Yes, it's true: I've had two free cups of coffee so far in Colorado. Also true: one free cup of tea, along with a tour of the factory that makes it. Celestial Seasonings is a tea company from Boulder--and Boulder only. There is only one Celestial Seasonings tea factory in the world, and there they make enough tea to brew over 1.6 million cups of tea per year.
After several samplings, our eager tour guides showed us the entire production line--from cutting and mixing the herbs to packaging to storage. I learned a lot about tea, like the differences between white, green, and black (part of the plant, how the leaf is processed/not processed), and the fact that "decaffeinated tea" isn't really tea, it's an herbal blend. The storage area smelled of hibiscus, lemongrass, and camomile--it was amazing.
All of their teas/herbal mixtures are taste tested by "Charlie," apparently a real person who has been working their for Celestial Seasonings since the early 70s. He can take one sip of tea and tell you what's in it, where the ingredients are from, and if the tea tastes the same as always. He's the guy who makes sure every batch of tea you buy tastes how it's supposed to and I have no idea what they will do when he dies/retires, although if he is drinking cups and cups of tea every day, maybe they don't have to worry about that for a while.
Next came the mint room. Though my eyes didn't water, the mint was powerful enough to give me fresh breath after a few minutes of breathing it in. They have to store the mint in a separate room, completely sealed off from everything else, or all their teas would taste like toothpaste. I found it therapeutic to breathe deeply and let the tour guides teach me about the tea-making process.
The production line wasn't huge--they only have three lines, and in the slower summer season they weren't even all operating. We weren't allowed to take pictures, in case we were spies from Lipton or Bigelow, but imagine a conveyor belt with tea boxes lined on it. Machines fill the boxes with tea bags, seal them, box them and wrap them in plastic until they are ready for delivery to your local grocery store. If all three lines are running 24-hours (which they do in the high season), Celestial Seasonings can put out 10 million tea bags per day.
We exited through the gift shop, mostly filled with their teas and some kitschy tea accessories. After learning about their process and several of their lesser known varieties, I want to try a few when I get back home. They are most well known for their Sleepytime teas, but they also have a Sleepytime Extra with valerian root, which isn't recommended for kids or pregnant women. We also got a sample of tea to take with us--True Blueberry--which our guide said is good hot or cold...or as a flavoring when making blueberry pancakes. Sounds like I have a new recipe.