Sleepytime, Red Zinger maker is open for tours Factory: Celestial Seasonings welcomes visitors to its aromatic headquarters in the Colorado Rockies.

June 09, 1996|By Susanne Hopkins | Susanne Hopkins,LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.

I= -- Henry Ward Beecher on a Celestial Seasonings tea box. BOULDER, Colo. -- As the last ember flickers in the fireplace, the big old bear snoozes in his chair, a contented smile on his face.

Sweet dreams? Perhaps, but it's more likely he's just sipped the last drop of a soothing cup of tea -- Sleepytime, maybe.

You don't have to be a detective to figure this out. After all, there's that empty cup and saucer and a fat teapot resting on the table next to his chair. Another telltale clue: We're on a tour of the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, and this small tableau tucked in a corner of the corporate offices is one of our stops.

Pete, our tour guide, does the introductions.

"This is our Sleepytime bear," he says with a grin, pointing to the giant stuffed bear in the chair. No introduction is necessary for most of us -- the lovable old bruin appears in just such a scene on boxes of Sleepytime, the company's most popular herbal tea in its stable of 57 products.

It's a whimsical moment in a fanciful tour. If you're visiting Denver and beer isn't your brew, but a cuppa is your cup of tea, take a 45-minute jaunt north to Boulder and check out Celestial Seasonings.

Known for its boxes with their brightly colored, flight-of-fancy scenes and philosophical quotes, Celestial Seasonings is the nation's premier producer of herbal teas, posting in excess of $60 million in sales annually. Since 1971, it has combined several ingredients -- things such as hibiscus flowers, orange blossoms, chamomile, licorice and spearmint -- into teas with such monikers as Red Zinger, Bengal Spice and Cranberry Cove.

Situated on Sleepytime Drive, in a residential area of Boulder, Celestial Seasonings is a cheery place that opens its factory doors to more than 25,000 visitors a year.

We meet in front of the tea factory's herb garden, where Pete tells us how in 1969, at age 19, Mo Siegel and his buddy Wyck Hay tramped the forests and canyons of the Rocky Mountains, plucking wild herbs and blending them into a tea that they called Mo's 36 Herb Tea and dispensed to health-food stores in handmade muslin bags. This was revolutionary, Pete says, because "you couldn't buy herb teas back then."

By 1972, Siegel and Hay, along with Hay's brother John, had come up with a blend they called Red Zinger and a company name inspired by the high school nickname of Lucinda Zeising, a friend of Mo's, whose boyfriend had dubbed her "Celestial Seasonings." Their stable of teas grew steadily, and soon Celestial Seasonings was vying for grocery store space with Thomas J. Lipton teas. Kraft Foods bought the company in 1984; the employees bought it back in 1988 for $60 million. It's been a publicly held company since 1993 and now sells not only herb teas, but some black teas, a green tea and even throat lozenges. Of the three founders, only Siegel, chief executive officer,

remains with the company.

Pete leads us into the factory (after first handing out hair nets, which everyone except those with hats is required to don) He points out original artwork for the tea boxes as we move down the hall to the milling department. Today, they're milling hibiscus from Thailand (herbs are now imported from around the world.)

We get an up-close-and-personal look at machines that put the tea into the tea bags, pack and wrap the boxes (Tension Tamer is the tea of the day), but the highlight of the tour is the tea rooms.

Pete takes us to an artfully painted black roll-up door -- the black tea room. Boxes stamped with their point of origin -- Kenya, Indonesia, Tanzania, Argentina, China, India -- are stacked nearly to the ceiling and the aroma is strong and pungent.

A few steps away, there is a candy-striped, roll-up door -- the mint room, home of peppermint and spearmint.

We forge ahead -- and nearly fall all over each other trying to get back out as the aroma hits us.

"It's the menthol," Pete explains. "Clears your sinuses."

We exit into the factory's gift emporium. We help ourselves to some tea (they're serving Nutcracker Suite). It's a sweet way to end a tour that suits most of us to a tea.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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