We love factory tours! Once we arrived at St. Vrain’s State Park, it didn’t take long for us to realize that the #1 tourist attraction in nearby Boulder, CO was a free tour offered at the Celestial Seasonings headquarters. This facility was not only the home to the company’s one and only production factory worldwide, but it also housed a gift shop and a cafe which serves breakfast and lunch.
So on the morning of October 3rd, the hunt was on for a good breakfast on the way to the Celestial Seasonings facility. Lucile’s Creole Cafe in Longmont with its many signature Creole dishes provided just the enticement we needed. Set in a small pale yellow Victorian house, the restaurant was decorated on the inside with Mardi Gras beads, alligators, masks and Creole posters creating an ambiance reminiscent of our past visits to New Orleans and surrounding Creole areas. They even serve Beignets here! We didn’t indulge but we couldn’t help ogling some that were being consumed by a couple at the next table. Looked yummy!
A Pain Perdu ($11.25, New Orleans style french toast, served with fresh fruit, one egg, hot Louisiana sausage and buttery syrup) was Rob’s choice. When I couldn’t make up my mind, our waiter suggested a Bennifer ($12.60) a dish that wasn’t on the menu – it was a combo of Eggs Jennifer (Thomas’ english muffin, spinach, tomato, avocado, poached eggs and hollandaise) and Eggs Benedict, served with grits and potatoes. Overall, a little pricey for breakfast but the quality and presentation were top notch. The ambiance, food and service were well above the norm!
With full tummies, before heading to Celestial Seasonings, we stopped at the Cheese Importers and Bistro in Longmont. What a neat store! Not just cheeses but European housewares, linens, unique childrens items, perfumes, and soaps. Plus an authentic French cafe “Bistrot des Artistes” which serves a few breakfast items, sandwiches and paninis, soups, etc. Looked like an interesting place! Good thing we had already eaten – our credit cards managed to stay in the dark recesses of our wallets!
A few wrong turns and lack of signage at Celestial Seasonings took us to their cafe instead of the tour entrance but luckily we still just made the next tour. Given every hour on the hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (MST), this 45 minute tour took us inside the factory where we would learn about how tea is produced, covering every step from the raw ingredients to the finished product. Unfortunately no photos are allowed on the tour.
The tour started off with a short video which highlights the history of Celestial Seasonings and provides a briefing on safety and the protocol required inside. Founded In 1969 by Mo Siegel, the first tea was made from handpicked wild herbs from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Eventually he would sell his herb tea to health food stores in hand-sewn muslin bags. In 1969 10,000 cloth bags of bulk herbal tea made from plants hand-picked in the Rocky Mountains were sold in natural foods stores in Boulder.
Today, Celestial Seasonings, which has 250 employees, serves more than 1.6 billion cups of tea a year (about 4.5 million boxes every year) and offers over 70 varieties of tea including green tea, chai tea, rooibos tea, wellness tea and Cool Brew iced tea. The ingredients, over 100 of them, are sourced from over 35 countries.Some of these suppliers have been part of the Celestial family for more than 30 years. Although the ingredients come from all over the world, all the teas are blended in Boulder.
After the video, our tour guide apologetically handed out lovely blue hairnets. Anyone sporting anything more advanced than a five o’clock shadow (Rob qualified) was issued a beard net as well. Once we had all turned into fashionistas (NOT), she escorted us into the factory. Wow, just smelling the aroma made the tour worthwhile! Once inside, we walked through a large area where huge bales of the raw materials were stacked, each labeled with the country of origin and the name of the herb, spice or botanical. A large, colorful world map showed where the tea is grown. Our tour guide explained that they rigorously test their raw materials to make sure that they meet their high standards, then they are cleaned, milled and blended. Their Senior Blendmaster, Charlie Baden, tastes every batch of tea before it leaves Boulder. Since he’s been with the company for over 30 years, that’s a lot of tea!
Continuing on, she warned us that next we would be entering a sealed room, the sinus-clearing mint room, a warehouse space behind a heavy garage door stacked with 45-pound bales of dried mint. Yikes! It was so overwhelming that some people had to leave the room and wait outside because it was so strong. She explained that the mint has to be kept in a closed area, otherwise the smell would infiltrate all the other teas. It’s even milled off-site to prevent the oils from contaminating the milling equipment and giving every tea a minty aftertaste.
We continued through the rest of the production lines where the teas were blended, packaged, sealed, labeled and made ready for shipping, here are some of the interesting facts we learned:
- The company’s top-selling varieties – Sleepytime, Chamomile and Peppermint – aren’t technically teas, but naturally caffeine-free blends of herbs, spices, fruits and botanicals.
- Sleepytime — a blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, tilia and other herbs — was Celestial Seasonings’ third blended infusion. It’s the best-selling tea the company has ever made, with more than 2 billion teabags sold.
- The tea plant, Camellia Sinensis is a white-flowered evergreen bush native to China and India.
- All tea comes from Camellia Sinensis. The primary sub-varieties are black tea, green tea, and white tea.
- Whether these tea leaves end up green or black depends on how they are processed or how they are ‘finished’ after being picked. Black tea leaves are allowed to oxidize which causes the leaves to darken and bring out a full-bodied flavor. Green tea leaves are steamed immediately after they’re picked so the leaves don’t oxidize (which is why green tea is more mild in flavor). White tea comes from only the first few tender leaves and new buds and it has the most delicate (slightly sweet) flavor.
- Herbal teas (unless they’re blended with tea leaves), are not actual tea. Herbal tea contains no Camellia sinensis leaves; rather, it is made from many plants, using not just the leaves, but also the flowers, roots, bark and seeds. These brews typically contain flavorful, beneficial ingredients like chamomile, lemongrass and mint, and naturally contain no caffeine at all.
- Celestial Seasonings was the first to bring green tea to the mainstream US market in 1995. They began mixing it with white tea in order to make a smoother tasting green tea.
- Independent artists & illustrators are commissioned to create all of the artwork for the tea boxes.
- It takes approximately 5 minutes from start to finish to make one teabag
- The factory processes and packs roughly 10 million tea bags per day
- Celestial biodegradable and compostable tea bags don’t have strings, tags or individual wrappers which saves 3.5 million pounds of waste from entering landfills each year.
- Although the ingredients come from all over the world, all the teas are blended in Boulder.
After the tour was over, we were led back to the reception area where we were given a small cup so we could sample any tea we wished. Never knew there were so many varieties! While sampling, we enjoyed looking at all the displays of teapots and the art work adorning the walls.
Once we had our fill of tea, we headed over to the gift shop where in addition to boxes of every variety they make, there were all sorts of tea paraphernalia available for sale.
We had never seen some of the varieties that we sampled and liked, so of course we didn’t make it out of there without spending money. Our cupboards are now chock full of boxes of tea!
We even bought a box of Tension Tamer which has catnip as one of its ingredients, thinking maybe Sparky would like it (HA). But, nope, guess he just likes to play with the stuff and not drink it! That’s okay, all the more for us!