Earl Grey. English Breakfast. Peppermint. I love tea, almost any tea, and couldn’t wait to get to Boulder for yet another factory tour – this one featuring my favorite hot beverages.
Celestial Seasonings was founded in 1969, specializes in herbal teas (which are NOT actually teas, more on that later) and represents over $100 million in annual tea sales in the US alone.
When we arrived – as early as we could – we checked in for the next tour, received our ticket (a three-pack of Lemon Zinger) and for the next half hour or so, sampled some of the nearly 100 teas the company produces. I was in heaven.
Our tour was called and we made our way to the standard theater for the company video which reviewed the history and touched on the manufacturing process. Then our sweet tour guide handed us hair nets, and we made our way to the factory floor.
Our first stop was ingredient storage and processing. Of course, no water is used in the cleaning as they “don’t want to make tea before the customer makes it”. Celestial uses large sifters to vibrate the tea and shake loose dust and debris. Throughout the rest of the facility, the company uses compressed air or alcohol which quickly evaporates to clean all the machines.
The next stop was the tea room. And here’s where we learn that their specialty is, in fact, an imposter. For a drink to be called tea, it must contain Camellia Sinensis which comes only from the cured leaves of the tea bush. Nowadays, Celestial Seasonings mostly hangs their hat on herbal “teas” that don’t contain tea at all such, but instead use herbs, mints and plants like peppermint, fruits and camomile.
The actual “tea” (which makes up a small portion of their sales) is stored in a room separate from the others as it will often take on other flavors too easily.
If you check out any on-line reviews, the “best stop” on the tour is without question the Mint Room. As you can guess, it’s where the mint – peppermint, spearmint – is stored. When you walk in to this room, your eyes water and nose stings from the menthol floating in the air. It’s uncomfortable, but not unpleasant. We’d been under the weather a bit, but our sinuses cleared up real quick.
From there the tour progressed to the packaging area. Unlike other tea companies, Celestial creates “pillow” tea bags without tags. They estimate that this design saves several million pounds of paper from ending up in landfills.
At the conclusion of the tour, we threw away our hairnet and quickly headed back to the tea tasting lobby. We tried a few more before packing a dozen or so boxes into our shopping cart. We’ve already poured through a few of our boxes already, and we’ll be trying the “cold brew” tea any day now.
If you’re in Boulder you should definitely take the tour, if only for the mint room. More information here.