Colorado Tea Tour
Last week I wrote my second installment, preceeded by the first installment in this three part series relating my experiences on a trip to Boulder and Denver back in March of 2010. This is the second of three parts.
There’s something intrinsically wondrous about the Denver and Boulder area in Colorado. The air is clean and clear. The wildlife diverse, and the nature beautiful in so many ways.
There’s another side to this metro area in the mountains though. An extreme diversity of tea and tea companies makes this area one of several real escapes for passionate tea drinkers in the US.
As a self-proclaimed avid tea drinker I have to say I was impressed by my trip.
Sunday started out wonderfully. It only got better from there!
After eating a light breakfast we headed back to Boulder. We had been invited to a gong-fu style tea tasting ceremony at the home of one of the employees over at PekOe. We steeped a simple Bi Lo Chun, and Ti Kuan Yin and a more reserved Mao Feng. During this time (which I unfortunately don’t have photos of – DOH!) I taught the attendees about leaf eating, the process of eating used tea leaves.
Next we bypassed the university, PekOe and lots of other interesting sites in order to take a tour of the Celestial Seasonings plant.
I know a lot of us tea drinkers don’t put much stock in Celestial Seasonings. They’re almost completely lower quality fannings placed in bags with lots of added flavors and herbal stuff. But to be honest, I do like some of their products. Perhaps it’s because their Raspberry Zinger is what I drank growing up. Perhaps it’s because I’m crazy. I don’t know.
But even if you don’t like thier products, visiting their facility if you’re in the area is a quick and easy way to understand the packing, processing and bagging side of the tea industry. The tour is free of charge and definitely worth it!
The first thing they do is brainwash you with a great video on the company’s origins and histroy. It gets kind of old halfway through, but it’s a great way to connect with the company if you do enjoy their stuff. I have not been able to locate this video on their website. It may not be there. If they read this, I recommend putting the video on their site. It’s interesting and link-worthy.
After the video there’s supposed to be something else. But because it was Sunday we went straight to the olfactory test. Here, there were three bowls on the wall where scoops held some of their herbal concoctions. After passing them around we moved on to the primary storage room.
In this room were hundreds of large plastic containiners marked with their contents. BOP this and herbal item that. It was really quite impressive to behold.
Those who’ve taken the tour will recall the tea and mint rooms. A wall a foot thick separates the tea room (housing actual camelia product) from the main warehouse. Make that two feet between it and the mint room next door. And for good reason. Those smells would infect the tea under normal circumstances, and the mint smell is said to be so strong that if they leave the garage door to it open for just fifteen minutes you can smell the mint up to five miles away! It makes most people’s eyes water… but I was hardcore and didn’t weep a bit. 😉
Moving along we got to see the automated side of things. Here in the packing center the tea material is automatically weighed, wrapped into tea bags, sealed in packets and boxed. A robotic arm stacks the boxes on a palette. Presumably to employ people, the palette of boxes needs to be manually moved with a forklift.
Sadly, the assembly line wasn’t running while I was there, so I didn’t get to check out how it actually worked. But, I’m told it pretty neat.
After Celestial Seasonings we headed downtown Boulder to check out the Dushanbe Teahouse donated to Boulder by the people of Tajikistan in exchange for the Internet Cafe we gave them. Not quite a fair trade in my opinion. I think Boulder got the betetr end of the deal.
Left with some time before we could be seated we walked over to the nearby VG Burgers for a vegan smoothie and returned to await our seating assignment. While waiting, we snapped some pictures to pass the time.
Finally time for us to make it inside, we were presented with an extensive menu of teas, a beautiful interior to the building, a semi-knowledgeable staff and some very tasty tea!
I ordered n Imperial Pu’erh and some spicy Udon noodles with tofu. The noodles were pretty good. Just the right amount of spiciness, but a little overcooked and the tofu was extra soft instead of firm – making it difficult to eat properly.
The Pu’erh was of decent quality. It seemed to noticeably lose flavor after only six infusions which surprised me given the flavorful description relayed to me by our server. The flavor came out less mossy and more like compost but the texture was smooth and affable.
My companion ordered the Good Morning Sunshine herbal blend. This blend was light and flavorful. It lasted a good three brews before losing most of its flavor which is about average for an herbal blend.
After Dushanbe we spent some time wandering downtown Boulder. We did some shopping here for a few hours, stopping into bookstores, watching street performers, and grabbing a couple drinks.
As time passed, and sunset grew closer we made our way back to the car and on towards a beautiful mountain lookout spot. I can’t express how beautiful it was, so here’s some photos to illustrate the point.
Once back, we hit a couple bars for good measure, having a couple drinks, chatting about oddities, listening to some local groups perform and having a helluva time.
That’s almost all of my trip in a nutshell. I passed over a few details for expediency including dinner at a Sushi place, a trip to the first hotel in Boulder, a great local bread and sandwich place and more. If it sounds like a busy weekend, you’re right! It was non-stop, action-packed awesomeness in just three days!
I’ll be taking other tea tours later this year in Portland, New York City, San Diego, Chicago and an undecided mystery location! Stay tuned for future tea tours!