea that I never expected. I participated in an activity that I had decided was not of any interest.

With my stomach stretched to capacity and alcohol in my blood stream there was a moment of awaking – a clarity. I realized that people lose experiencing new things if they avoid them because of a preconceived idea. We can never know how something will be unless we are open to take the plunge. It can be as simple as trying an Afternoon Tea.

We should listen to our friends and appreciate their experiences and judgment. The next time you have an opportunity to experience something new, don’t let a preconceived idea stop you. Before you decide it’s not your cup of tea - try it. You may discover it’s your Boulder Tangerine.


  1. I'm a die hard High Tea fan. I'm so happy that you gave into the experience and enjoyed the afternoon. We should do tea together, one day. Love your posts. I feel like I'm right there with you


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