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Retailer of the Month: The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
A Rocky Mountain Jewel
Staff Report

Offering cuisine from almost as many origins as its tea, the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is an astoundingly authentic experience. With an idyllic setting, set amidst a rose garden and painted dining room, owner Sara Martinelli succeeds in delivering a cup of tea worth savoring.

T&C: How long have you been in business?

Sara Martinelli: We opened in 1998, so almost 10 years.

T&C: How did you begin?

SM: The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse was a gift to the City of Boulder from our sister - city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan. It is a large, hand-built teahouse in the traditional Persian style with ornate painted ceilings, carved plaster walls and tiled mosaics. After the city of Boulder voted to construct the teahouse, they offered it to existing restaurateurs to bid on its operation. We won the bid. Today, we own the business and lease the space from the city of Boulder.

T&C: Why did you decide to open a shop? How many shops do you have?

SM: We were excited at the unusual project and as a medical herbalist, I felt it was a great opportunity to create a business about a wonderful botanical product. Lenny, as a chef, was thrilled with the idea of being able to offer cuisine from around the world in a single venue. Now, we own five restaurants. Each of the restaurants is a different concept, yet they all serve loose leaf teas. Our restaurant, The Huckleberry, is also a full service restaurant that offers over 50 teas and a fantastic afternoon tea service. Our other restaurants include Aji, a Latin American restaurant, Leaf, a vegetarian restaurant and The Naropa Café, a small café in Boulder’s famous Buddhist university, Naropa University.

T&C: Why did you choose your particular location? (Are you a local familiar with the community? Did you find a need for a tea shop? Did you recognize certain industry trends in the area?)

SM: As longtime residents of Boulder, we knew that tea was a perfect fit for the health-conscious, progressive folks who live here. The city is filled with highly educated, active people who are constantly striving for a healthy lifestyle. The teahouse itself sits just off Central Park in downtown Boulder, nestled up against the majestic Flatirons Mountains. Each weekend, the Boulder County Farmer’s Market is set up on the street in front of the teahouse, offering us the opportunity to have thousands of people walk by.

T&C: Please give us an estimate on foot traffic.

SM: The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is considered the number one tourist attraction in Boulder. We get hundreds of visitors every day.

T&C: What are the demographics of your customers?

SM: Boulder demographics are the perfect target market for the tea industry. Boulder County has about 295,000 residents, with approximately 100,000 of those living within the city limits. The median age of Boulder County is 35, while the median income is $68,164.00 (source: www.muninetguide.com). According to the city of Boulder website, “Boulder is known for its natural beauty, outdoor recreation, natural product retailers and restaurants, outstanding alternative transportation options, diverse businesses and technological and academic resources.” Our local customers tend to be very knowledgeable and interested in the advanced information about premium teas, and on the other hand, we have many visiting tourists who may be experiencing tea for the first time.

T&C: What tea product lines do you feature?

SM: We work with importers directly to offer teas under our own brand name. Many of our teas are exclusive blends that we have created ourselves. In addition to our premium loose leaf teas, we also offer a line of Children’s Tea, Bath Teas, and believe it or not, Dog Teas.

T&C: What else do you provide other than tea? Food, pastries, etc.

SM: We are a full service restaurant, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea everyday. Our menu is comprised of foods from all over the world. We also offer fine desserts and pastries, and have a large retail offering of packaged tea and teaware. In addition, we offer full service catering, both on and off site. The Teahouse is host to many weddings each year due to its beauty.

T&C: Who are your beverage line suppliers?

SM: As stated, we offer teas of our own brand. With coffee, however, we feature Allegro Coffees, and also Vail Mountain Roasters (two Colorado companies).

T&C: What is your relationship with these suppliers? Do you choose which products you would like to purchase or are they recommended/suggested?

SM: We work hand in hand with these companies to ensure that we offer the best examples of their products.

T&C: Do you have any signature drinks?

SM: Hibiscus Cooler is a popular cold drink made of hibiscus tea, lemon juice, sugar, lime and mint. Homemade Chai, as well. We serve chai with herbs ground fresh daily using a traditional recipe from India.

T&C: What is the most popular type of tea? Loose leaf, teabag, green, black, etc.

SM: We serve over 300 pots of tea daily. All of our tea is loose leaf tea. It’s a pretty even mix which teas people like best. Black and green are in a dead heat. The two above mentioned drinks are extremely popular as well.

T&C: Do you offer any decaf products?

SM: Yes, decaf teas, coffee, and of course, a full line of herbal infusions.

T&C: What is your preferred method of brewing tea? Are there any special instruments that you use?

SM: Each pot of tea is brewed to order in a traditional English Chatsford teapot. The customer is able to remove their own tea basket/strainer on the advice of the server and to their liking.

T&C: Do you have your own brand of private label tea? If so, who does your packing?

SM: We pack our own tea in small batches to preserve freshness and to be able to offer rare teas.

T&C: Can you offer any promotional ideas? Incentives for purchasing or publicity; point of sale items, such as gift certificates, contests, advertising, etc.

SM: We have had great success with our online catalog. In one of our stores we have a Tea Club that is very popular. We try to work with our community to be active in the arts and culture forums, such as the Boulder Philharmonic Symphony, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and other arts groups.

T&C: Describe your store’s layout.

SM: The dining room seats about 75 guests. There is a large fountain in the center featuring six statues of Persian Princesses. The Tea Bar displays our over 100 selections of premium tea. Outside we have a large creek side patio, and then on the other side we have a tea garden. There are over 80 varieties of heirloom roses in our garden donated and tended by the Rose Society of Boulder.

T&C: How do you recruit employees? How do you retain them?

SM: Boulder, as a college town, has many young students hoping to work in the flexible restaurant business. We hope our staff stays due to good income potential and a happy, beautiful workplace.

T&C: What sort of training is given in tea selections, brewing methods, etc.?

SM: Our new servers must go through an extensive training program and then are tested on their knowledge before they are allowed to work the floor. We have periodic tea tastings to introduce new teas, and occasional full classes regarding tea.

T&C: What problems do experience in your training?

SM: For most of our employees, they know nothing about tea when they start with us. Being in such a busy atmosphere with so many teas makes it hard for them to effectively learn all they need to know.

T&C: How are your teas displayed? Do you take into account the effects of lighting and temperature on the freshness of the tea?

SM: Our teas are displayed in large tins behind the bar. We only put the amount of tea we can serve within two weeks, (about a kilo or two) in the tins. Our back stock is stored in vacuum sealed, two-kg bags in our storage facility.

T&C: Do you ever offer tastings/events for the customers to familiarize themselves with your products?

SM: We offer periodic classes and workshops for our customers. In addition, we host the annual Rocky Mountain Tea Festival. The Tea Festival is in its ninth year, and we are honored to feature tea experts from around the country who offer workshops in various topics of tea. Past speakers include Roy Fong, of the Imperial Tea Court, David Lee Hoffman, formerly of Silk Road Teas and Barbara Graves from The Republic of Tea. In addition, our chefs prepare a special four course tea dinner, where all the food is made with tea. Finally, during the tea festival, we host the Children’s Teddy Bear Tea Party. Over 120 children in their tea time finest bring their teddy bears to enjoy a special party with children’s tea, crafts and photos.

T&C: Is there anything you would like our readers to know about your shop/business?

SM: We are excited and proud that the Teahouse has been featured twice on the Food Network, including a segment on Road Tasted with the Dean Brothers and a segment with Bobby Flay. Also, over our 10 years in business, our teahouse has won numerous awards, including Best Tea, Best Teahouse, Best Outdoor Dining, Most Romantic Restaurant and many more.

Tea & Coffee - February, 2008

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