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<i>Celestial Seasonings</i> Makes Hot, Aromatic Brews - 2002-08-24


Time to go to bed. Would you like a cup of chamomile, or perhaps Sleepytime tea? It's morning and you need something to wake you up: coffee or strong black tea… or perhaps a cup of Morning Thunder tea. A Boulder-Colorado company called Celestial Seasonings is attracting a growing number of health conscious Americans with its innovative blends of teas, herbs and other ingredients that make hot, aromatic brews.

The tour of the Celestial Seasonings plant starts with an introductory film and ends with tea tasting. Visitors can also see where some of their favorite teas are blended, packed, labeled and loaded on distribution trucks. "This is just where we store mint," said Steve Spencer. "It makes your eyes water, it clears your sinuses, it's hard to stay here for longer than a few seconds, really.

Steve Spencer is guest-relations manager at Celestial Seasonings. He says peppermint has to be stored separately from other herbs so they don't absorb its strong flavor. The company buys teas, herbs, spices and other ingredients for its blends from many parts of the world. The incoming herbs go through a milling room where they are sifted, cleaned and cut, if necessary. "Right now they are milling green tea from China and here you can see this bowl has whole green tea leaves in it uncut and you could conceivably put these in a tea strainer and make tea," he said. "But we only sell tea bags, so we mill it down to tea-bag-particle size and that's what you see here."

The plant produces nine million tea bags a day. 33 years ago, a health conscious Boulder native Mo Siegel, began blending dried berries and mountain herbs that he picked up during his Rocky Mountain hikes. He sold them to local health food stores in little bags labeled Mo's 36 Herbal Tea. The success of his first endeavor encouraged Mr. Siegel to start his own business with a few friends. Steve Spencer was one of them. "We started off in a barn virtually - back in 1969 and we were in some rented warehouses in Boulder for a number of years," said Steve Spencer. "In 1990 we built this new facility and now all the tea we produce comes from this one building. This is really a dream come true."

Mr. Spencer says the name Celestial Seasonings was the nickname of Mo Siegel's friend, Lucinda Ziesing. "One of their friends was a practical joker and he gave her the name Celestial Seasonings because he said she had a celestial body," he said. "When Mo heard that name he said - that's it! That's the name of the company I want to start."

Sleepytime, Red Zinger and Chamomile were among the first products developed by the new company. When Kraft Food bought it in 1984, these and many other Celestial Seasonings teas appeared in large grocery stores reaching a huge market and gaining international fame.

Four years later Mo Siegel bought back his company and in 2000 merged it with the Hain Food group.

Sleepytime tea is still the company's most popular product, although there are more than a hundred today, ranging from real teas green, black or oolong - to herbal teas to fruit or flower-flavored blends and to so-called wellness teas.

Easley: "Right now we are mixing a tea blend and tasting the tea as well as some of the individual ingredients that are in the tea to see where most of the flavor is coming from, in the main tea.

Hammon: "We probably taste 25 different things a day because we taste raw ingredients as well as the finished blends."

Susan Easley and Liz Hammon are two nutritionists working in the lab, which is slightly bigger than an average American kitchen. Before a product goes on the market, customers are often asked to taste it too. Scott Graham, the director of tea product development, says Celestial Seasonings closely watches the market. "We've done Orange Tangerine Zinger, he said. "We stopped a product called Orange Mango Zinger and tangerine is more of a popular flavor right now. Coming out with that [new flavor] we did do extensive consumer studies, talked to our consumers. They told us they would love a tangerine type of product."

Steve Spencer says the design of the tea boxes is very important. The company's art department builds a theme around each tea. Independent artists are hired to create a painting for each tea - a sleeping bear for the Sleepytime tea, a running bison for Morning Thunder, a Chinese girl for Mandarin Orange Spice "There is a format: it's a rectangular box brightly colored with an oval (frame) in the middle and that oval always has a piece of artwork in it. So we fit (the prints of) our paintings in those ovals. If you look at our boxes, there are quotes from Mark Twain and poets and politicians, you know - Lincoln."

Tea is the world's second most common beverage, after water. In the United States, it still trails behind coffee. But the consumption of tea is growing, including specialty teas such as those produced by "Celestial Seasonings" in Boulder, Colorado.

Celestial Seasonings buys its ingredients directly from farmers in the United States and many other countries, including China (hibiscus flowers, star anise, ginger, Chinese blackberries, Lo Han Quo, ginseng), Egypt, Mexico and Argentina (chamomile), Chile (rosehips, tilia), Guatemala (lemon grass), Vietnam and Indonesia (cassia), Eastern Europe (hawthorn berries), Morocco (rosebuds). Most of its peppermint now comes from Oregon and Washington states (and less from Egypt which was its main supplier in the past).

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