22 February 2009

The Tea-Tree Connection

It's cold, wet and gray here today, but there's an upside: I can drink an endless amount of tea and spend the afternoon reading between cups without feeling obligated to do anything more active.

And what better to read than an interview with Charlie Baden, blendmaster for Celestial Seasonings tea?

The first tea I ever tried- probably around age 10- was some variety of Celestial Seasonings. My mother was addicted to it; I grew up thinking Red Zinger was an exotic type of fruit and Morning Thunder was a tea you could order in any restaurant.

I always choose loose tea over bagged now, but when I go home to visit, I do find Celestial Seasonings teas consistently fresh tasting (which is difficult to say about almost any other mass-market bagged tea). The company also has a fascinating history, transforming itself from a small company (which sold wild herb blends gathered by hand in Colorado's Rocky Mountains in the late 1960s), to a worldwide recognized tea brand today- all decades before anyone was slapping "artisanal" and "locavore" labels on their food products.

And talking with Charlie really makes me wish I could introduce myself as a blendmaster at parties.

Tea Spot: How long have you been Celestial Seasonings' blendmaster?

Charlie Baden: I began my career with Celestial Seasonings in the summer of 1975. Working in production I developed an interest for the art of tea blending and was promoted to the position of blendmaster in 1984.

How did you first get involved with the company? Did you have a prior background in tea or horticulture?

Honestly, I was just looking for a job. Fortunately the opportunity arose at this start-up herbal tea company named Celestial Seasonings. [As it was] the 1970s, I saw it as a product with high potential [and] a career worth looking into. I had no prior background in tea but grew up in an agricultural environment, on a Maryland farm growing commodities such as soybeans and tobacco.

What was the first tea you ever tasted? Did you like it initially?

First tea? That would be Red Rose tea, freshly brewed, loaded with sugar and poured over ice. Really couldn’t taste the tea, just the high sweetness level from the sugar. It was refreshing on a hot, muggy, summer day. Just an interesting tea fact – 80% of the commodity black sold in the USA is consumed iced.

I know it's nearly impossible to narrow it down, but if you could only have one tea, which would it be?

Although I truly enjoy a high-quality jasmine pearls green tea or silver needles white tea, my everyday enjoyment comes from Celestial Seasonings English breakfast. I drink six to eight cups a day to keep me energized and loaded up with antioxidants for increased health benefits.

Not surprisingly, considering Celestial Seasonings' eco-conscious origins, the company has launched a new campaign to promote planting trees worldwide. Do you believe it will reach the one-million-trees goal?

We feel confident the program will be a success. The program began in January and we are already halfway to our goal! We are providing our tea drinkers with two simple and fun ways to plant trees and take part in this important cause: They can simply purchase a box of their favorite Celestial Seasonings tea or visit our site to plant a virtual tree now through March 31. We know our tea drinkers will get behind this important effort to help us plant more than one million trees ... in developing countries throughout the world. [Our partner] Trees for the Future has assisted thousands of villages in Asia, Africa and Latin America by planting more than 70 million trees so far- restoring sustainability and productivity to over 25,000 acres of land that had previously been degraded and abandoned.

That's something we can all drink to.

And it makes me feel better about how many cups I've had so far today. If Charlie's on eight a day, a couple more this afternoon can't hurt me.


Cha sen said...

I discovered the Bengal Spice tea from Celestial Seasonings several years ago, which was and is still often served at friends' home . They would often have it along with their scrumptious desserts. Another good pairing with sweets, I find.

Camille said...

I've had Celestial Seasonings in my house for as long as I've been married. We make it hot, cold, every which way. I'm so glad it is such an eco friendly company. One day I might take the leap brew a proper cup of tea made from loose leaves. I get more confident each time I read your blog.

Gata said...

Wonderful interview- what childhood would have been complete without the Sleepytime Bears? I don't remember Celestial Seasonings having a wide variety of black or green teas until the 90's (I do remember Morning Thunder, though.)

Anonymous said...

Great interview--know it's not green clean, but I miss the little celestial seasonings bag tags w/the pithy sayings on them -- opps did I just date myself?

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