While it’s true that the University of Colorado dominates this collegiate town, Boulder also offers two industrial tours that are free to the public: Celestial Seasonings, famous for their teas, and Leanin’ Tree, one of the leading greeting card manufacturers in the United States. You can also tour, at no cost, the National Center for Atmospheric Rsearch, a great place to learn about all aspects of climate and weather.
Celestial Tea started in 1969 when a group of young entrepreneurs founded the company because they believed their all-natural herbal teas could help people lead healthier lives. They harvested their fresh herbs from the Rocky Mountains by hand and then dried, blended, and packaged them in hand-sewn muslin bags to be sold at local health food stores. You can see the machine they used for sewing these bags in 1969 near the tasting bar, in the room where their tour departs.
The first tea they made was Sleepytime with the second being Red Zinger. The most popular teas currently are Sleepytime, then Chamomile, and third Peppermint. All of these are herbals and naturally caffeine free as is Red Zinger.
In 1970, Celestial Seasonings built their first production packing facility, a barn in Boulder. They built their current home in 1990, and in 2000, merged with the Hain Food Group to become THC Group.
Today, Celestial Seasonings is one of the largest specialty tea manufacturers in North America. They obtain more than 100 different ingredients from over 35 countries to create their various teas. They have had some of the same farmers from the beginning. The size of their company enables them to provide more than 1.6 billion cups of tea every year.
Their free tour takes 45 minutes. It starts with a 15-minute video followed by a 30-minute walking tour through the factory. Production is Monday through Friday, with tours offered seven days a week.
You can shop their Tea Shop featuring teas and gifts, plus foods, beverages, and personal care products featuring natural ingredients. You can also sample hot or cold teas at their tasting area where snacks like biscotti are available for purchase; or if you prefer, you can buy breakfast or lunch at their Celestial Café.
They do have a few rules. No youngsters under age five are allowed to go on the factory portion of the tour. Anyone under age fifteen must be accompanied by an adult. Hairnets and beard nets, which they supply, are mandatory. No photography is allowed inside the plant.
The process consists of milling, blending, and packaging.
After spices and tea are brought to the plant, they are milled in a three step process: cleaning, cutting, and sifting. They buy whole herbs from farmers who ship directly to them. When needed, they mill only one herb at a time, which ensures freshness. Employees cut the product using a cross rotating blade for the best aroma and flavor. Sifting comprises what goes into the tea bag. They use a 20-layer screen which runs from coarse to fine. The bottom screen collects what they have sifted. Then they mix together their tea blends. All are blended for consistency, quality, and flavor.
After the tea is blended, it goes to the blend master who tastes all batches of tea. The blend master is able to identify all ingredients down to the region of the world they come from. All ingredients are natural including organic green and black tea.
The tour then visits the Tea Room where the various tea leaves are isolated since they are very absorbent. Here you learn about the different types of tea. Green, black, and white tea all come from one plant (Camellia sinensis). It’s a white flowered evergreen bush native to China and India.
Black tea comes from the two top leaves. It’s crushed and oxidized before being dried. It is a little richer but also slightly more bitter. Green tea also comes from the two top leaves. But it is steamed right away, then dried. White tea is harvested for only one week in the spring, and consists of baby buds and leaves that are picked and dried. White tea smooths out the bitterness. Celestial Seasonings has discontinued it. Caffeine levels are highest for black and least for white.
A German firm decaffeinates their tea. This is done by taking out the carbon dioxide. It liquefies like a fog. They then crystallize the caffeine to remove it.
Herbal teas are not tea but herbal infusions. They are made from plant parts such as spices, fruits, flowers, roots, etc. They are caffeine free with each having its own flavor. Examples are Tangy Hibiscus, Blackberry Leaves, and Citrusy Rosehips.
Our next stop was the Mint Room, located behind heavy closed doors, since mint is very aromatic. We learned that menthol is a naturally occurring alcohol in the mint leaf. The company uses three types of mint: peppermint, spearmint, and catnip. These are all grown on farms in Oregon and Washington and pre-milled there.
You’ll next see the Robotic Palletizer which is actually the end of the packaging line. Computer controlled, it uses vacuum suction and suction cups to lift the cases to form pallets of tea. It lifts 10-14 cases at one time.
The tour ends by going through the packaging process. It starts at the double package makers where boxes are formed. The empty boxes now move to Tea Bagging where the tea bags are made. Six hoppers of tea, located on the mezzanine, feed the tea on to the tea bag paper. Then tea bags are formed and placed inside the box. Filled boxes move to the Straight Line Closer where the boxes are closed. They continue to Overwrap where plastic wrap is placed around the box. In Case Packing, six boxes of tea find a home in one box. These cases end up at the Robotic Palletizer. The entire process takes about five minutes per box. The factory can produce up to 500,000 boxes a day. It runs five, sometimes six days, 24 hours a day.
Celestial also has an international packaging line. This smaller line produces the international ten count box. It’s printed in eight different languages and goes to more than 35 countries. Canada, their largest importer, purchases 50% of Celestial Seasoning’s international tea.
I learned at the sampling bar area that once the tea flavor is determined, the company plans an artistic direction and personality for its package. They hire nationally known artists to carry out their vision and have their writers produce essays and quotes for each box that complement each tea’s personality.
Tours depart hourly. They run Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The plant is located at 4600 Sleepytime Drive in Boulder and their phone number is (303) 581-1202. Reservations are not required for groups less than eight.
LEANIN’ TREE - THE ART MUSEUM
Leaning’ Tree offers a tour and a must see art gallery. Both are free to the public. The Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art is the private collection of Edward P. Trumble, one of the two original owners of this well known, greeting card company. It’s an array of post-1950 western art which he assembled over a 40-year period. Subjects include cowboys, Native Americans, desert and mountain landscapes, wildlife, and scenes of pioneers, trappers, and everyday ranch life.
Trumble started it as a small, public art exhibit area in 1974, as part of his new company plant location in Boulder. He spent his time traveling around the West searching for new paintings to use for his greeting cards. While becoming acquainted with almost every western artist of the day, he developed a passion for collecting their work.
Now it encompasses over 250 paintings and 150 bronze sculptures, including a number of these outdoors in the sculpture garden in front of the Leanin’ Tree factory. These represent over 100 artists. Each painting has an explanation of either the piece, the artist, or both next to it.
It’s open daily except holidays. Hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Photography, without flash, is allowed in the museum and with or without flash in the sculpture garden.
LEANIN’ TREE - THE COMPANY AND TOUR
The company’s roots developed when Ed Trumble met Bob Lorenz in 1949. They both worked for Western Livestock Magazine. Ed was in sales and Bob did free lance art. Lorenz designed four Christmas cards and Trumble marketed them through a small mail order advertisement in the magazine’s October issue. That was their payment for Lorenz doing the October cover for the magazine. The ad resulted in $5200 in sales the first season.
It started a partnership called “The Lazy R L Ranch” which lasted for 15 years until Lorenz died of cancer. After his partner’s death in 1964, Trumble renamed his firm Leanin’ Tree. From 1949 to 1952, the firm operated in Fort Collins then moved to Boulder. In 1974, it transferred to its current location.
At age 90, Ed is still Chairman of the Board, but has turned management of this family-owned operation over to his four children. The company has 200 regular employees; but between May and August, hires 70 additional people when they are filling Christmas card orders.
Today, the company offers more than 3,000 unique greeting cards in multiple themes for everyday occasions and major holidays. Their Boulder plant ships over 30 million greeting cards a year, a maximum of 160,000 cards a day. Cards are sold on line and in 30,000 retail outlets.
Similar to Celestial Seasonings, you start your tour with a fifteen minute video. Then you’ll take a thirty minute, half mile walk to see how they turn a piece of recycled paper into a finished card. You start first at the two press stations - one for cards and one for envelopes. Located in the back, the paper for the cards go through the presses at six stations where each overlays a specific color until the final image is achieved. Four of the stations are for magenta, yellow, black, and cyan with the remaining two for special colors such as gold and silver. Think of them like rubber stamps.
The pressman takes the paper right off the press. Two thousand sheets are printed at one time. Every minute, they print 150 sheets or over two sheets a second. They are then sent to the Machine Cutter which stacks and cuts the paper. The company wants to fully mechanize the entire process.
The next step is the machine that automatically folds and batches six cards together. Then the cards are put in plastic and sent to the warehouse.
Leanin’ Tree allows the public to choose a card and upload a message or even a photo. They also do invitations and announcements with no minimum order. They can personalize any amount of an order such as one’s or two’s. This is done in the hand assembly section. That’s also where they handle the assortment packs of 20 or 8 cards and envelopes for them.
According to our tour guide, envelopes are the unsung heroes of greeting cards. We viewed the paper cutter for the envelopes. The scraps for both cards and envelopes are recycled. The two envelope converter machines, which form the envelopes, are very fast. They can turn out 250,000 envelopes maximum in an eight hour shift. After this machine, envelopes are put in cardboard cases.
Another aspect of this company is card embellishment. This makes the cards fancier. It involves fine cutting, stamping or embossing of words and borders, and adding foils. The embellishment area is not computerized.
The company also makes magnets. They go from the press to the cutter to the die cutter to make them smaller. Seventy thousand magnets are made a month. Individual mugs, cards, and magnets are among the items this company ships.
Shipping, called order fulfillment, is a good-sized part of their operation and has several zones. Before shipping, cards are collated then put in cardboard boxes. Every box has a number, bar code, and name for inventory purposes. Employees are given the order ticket from retail stores and individuals, then collect the separate items they require to complete the order in their area. Then the order is sent to the next zone. In the last zone, they inspect the boxes, add packing materials, and label the boxes.
They have automated box machines which assemble and tape the boxes. These box machines also look for the label on the package. If the box has a label on its top, it’s sent UPS; if on its side, the box travels to the other line to be sent Fedex or United States Postal Service. Most of the shipping is by UPS. Orders are shipped within 24 hours with a maximum of 48 hours. Our guide informed us that Leanin’ Tree is known for on time, accurate, and complete deliveries.
The company has an extensive gift shop. At the end of the tour, they allow each visitor to select a free card. They also discount their greeting cards twenty percent at this location.
Free tours of the plant started August 18, 2014. They’re given at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on a first come, first serve basis. They last 45 minutes and are restricted to those older than age five. Those under age 15 must be accompanied by an adult. No photography allowed. You’ll find Leanin’ Tree at 6055 Longbow Drive in Boulder. The phone number is (303) 530-1442.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH
NCAR’s Mesa Laboratory is a scientific research laboratory sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Their visitor center is an incredible way to learn about climate and the atmosphere and how it affects our lives. Besides its 10-minute video about their research in their theater, its two stories and mezzanines are loaded with interactive exhibits that are educational and entertaining. You can take a free guided tour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon; borrow their tablet at the front desk for additional information as you tour exhibits; or take a self guided tour.
On the first floor, it covers all aspects of weather. Some of the interesting things you can do are to touch a cloud, steer a hurricane, make a lightning bolt, or watch a video on making a tornado. The same floor has the theater and two art galleries. Their Climate Discovery exhibit is on the second floor. This talks about climates during prehistoric earth, though current times, and what the future may hold. Sun Earth Connections are on the upper mezzanine. Sunspots can disrupt GPS, radio signals, and airline communications.
They also have a display on SuperComputers. Weather climate models that run on these SuperComputers allow scientists to research the earth system. In this area, you will also find visualizations and a timeline of computer use during NCAR’s history which spans more than 50 years.
Even the building’s architecture is interesting. A trip to Colorado’s Mesa Verde inspired I. M. Pei, the architect, to use native building materials to reflect the natural setting. Stone quarried in nearby Lyons, Colorado was used exclusively to construct Mesa Laboratory (the NCAR building). The center’s elemental forms, kiva staircase, and window designs (that are irregularly placed and shaped keyholes) owe their origins to Mesa Verde. The building was completed in 1966 and dedicated in 1967. They have a display on this as well.
NCAR’s outdoor Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail runs in a .4 mile loop with an elevation of 75 feet. It has signboards along it describing such phenomena as wind, cold fronts, sunshine and UV light, and climate zones. These also cover snow, flooding and erosion, fire and drought, and plant life and climate. It was inspired by a similar trail at the Swiss Meteorological Institute in Gstaad and is believed to be the only interpretative trail in North America devoted to weather and climate. It’s accessed from the path on the north side of the Mesa Laboratory and from the second floor bridge inside the building.
Exhibits are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Visitor Center staff are only onsite during weekday business hours. It’s located at 1850 Table Mesa Drive and their telephone number is (303) 497-1174.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Celestial Seasoning tea boxes sent to Canada have printing in English and French.
Celestial Seasonings Tea Shop
Celestial Seasonings Sewing Machine in Tasting Bar
Celestial Seasonings Sample Tasting Bar
The National Center for Atmospheric Research
The National Center for Atmospheric Research - Visitor Center Weather Exhibit
"Tranquility" by Carol Cunningham at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
"Alpha Prey" by Larry Fanning at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
Four Original Christmas Cards at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
"Overland Stagecoach" by Earle E. Heikka at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
"A Big Bite for Blubbertub" by Jack Roberts at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
"Headed North" by Frank C. McCarthy at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
"The Reading Room" by Lloyd Mitchell at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art
"The Intruder" by Kenneth Bunn at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art's Sculpture Garden
"Checkmate" by Herb Mignery at Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art's Sculpture Garden