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COLORADO Factory tours taunt senses



Published: Sun, January 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Great care is taken to prevent the tea leaves from being contaminated.

By LAURIE M. FISHER

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

BOULDER, Colo. -- Usually the scent of mint is soothing. After all, spearmint and peppermint are key ingredients to Grandma's Tummy Mint, Magic Mint, Sleepytime and Tension Tamer herbal teas.

But when tons of leaves are sealed in a two-story storage room, the scent is searing. One step beyond the door clears sinus cavities. Taking two more steps inside drains your tear ducts.

Visitors at the Celestial Seasonings Factory tour should have expected such an intense sensory jolt. An obvious tip-off was when our guide opted not to step in the mint room. She knew scents during remainder of the tour were quite pleasant.

Each year, more than 80,000 people tour the large factory, according to Steve Spencer, guest relations manager. The 45-minute free tour blends tea tasting, artistry and the corporate philosophy of the largest herb tea manufacturer in the United States.

History: Celestial Seasonings has matured since its then 19-year-old founder Mo Siegel gathered wild herbs in the forests and canyons of the Rocky Mountains in 1969. The business was named Celestial Seasonings after the nickname for Lucinda Ziesing, one of the original gatherers of herbs.

According to company literature, a year later Siegel and a friend found a bountiful harvest of herbs growing near Boulder. He recruited more friends to produce 500 pounds of Mo's 36 Herb Tea that was packaged in muslin bags and sold to a local health food store.

Soon entrepreneurs expanded the market to other areas in Colorado, New Mexico and the east coast. Instead of friends picking mountain herbs, businessmen purchased herbs from farmers in the Pacific Northwest and Far East.

Ownership has exchanged hands between food industry giants like Kraft corporation back to independent owners. Celestial Seasonings is now part of the Hain food corporation and makes more than 69 varieties of tea.

Before the tour: Visitors can enjoy more than 50 varieties of tea in the tasting room before the beginning of the tour. A short video explains the company's history and corporate philosophy. Original artwork used on the box packaging is displayed in the waiting area.

Around the factory, inspirational phrases are mounted on walls. My favorite in the entrance way is "The true measure of success in life isn't money, fame or power. It's laugh lines."

All visitors must wear hairnets before entering the processing center that produces 8 million bags of tea per day. Once inside, the smell of hibiscus filled the entrance.

Next to the cleaning and cutting areas, bowls of dried deep pink hibiscus flowers as well as cut herbs showed various stages of the process. Our guide explained how foreign objects (insects and mold) are removed from the herbs.

The herbs are then cut to uniform specifications. Hibiscus gives the best-selling Red Zinger Herb Tea it's deep red hue, our guide explained.

The large variety of herbs is imported from more than 70 countries and stored in two-story-high pallets until the processing begins. Typically the company maintains a 30-day supply of product.

What's next: Since it's inception, Celestial Seasonings has focused on environmental issues. For example, our guide explained eliminating strings and tea tags saves 300,000 tons of paper.

Once the tea is sealed in bleached bags, it is transported via conveyor belt to be boxed and sealed.

At the end of the tour visitors can pick a sample package as a souvenir. The tour ends in the emporium where tea can be purchased at a discount. Nearby, the cafe serves breakfast and lunch including a large selection of vegetarian meals.




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