Saturday, June 1, 2013

6/1/13 Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour

So, it's Denver Comic Con weekend, therefore, naturally, here I am touring the Boulder Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory.

 As it turns out, Bob's friends, George and Carol, are in town for the convention, George being invited as an artist (at Bob' suggestion) and Carol, like me, isn't into the Con scene and looks for other thing to do while George is busy meeting, greeting and drawing for the fans.

Carol is, however, a very big tea fan, and since Boulder is home to one of the best known tea factories in the U.S. that also offers free tours, I suggested we check it out.

The website says they offer a tour every hour, but in fact they do them every fifteen minutes, so we had just a few minutes to try their teas (you each get a "ticket" that is a tea packet but also a little ceramic cup to try the ten or so offerings already brewed, but you can request any of their many flavors if you are willing to wait). 

You have to finish up and leave your cup, though, to start the tour, which is in a little theater set-up and the last place you can take pictures on the tour (which they also don't tell you on the website, grrr.) The artwork they are known for, fantasy paintings that attempt to convey the taste of their different teas, is all over the walls, even in the cavernous parts of the factory.

So, from memory, here's the tour highlights: the film goes over the history of the company, sort of, but they leave out a few things. Yes, pretty much hippie friends in Boulder in the late 60s went out into the mountains to find cool stuff to brew in their hot water, which technically isn't tea as there are no tea leaves in it, but calling it herbal infusions would confuse everyone. They started selling their best finds to local health stores. And if you know Boulder, there would be no better place in the universe for this to work well. Their business took off, and in good hippie fashion, they were doing fair trade and sustainable farming before those were actually terms. All of their products are kosher and all natural and many are certified organic. They skipped over the mid-80s when they sold the company to Kraft, who tried to sell them to Lipton, at which point they challenged the sale and got the company back under original management. 

Then the fun began. We all got to put on blue hairnets and make our way through the factory. We passed by the offices, included the master tester, who tries every blend batch they make, compares it to the master, and lets them know if they need to change anything before getting it bagged and sent out. His qualifications apparently include the ability to pretty much give you the exact address of the hilltop of whatever berry or leaf is included in the blend.

Inside the main area, the aromatics of the place were  fantastic.  They clean the various herbs with air before shredding them down. Then we went inside the tea room, which smelled even better. In the tea room (remember, only some of their products contain tea leaves) we learned about the three types of tea: green, black, and white. All come from the same plant, but green tea is not oxidized in a way that black tea is, and white tea is extremely rare, made from the tiny white flowers that bloom on the tea leaf plants one month out of the year. A place in Germany has the processing plant with the technology that decaffeinates tea leaves by using carbon dioxide, which creates what amounts to a mineral that can be used in highly caffeinated drinks. 

In fact, they pay the company to decaffeinate the leaves, and then also buy the caffeine to add to their Fast Lane tea, which is like their version of a Monster drink. (Monster and Coca Cola also buy this naturally separated caffeine, too.) Its ingredients include black tea, cinnamon, eleuthero, licorice, natural flavors (contains soy lecithin), caffeine, cola and nutmeg. It can only be purchased there in the store or online and isn't available in any other retail location. 

The other tea that caught my attention was our guide's description of the opposite end of the spectrum: the Tension Tamer. Said to be an excellent natural remedy for headaches, it has an ingredient not typically found in, well, any human food that I was aware of. It contains catnip. You know how adults taking Ritalin do so because it hypes them up, whereas it's prescribed to children to calm them down? Apparently catnip stimulates cats and chills out people. It does not contain any tea leaves, but is made up of eleuthero, peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, chamomile, West Indian lemongrass, licorice, catnip, tilia flowers, natural lemon flavor with other natural flavors (contains soy lecithin), hops and Vitamins B6 and B12.

After the tea room, we were led into the peppermint room, which was INTENSE. It was like aromatherapy on steroids. You are breathing in the air and feeling incredibly tingly and relaxed at the same time. I really do not remember a thing she said in here.

Then we headed out on the floor where all the machines do the bagging and boxing and sealing. As she said, they can make about 10 million tea bags a day when the demand in high (between October and March) and those boxes seal up in about 5 seconds, even though it will take you five minutes to get it peeled off at home (for freshness.)

If you take the tour on a weekday, you are actually on the line while the machines are churning out boxes, but on the weekends, everything is pretty quiet. 

On the wall right before we were exiting were big dispensary boxes of hairnets, mustache nets, and beard nets. Sam is poking me saying, "I must have a beard net!" and I'm ignoring her, until the point that I heard her whisper, "Cover me, I'm going in!" and snatched one for herself. My daughter. 

So back out in the Tea Store at his point, Carol handed her camera to a worked who took a picture of the three of us standing in our lovely blue hairnets and Sam wearing her beard net.  

They had a giant Sleepytime Bear (featured in the artwork of their best seller), as well as a million different artistic teapots and cups as well as the dress, hat, shoes, and clutch set made entirely of tea wrappers. 

Carol and Me

So when it was all said and done, I got both of the teas I mentioned above as well as . . . wait for it . . .  a TEA-Rex infuser!

Meanwhile, in Denver...


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