Boulder’s Celestial Seasonings invented the concept of herbal tea, and today it makes an astonishing 105 varieties
“If man has no tea in him,” says an old Japanese proverb, “he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but in the tea-vs.-coffee debate, I fall firmly in the tea camp. Preferably herbal. And that led me directly to the Boulder door of Celestial Seasonings, which sells more than 105 varieties of tea (in categories including herbal, green, chai, rooibos and wellness), serving more than 1.6 billion cups of the stuff a year.
Celestial actually invented the American concept of herbal tea. “Before Celestial Seasonings, herbal tea essentially did not exist in the United States,” says Tim Collins, vice president of marketing for the company, which employs 250 people in Boulder. “We created the category and even the name ‘herbal tea.’ Before that, it was called a tisane, or an infusion.” Celestial sources its ingredients from more than 35 countries, whether it’s cinnamon from northern Vietnam, mint from the Pacific Northwest or holy basil from India. (More than half of its teas are non-GMO-verified, and the company is working to get the entire portfolio verified.)
Every year, more than 250,000 fans of Celestial’s teas—from Candy Cane Lane to Country Peach Passion to Fireside Vanilla Spice—make the pilgrimage to the company’s headquarters for tours to see how the tea is made (and get a heady whiff of the “peppermint room”). And if anyone is waxing nostalgic about a bygone flavor, take heart: Celestial regularly brings back classics including Emperor’s Choice (a great ginseng flavor) and Almond Sunset. The latter is the No. 1 requested tea from the company’s customer service line; folks remember it from when they were kids— 30 years ago. We asked Collins to explain a few of Celestial’s secrets.
How it all began
“Mo Siegel foraged for herbs in the Rocky Mountains, bundled them up and sold them in local co-ops in Boulder. The first blend was Mo’s 36, named for its 36 different botanicals. He came up with the name Celestial Seasonings. Mo still lives in Boulder, sold the business to Kraft in 1984, bought it back a few years later and merged with Hain in 2000. He’s no longer officially affiliated with the business, but he’s still involved.”
The artist’s touch
“One of the things we’re best known for is our artwork on our boxes. It’s this kind of realistic fantasy that consumers love. Mo was always inspired by the creative process; he started the tradition, and artwork has always been central to our brand. In fact, last fall, we launched our first- ever artist-in-residence program in which we provide free studio space on our campus to two local artists, Pam Simach and Virginia Schick.”
“We blend and package all of our teas in Boulder. We also have an outside milling operation, to control quality and flavor. Instead of having botanicals milled overseas, and then getting on a boat and arriving here six to eight weeks later, we mill the herbs here to keep the flavors intact.”
Are you getting sleepy?
“Sleepytime, whose primary ingredients are chamomile, lemongrass, mint and tilia, has been the No. 1 specialty tea in the U.S. since its launch in the early ’70s. And the artwork on that box has not changed in 40 years; the original painting hangs in our tour center. Our next two most popular flavors are straight chamomile and peppermint.”
Those crazy tea names
“We have a great team of creative folks who really know what it means to be celestial—there’s a lightheartedness and a warmth to the brand— and they have a lot of fun coming up with tea names. Those are some of the most fun meetings we have here, naming and looking at different artwork as we get ready to launch a new tea. We just launched Lemon Lavender Lane, and it just sounds like a delightful place to be, right?”
The man with perfect taste
“Charlie Baden is our chief blendmaster, and he just celebrated his 43rd anniversary at Celestial Seasonings. He has an amazing palate. He tastes every incoming lot of botanicals to validate for quality and taste consistency, and then he designs every single blend based on what he has tasted that day. So if the chamomile has a little green apple to it, he knows to dial up the lemongrass on the Sleepytime blend. That’s how we deliver consistency from cup to cup.”
4600 Sleepytime Drive
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.