It’s fitting that in the foothills of the beautiful Rocky Mountains is the home of the perhaps most well-known herbal tea company in the world, Celestial Seasonings. Remembering Red Zinger and Sleepytime Teas from when I was a kid, I took the free tour of the factory with my husband on a recent visit to Boulder, Colorado.
A video provides history of the company -- started in 1969 by a bunch of young folks (i.e. hippies) who harvested fresh herbs from the Rocky Mountains by hand. They did the whole tea process themselves � drying, blending and packaging the teas in hand-sewn muslin bags which they then sold in local health food stores. The company has come a long way since those founding days and is now owned by The Hain Celestial Group and is the largest specialty tea manufacturer in North America.
The fun begins when you receive your free tour tickets, packets of four tea bags (that we got to keep) in the tour center. Visitors sip free samples of every one of the 92 Celestial teas while enjoying the original artwork that is commissioned for the tea packaging. Celestial Teas may be as well-known for their colorful packaging and philosophical sayings on the tea tags as they are for their flavors of teas.
The 30-minute tour, lead by a well-trained guide, provided us with a glimpse into the current tea production process, a much more complicated process than the original gathering and producing in a barn 40 years ago. Today, the company uses plants and teas from over 35 countries and their tea is sold in over 60 countries. According to Tracie Lesser, spokesperson for Celestial, they make 1.6 billion tea bags a year.
Of course, the production process is interesting and it is great to be able to buy all 92 tea flavors in the tea shop, but perhaps the most fun part is stepping into the “Mint Room.” Hundreds of pounds of mint leaves are stored in sacks in a room sealed from the rest of the factory to prevent the scents polluting the rest of the teas and vice-versa. The guide opened the door, allowing those of us on tour to step inside and breathe in the minty vapors, powerful enough to bring tears to the eyes. “This would be great if you had a cold,” someone said.
After the tour, we wondered back to the center to try yet more samples of teas. It’s tough to choose when you have so many flavors.
On the other side of town, is another version of tea time -- the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. The teahouse was a gift to Boulder by its sister city, Dushanbe, the Capital of Tajikistan. Before you pull out your atlas, Tajikistan is a country that was part of the former Soviet Republic and is located in Central Asia.
The beautiful teahouse was actually constructed by over 40 artisans in Dushanbe between 1987 and 1990, then taken apart and shipped to Boulder. It took over eight years for Boulder to choose what officials felt was the “perfect” spot and then led by Tajik artists, the teahouse was painstakingly reconstructed and opened in 1998.
The teahouse is stunning -- from the outside in. Outside, eight large, colorful ceramic panels grace the building. Literature provided by the teahouse states that the panels were sculpted, cut into smaller tiles, fired, and then shipped to Boulder.
Inside, you don’t know where to look first -- to the hand-carved plaster panels created by artist Kodir Rhakimov; to the carved and hand painted ceiling; or to the fountain of “The Seven Beauties”, seven life-sized hammered copper sculptures surrounding a small fountain. Two tables sit in corners where small groups can sit on a raised platform, cross-legged, and enjoy tea in typical, old-world Persian fashion.
The teahouse building is owned by the city. The restaurant is privately owned and offers an afternoon tea, of course, along with breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the attraction to the teahouse isn’t the food, but rather the beauty, interesting history of the building and the over 100 teas they offer.
I chose their specialty blended Chai tea, sweet, spicy and creamy while my husband chose the ginger peach apricot tea, equally delicious. I had the orange foccacia French toast while my husband chose the more simple eggs and sausage. Both were good, but nothing to write home about. But the tea and surroundings. . .definitely worth writing about.
For more information about tours and Celestial Seasonings visit www.celestialseasonings.com. For more information about The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, including fun facts for making and serving tea, visit www.boulderteahouse.com.