Mo Siegel Was Blending Red Zinger When He Knew Celestial Seasonings Was His Cup of Tea
A Celestial Seasonings herb tea is meant to be more than just a hot drink. It is “religion, science, philosophy and humor” sifted through a teabag, claims Mo Siegel, Celestial’s founder, quality control expert and co-president.
Siegel’s forays into the mountains around Boulder, Colo. have yielded many of the herbs for blends like Red Zinger (Celestial’s biggest seller), Morning Thunder (packed with “the power of a thousand charging buffaloes”) and Sleepytime. Siegel also helps design the colorful Celestial packages which carry essays on subjects like “Prayer” and “Bicycling” or the aphorisms of Thoreau, Aristotle and Mo Siegel (author of the observation “Gravity has a lot of pull”).
Composing homilies may not be Mo Siegel’s cup of tea, but Celestial is. The 26-year-old college dropout started the company in 1971, and this year its sales will total $4.5 million—a 50 percent increase from 1975. Promoted by adherents like singer John Denver and actress Susan Saint James, who is partial to Mellow Mint and who owns 2½ percent of the company’s stock, Celestial has become the best-selling herb tea line in the country.
The boyish Siegel and co-president John Hay, 31, who handles the financial end, ascribe their success to a lofty source—”the Heavenly Father.” Siegel, son of a Jewish father, was raised in a Catholic boarding school after finding it hard to concentrate in public school. “I strongly identify with Jesus,” he says. “I’m a Christian, and I try to live like one each day.”
Since his childhood on a 13-acre ranch near Palmer Lake, Colo., Mo has been fascinated by plants. “I was always outside picking all kinds of fruit,” he recalls. After bouncing around in the late ’60s, Siegel and wife-to-be Peggy settled in a mountaintop cabin near Boulder. They began gathering herbs and blending them into teas which they sold to local health food stores. By the fall of ’71 they had a thriving cottage industry going, with Peggy and Hay’s wife, Beth, hand-sewing 10,000 muslin bags to hold the blends. That year receipts came to $15,000. In 1972 Mo concocted Red Zinger, a mixture of hibiscus, rose hips, lemon grass, wild cherry bark and orange peel. “From the first day I started to work on that blend,” he recalls, “I knew what the name would be and I believed we’d be successful.”
Celestial now has five plants in the Boulder area plus one in San Francisco and has succumbed to automation. To keep working conditions “heavenly,” the company offers volleyball breaks (it also recently sponsored the $27,000 Red Zinger Classic bicycle race) and low-cost organic lunches. Wages for the 140 employees average $4 to $4.50 an hour. Says Siegel, “Everyone is happy.”
Mo, Peggy, 27, and their three children—Gabriel, 5, Sarah, 2, and Megan, 1—occupy a $50,000 Victorian home in Boulder. Mo bicycles, skis, plays basketball and has embarked on a self-education program which includes speed reading. “My goal is to read TIME, Newsweek and U.S. News cover to cover in 60 minutes.” He is also listening to Success Motivation Institute tapes on how to use his time better. Siegel works a 10-hour day but insists his family comes before his career. “I’d like my epitaph to read,” he says, ” ‘Mo Siegel was a good father.’ ”