by Helen Colella
Thanks to the Chinese Emperor who some 5,000 years ago enjoyed the flavor of a hot cup of steeped leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant, tea has become the second most consumed beverage around the world following water. Here in the U.S 80% of the tea consumed is cold, as iced tea.
There are at least six varieties of tea: white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and post-fermented teas. Although teas are meant to be savored and enjoyed they can also be used medicinally. Tea contains antioxidants, and is believed to improve the immune system, aid in digestion, help normalize blood pressure, lift spirits, reduce stress, and more.
In different cultures around the world, drinking tea is associated with formal social events that follow a complex ceremony of brewing loose tea leaves: steeping, straining, and serving (Japan, China, British Isles, Middle East countries, Russia, India). These historic tea rituals still exist and many of us, like myself, whose Irish mother kept a pot of tea on the stove “…in case somebody came a callin’ and needed a hot cup ‘o tea to warm their bellies and spirits…” enjoy the tradition.
Herbal teas, which are an infusion of leaves, flowers, fruit, herbs or other plant material, are very popular today. And although they’re not considered the real thing by true connoisseurs of tea, they offer many of the same benefits as those previously mentioned, are delicious and have taken on a life of their own, especially here in Colorado on Sleepytime Drive in Boulder. That’s right. It’s where you can find the largest herb tea manufacturer in North America: Celestial Seasonings.
My family takes every out-of- town visitor to see this facility because it’s a Colorado success story and because from the minute you open the door and walk into the lobby of Celestial Seasonings you understand why it’s become one of the most famous herbal tea centers.
Once you enter your eyes smile at the warm, welcoming sight. Instantly following that first step into the reception area, delightful aromatic scents permeate the air, luring you further inside; an invitation you can’t refuse. The replica of the comfortable old-fashioned living room of Sleepytime Bear sets the atmosphere. This scene and character are the original artwork used on the first boxed tea successfully mass marketed.
A friendly guide provides all the pertinent information about tour times then encourages you to “help yourself to a cup of tea” while waiting for the tour to begin. You are directed to a tea-counter where several batches of different teas are already brewed and ready for sipping. If the brewed batches are not “your cup of tea” there’s a three-leveled tea-case, stacked with a variety of other flavors for you to choose from and brew your own. The menu of teas includes Red Zinger, Chamomile, Misty Jasmine, Honey Lemon Ginseng, Emerald Gardens, Tension Tamer, all sorts of fruit blends and more. Hot or cold, there’s something for everyone’s palette.
An introductory video starts the tour and takes you on a journey of the company’s humble beginnings that started back in 1969 when founder, Mo Siegel, and his friends gathered wild herbs from around the mountains of Aspen and developed their first blend - MO36. This tea and the all-natural herbal teas that followed were sold to local health food stores in hand-sewn muslin bags. The product soon became a hot commodity; exceeding all expectations, thus requiring the company to expand. They rented an old barn and set upon making more marketable blends and developing a successful business. Their unique formulas of mixed and blended herbs have created batches of all natural and caffeine-free products—beneficial to our health as well as taste pleasing. The first “big” success was Sleepytime Tea. From there it was history: Herb teas. Black teas. Green teas. Mate teas. Organic teas. Chai. Special Holiday teas. Wellness Teas.
Today, Celestial Seasonings imports more than 100 different ingredients from over 35 countries: herbs, spices, and tea leaves to make all-natural herbal, green, red, white, chai, and wellness teas. In addition, they’ve expanded their healthful, natural products to include health supplements - vitamins and herb extracts - to further promote wellness.
The company has changed hands several times, going from its original owners to the current Hain Food Group. It’s remained dedicated to making and selling healthful products to nurture people’s bodies and uplift their souls; customers and employees as well. They have stayed true to their original mantra: healthy teas for people on a healthy planet where truth, beauty, quality and goodness are of utmost importance.
Visitors are shown a video depicting the history of the company then taken on a walking tour. First, you stroll through their art museum where original paintings used on the tea box packaging, created by some of the country’s most famous artists and illustrators, are on display (see sidebar). So visually appealing with titles matching tea flavors, one can hardly wait to have a hot cup or two. Then you pass through a long corridor with glass walls and to marvel at their unique teapot collection. Finally you’re taken on a guided factory tour to give you a first hand look at how and where they store, blend, package, and ship their teas. One storage area, The Mint Room, makes quite an impression. It’s pungent, refreshing, and invigorating all at the same time.
Following the scheduled, formal visit, guests are encouraged to meander through the general store where they can purchase a variety of tea products and souvenirs at special prices and, if so inclined, dine at the on-location cafe.
If you haven’t visited Celestial Seasonings it’s time to go, enjoy a hot cup ‘o tea, the fine art on the distinctive packaging, and a Colorado success story.
Helen Colella is a freelance writer. Her work includes educational books/materials, articles/stories for adults/children, several anthologies (like Chicken Soup for the Soul), parenting mags across the country. She also operates a writing service business for independent publishers. Website: Under the Cuckoo Clock