Celestial Seasonings, now a worldwide tea company, was founded by Mo Siegel of Boulder. Five years later, the company’s Red Zinger Bicycle Classic first raced through Boulder.
Arguably one of the most recognizable names to come out of Boulder is Mo Siegel and his tea company Celestial Seasonings. When he was a child, Mo picked berries and sold them to neighbors, who used them to make jam. After moving to Boulder in 1969, he put this entrepreneurial spirit to work and started the company at age 19. It grew out of his experience with herbal teas while working at a health food shop in Aspen and his love of hiking and knowledge of local herbs. Mo chose the name Celestial Seasonings after co-founder Lucinda Gates’ nickname in high school – boys called her ‘celestial seasonings’ since they said she looked like she came from heaven.
The first batch of tea was a mix of herbs picked near Boulder Canyon. Mo and the six friends working with him used screen doors to dry the herbs, sold the bales to a local health food store in 1970, and then Mo promptly left to travel South America for the summer. When he came back, he was shocked to discover the blend was wildly popular. In an interview from the Maria Rogers oral history collection at the Carnegie Library for Local History, Mo said he wasn’t surprised that the idea of herbal teas had worked, since it was popular in Europe, only that this “wretched blend” was so well-liked. The following year, Mo’s 24 was the first blend sold under the Celestial Seasonings name, with 16 of the herbs picked in Colorado. The mix was sold in muslin bags that Mo and the small crew who worked with him sewed by hand. The material was dyed a specific shade called “Celestial Red” to help build their brand. In 1972, two of the blends that remain top sellers to this day were released: Red Zinger and Sleepytime. Almost overnight, these teas turned Celestial Seasonings into a household name. Today, it is the largest tea manufacturer in North America, serving 1.6 billion cups of tea worldwide each year.
Even with their success, the company had a rocky journey at times. In 1984, Kraft bought Celestial Seasonings, and Mo retired two years later after overseeing the transition. Lipton was poised to buy the company in 1987, but the merger was stopped after Bigelow challenged the sale under antitrust laws, as Lipton and Celestial Seasonings together made up over 80% of tea sales in the U.S. In 1989, the company was bought back by Celestial Seasonings management with investment from Vestar Capital Partners. Mo returned as CEO in 1991, oversaw the company merge with The Hain Food Group in 2000 to become Hain Celestial Group, and retired again in 2002.
Mo wasn’t just ambitious in tea – after he learned how popular the Tour de France was in Europe, he decided to start a similar bike race in the U.S., and the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic was born. The first race in 1975 had a purse of $10,000, ten times the previous largest prize in the U.S, and attracted seventy of the top bikers. Celestial Seasonings ran the race for five years before selling it since it required too much money and manpower from the company to run it.