Last week I was lucky enough to find myself in Boulder, Colorado on a business trip with a couple of free afternoons. In addition to plenty of natural beauty, Boulder can be a tea-lover’s paradise!
My first tea related outing in Boulder brought me to the Celestial Seasonings Factory for a FREE tour.
Celestial Seasonings is the largest specialty tea company in the United States and has been around since 1969 when the founders foraged for herbal tea ingredients in the nearby mountains. These days, ingredients are sourced from all over the world, but the company has tried to keep its original sprit intact. For instance, from the first days of the company, original pieces of art have been commissioned for each blend they introduce… but I don’t know the story behind the decopage tea dress!
The factory tour starts in the tasting room where you can try samples of several flavors and there are many interesting teapots and original artwork.
The tour then moves to the theater where a short video about the history of the company is shown. The video focused in large part about the fair-trade, sustainable practices that the company has always valued. I learned that the company has maintained long-standing agreements with the farmers they source from. For instance, they have purchased Egyptian chamomile from the same family of farmers for more than 30 years.
After the donning of hairnets, we moved on to the factory where, unfortunately, photographs are prohibited. On their website, you can take a virtual tour which seems to be fairly comprehensive.
Celestial Seasonings is largely an herbal tea/tisane company, so the factory is full of great smelling variety. In addition to ginger from China, there are cloves from Madagascar, lemongrass from Guatemala, hibiscus from China and many others. Since there are so many herbs and otherwise smelly ingredients all over the factory, the tea (Camellia sinensis) is kept separated in a sealed room so it won’t absorb random flavor.
The also have to take precautions in the handling of the mint. Mint is quite odoriferous and therefore they can’t even mill it on the premises because it would be impossible to keep the smell from contaminating all the other ingredients prematurely. The sealed room that the milled mint is kept in is only opened briefly so that tour goers can get a whiff. If the door were kept open, the tour guide informed us, eventually you would be able to smell the mint a mile away.
The Camellia sinensis is split up into black, green and white tea. I knew that white tea comes from the harvesting of young leaves, but on the tour I learned that it can only be harvested for one week a year in the springtime. I also didn’t know that it is called “white” tea because of fine white hairs that cover the small leaves. The tea that comes to Celestial Seasoning comes from all over the world: Guatemala, Argentina, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China. I was pleased to learn that the only method of decaffeination that is used at Celestial Seasonings is carbon dioxide. The procedure is performed by another company in Germany before the leaves come to Colorado to be processed, blended and bagged.
When I visited, green tea was being packaged. Celestial Seasonings only sells bagged tea, and their machinery can turn out a box of tea in about 7 minutes during peak operation. This corresponds to 10 million tea bags in the whole peak season from October to March. The factory is the largest, most highly automated factory of its kind in the world. The majority of the machinery used in the factory was invented specifically for Celestial Seasonings.
In addition to domestic orders, the company also makes international orders, although those are smaller (10 bags to the box) instead of 20 or even 40 here in the United States. In addition to a smaller box size, French packaging also identifies the product as tisane and not “caffeine free herbal tea” like the US packaging. Owing to an early US law, only Camellia sinensis can be sold with the designation “tea” and companies are able to get around that by calling their products “caffeine free herbal tea”.
The tour ends in the tea shop which is filled with all kinds of Celestial Seasonings tea and many teapots that I would have liked to take home with me (especially the kids tea sets!)
I restrained myself… for better or for worse!
Over all it was a very neat experience to go and see the Celestial Seasonings factory. If you find yourself in Boulder, CO with some free time I suggest you check it out.
I hope you can stand the hairnet.
For hours and tour times, please see the Celestial Seasonings website.