season 2 | ep. 5
with Tea Horse
steeping together podcast
- season 2 | Ep. 5
Wild Rice: An Indigenous Tradition
with Tea Horse
april 2022 Length: 1:00:15 see all
Marika de Vienne 0:18
Welcome, everyone to another episode of Steeping Together, the podcast where we explore the vast world of tea over a cup of tea with tea enthusiasts. I'm your tea-obsessed host Marika, and I am as usual completely delighted to be with you all here today. Over the past year here at DAVIDsTEA, our Tea Team have been working very hard on a very special tea. Now we have years of experience in sourcing teas and ingredients from all around the planet, but we wanted to work for the first time with an ingredient we knew very little about: wild rice. This unique and delicate ingredient has a long and proud history within the Indigenous cultures in North America. But outside of those cultures, wild rice is very misunderstood or seldom used to make tea. So in order to get a better understanding of this remotely harvested, little known, absolutely delicious and utterly unique ingredient, we have with us today the proprietors of the tea company, Tea Horse, with whom we have fully partnered to bring the tea Manoomin Maple to life. Welcome Denise and Mark of Tea Horse!
Marc H. Bohémier 1:28
Hi, how you doing?
Denise Atkinson 1:29
Marika de Vienne 1:32
Bonjour! I'm always so happy to talk to anybody, but especially…
Marc H. Bohémier 1:36
She said boozhoo.
Denise Atkinson 1:36
Okay yeah, so boozhoo is “hello” in Ojibwe. Yeah, so B-O-O-Z-H-O-O. So it sounds like bonjour, but it’s boozhoo.
Marika de Vienne 1:49
And the Zoom recording obviously, because, you know, we're recording at a distance–I absolutely, you know, you latch on to what you know, right? And I was like, Oh, she's saying bonjour, because I'm French Canadian. But boozhoo.
Marc H. Bohémier 2:01
When I first heard boozhoo, because I speak you know, "franglais,” I thought they were saying bonjour to me and I said, oh, and I said bonjour back until I realise it’s boozhoo. I got taught by the elder of the elders who passed away some years ago, but he said boozhoo is short for Nanabozho. So Nanabozho is one of the like, shape shifter spirit beings who teaches the people. So boozhoo is short for Nanabozho. His name was Peter or Chiefs and he taught us that like, yeah, so it's actually an abbreviation of, and that means you know the teachings of Nanabozho.
Marika de Vienne 2:43
We are in minute one and a half of this episode and I have already learned something completely new! I could not be more happy to be with you two today!! This is amazing. Usually it's just like, hi, hi, how are you? And you've already like, taught me a new word. This is gonna be so much fun. Thank you so much for joining us here today! Um, would you care to introduce yourselves the way you'd like to be introduced?
Denise Atkinson 3:12
Boozhoo! My name is Denise Atkinson. I'm Anishinaabe Kwe from the Red Rock First Nation in northern Ontario.
Marc H. Bohémier 3:22
And my name is Marc Bohémier, I’m from, originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba. And, yeah, Denise and I've been together for about six years now. And yeah, we got together and we started Tea Horse in about 2017.
Denise Atkinson 3:36
So both life partners and business partners. Yeah. And tea
Marc H. Bohémier 3:39
Yeah. And tea enthusiasts, I love the fact that you said you like it's about tea enthusiasts, because we are not tea experts. We are, we just really like tea and different kinds of teas and the ingredients that you know, we call them tea, but maybe they're not quite Camellia sinensis, but we like hot water, cold water and leaves roots and stems and stuff so–
And wild rice, of course.
Marika de Vienne 4:02
I love that. Yeah no, tea means a great many things. And I think that for a long time, there's been a certain amount of gatekeeping like, if you didn't know Camellia sinensis that you weren't a tea–you weren't a fan of tea, you were just a fan of infusions. And we all know that infusions and tea belong in the same category. If you're deriving pleasure, as you said, from hot water and leaves or hot water and whole ingredients, you're enjoying tea, you're a tea lover and so yeah. So I'm really happy to talk with you both today as I stated, because your company Tea Horse specialises in a very particular ingredient, an ingredient that up until last week when I first spoke to you, I thought I understood pretty well. And after about 15 minutes of speaking with you, I was like oh, the wild rice that I know is not the wild rice that we're using here. Am I correct in saying that?
Denise Atkinson 5:04
Correct. Yeah, so the wild rice or Manoomin, which means loosely translated in Ojibwe is “the good seed” is indigenous to North America, an indigenous grain to North America and we use truly wild manoomin from remote parts of northern Canada.
Marc H. Bohémier 5:24
Yeah, a lot of what we would see in the stores, it could be real wild rice or it could be cultivated wild rice that comes out of a couple of Northern US states and even in California where they, were they like flood fields, drain them and then combine them like a cash crop. So what we do, we specifically search out and work with, if we can, we really trying to find Indigenous harvesters in Canada. And we work with people that are harvesting, and they're the stewards of like lakes and marshlands in northern, Northwestern Ontario, Northern Manitoba. And now we're looking at making partnerships in Saskatchewan as well. So yeah, so we really search out the true wild rice, the real manoomin.
Marika de Vienne 6:18
Wow, so really wild, like this is not you know, a cultivated grain. You said it grows in like marshlands, lakes, I mean, can you give me a picture of what this–where this rice grows and how you like plant it, cultivate it, just so I understand it a little bit better.
Marc H. Bohémier 6:39
Okay, how about if I give you a snapshot of what happened to us this year when we went to Northern Manitoba. We we met up with some wild rice harvesters. One of them was an Indigenous man. And we drove down some gravel roads, got out of their trucks, got onto the backs of a like, all-terrain vehicles, four wheeler quads, drove through the bush for about two kilometres on the back, got to a floating bog, so it's floating marshland. So if you walk, if you step in the wrong step, you'll be like right through the floating moss and go into the water. We got onto an amphibious vehicle called an Argo, which took us across the marsh to where they had an old canoe sitting there full of bags, and then there's an airboat, just like you'd see in the Florida Everglades that would go out with a specially designed sort of scooper, a hopper on the front. It drives up and down through the marsh and knocks the grass. So wild rice or manoomin is a marsh grass, grain. And so that's just us getting there! Okay, and then after that, after the hop after he drives up and down in the marsh, the hopper is filled with the grains, which look kind of like, I guess you could say like oats. And then we hand-scoop it out of the front into this–onto a tarp inside a boat and bag it, seal it, throw it into another boat that gets dragged back across the marsh by this Argo where he hand-offloads it into like a like an area still on the floating bog. And then from there at the end of the day after bagging, I forget–70 bags of it and the bags are about, like pounds-wise from 60 to 80 pounds each. We carry them onto and loaded them onto the backs of these, the back of the two all-terrain vehicles, tied them down, drove through the bush the two kilometres, hand-offload them onto trailers, and then just kept doing it until all the bags were loaded … around 60 or 70 bags. And then from there, take ‘em, hand-offload them at the plant. And yeah, so that's kind of what wild rice is! No, no made up story that was like, like you thought, we thought we were like voyagers, like a throwback era!
Denise Atkinson 9:18
I mean you have to understand too, it's not the traditional way to harvest wild rice. The traditional way was in canoes with sticks knocking, you know– Knocking the grain.
Marc H. Bohémier 9:28
Knocking the grain into the canoe. So that's how the traditional Native people harvested.
Denise Atkinson 9:34
I mean, some places I think in Northern Minnesota do that. But in Northern Canada, it's done by airbpoat pretty much exclusively.
Marc H. Bohémier 9:45
But yeah, like Denise said the original harvesting methods of the Anishenaabe or the indigenous peoples was paddling or pulling a canoe through the marsh grass, and then someone would sit on the front and with two sets sticks, a stick in each hand, they would bend the grass into the canoe and then hit it with another stick and knock the grain into the canoe.
Denise Atkinson 10:08
But I mean, the processing is still very artisanal and hands on. And yeah, it requires like, touch and feel, touch and visual and you know–
And knowing when it’s ready.
Yeah, yeah. And it's very similar to how tea is processed as a matter of fact. So you know, there's that similarity.
Marc H. Bohémier 10:29
Yeah, there's a lot of knowledge, a lot of like, you really have to know your stuff. And I think another aspect of it that's, that's also really interesting. Unlike, let's say, a field of wheat where all the grain is ready at the same time, and they harvest it all at the same time, like cut the field. Well, if anyone's gone wild berry picking, whether it's blueberries, wild Saskatoon berries, or any wild berries, you know, one week you'll pick, you can wait two weeks, go back, pick some more wild rice is like that. So they can do multiple harvests on the same lake, because they wait a week or two, and then they check, oh they can go get more. So it is a true wild product. So it's not just a, you know, a one shot deal where they sort of clearly, clear harvest one field at a time. It's go in, it looks ready, get what you can, wait, go back, try it again. And then, you know, again, some lakes will get harvested three times in one season. And it's usually in late, you know, late August, early September, it's a very climatically sensitive product, or plant, the water temperature has to be just right, the water levels have to be just right. You know, it can't be windy and rainy, because it'll knock the seeds, the grains into the bottom of the lake. So there's, there's a lot of things that have to be just perfect. Yeah, a lot of variables involved in that. And I'm not sure if I said it earlier, but it's classified, you know, in English is like a non timber forest product. So it, it lives in that space between water and land, it's a strip of goodness, you know, that exists there. And it's there for the moose and the geese that'll feed it off, eat it off the bottom, you know, and so it feeds more than the human beings, it feeds the marsh. And I'll tell you something that's just amazing. I have a pretty strong farming background from the prairies. But when that first hopper of wild rice came back with that airboat, the life in there, the insects, the dragonflies, the ladybugs, like the mosquitoes, like the flies, it was–it's just teeming with life. I mean, to see that, especially people who don't have an opportunity, you know, people live in cities and don't really have an opportunity to really truly get out in Canada's remote, more remote areas to see that. You see, like that is true life. And I said to some people since that point, and I'm a pretty spiritual guy. But I said if you don't believe in God, if you don't believe in that, that's okay. But when you see the life and the diversity of beings and creatures and plants that exist in just that one hopper of wild rice, it's just, it's just mind-boggling. And those are the places that we need to safeguard, and those are the places that you know, you think of, you know, the swamp and terms like “draining the swamp” and within that swamp, that's the filters of the water. That’s the filters, the air is well, the ecosystem it's the ecosystem filter, it's just to see that life is just incredible. So a long answer but it’s because it is just really, you know, like paradigm-shifting in to see that but already feel that way to begin with, like Denise and I, we love being out in the woods and we like nature, we love nature, we know our connection, but to see that and to put your hands into that hopper full of wild rice and everything else that's with it. And to know like, wow, you're eating something that's just special.
Marika de Vienne 14:19
Um, I have goosebumps right now. I genuinely have, I'm resettling myself because I have goosebumps, because what you–So I mean, thank you for that, for painting that picture, for telling that story. What you've described is something that I have had the great privilege of encountering before but never in the territory or place that you've described, which is stumbling upon a unique terroir. There are so many factors that go in to this grain, that go into this ingredient, and it has to do–For me terroir is, I mean, we talk about terroir as the earth, the location, the geolocation of it, and what the particular elements or climate are going to bring to a specific product. But terroir is so intrinsically linked as well with the knowledge of the people who have been doing it for centuries, without knowing that you have to bend the reed, and then bang it, you know, the grains into the boat, without knowing that you cannot cull or harvest everything at the same time, that you have to pick grains when they're at their optimal flavour nutrition potential. To know that you have to use certain types of transportation to get where you're going so as not to damage the area and protect the product, and to have an understanding and respect for the other, for the missing puzzle piece in the ecosystem that that ingredient provides from the insects to the other animals that are there. I mean, you took my breath away. You took my breath away. This is, it's something I've not experienced in years and I just want to thank you for, for sharing that with me because it's a, it's a unique and singular experience. But I felt like I was there. I really, you know, I even when you said mosquitoes like I twitched a little, like oh yeah, right, them!
Marc H. Bohémier 16:26
Just even painted, it was a crisp, frosty morning, not a cloud in the sky, blue sky. And it was, yeah, it was the whole day was like that. And the warmer had got, the more life you saw coming back to where we're standing in the boat and scooping it up. By hand we're scooping it out. You know, so yeah, there's, you know, I'm just the reporter. I'm not I'm not the painter, right? I'm just reporting on what I, the pictures I saw, right? So
Marika de Vienne 16:54
I thank you for it because it was, it was immersive, shall we say it was really, truly immersive. I almost want to stay in that moment with you. But I have a job to do. So I'm going to keep going! This ingredient has been around for like hundreds if not thousands of years, correct? So how did this ingredient come into your lives? I know, Denise, you have a very intimate relationship with this ingredient, correct?
Denise Atkinson 17:21
Yes. So I was raised in a traditional Anishenaabeg home, spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, on the land. My siblings, my mom. My grandmother was very traditional Ojibwe, like she never spoke English. We lived in town. They lived in town, but she had like a little smoke hut in the back yard where she would tan hide,s she was a trapper, she fished she, you know, she did all of that. And I was with her like so, traditional Foods, traditional teas, Labrador tea, cedar, wintergreen. So, wild rice, all the natural Indigenous foods and beverages, do then teas were commonplace for me. So yeah.
Marika de Vienne 18:22
I mean, so this is this is part of your DNA quite literally, I’m not speaking to your actual DNA, but when you grow up, you know, when you grow up in it, it's something that you can't separate yourself from.
Denise Atkinson 18:35
Yes it's part of me. It's part of my, my being.
Marika de Vienne 18:39
I love that. How did you come into this Marc, just from, because you grew up with it Denise, this was something that was just so a part of your life. I just want to know from an outsider perspective, because I feel myself right now kind of like an outsider. I've had Labrador tea a lot. I've had a cedar tea I love. Wintergreen is absolutely one of my top five teas that I always drink and I love. What was the most striking thing to you coming into the infusion of wild rice or the ingredient of wild rice?
Marc H. Bohémier 19:17
Oh, well if we want to talk specifically about why we started using wild rice like as something we can put in a tea, came about directly because, one of our tea suppliers, who we spoke about earlier, we got, we received some samples of, from India, from a tea studio in India, special tea studio, a woman-run tea studio in India, where we received a sample of a kukicha they were trying to make, a twig tea. And Denise, luckily Denise opened the package and she looked at it and it was very twiggy we can say And she says, Wow, it looks like wild rice and then we infuse it and look more like wild rice and then then he says–
Denise Atkinson 20:07
Why don't we blend wild rice with green tea and make it like a genmaicha? Because genmaicha was always my morning tea. For years and years I always drank this genmaicha. And then I thought yeah, let's like do our own take on a genmaicha-style tea.
Marc H. Bohémier 20:27
Yeah, and I have a pretty solid cooking background and you know, so we looked at the genmaicha, it’s puffed or roasted. So we knew that, but I thought, how the heck are we going to do this with wild rice, because it's not a rice, it's grain! Like that's very, we have to be very clear on that, it’s a grain not a rice. That's a misnomer. When the Europeans came over, they said it was rice, but it's not, okay. It's like I said, it's probably closer to oats than it is to rice. So anyway, we went hard at it with R&D in our kitchen and how do we roast it? There's no roaster that exists out there for wild rice. There might be grainn roasters, rice roasters, coffee roasters. Nothing said wild rice roaster, and so I did a lot of research, did a lot of trial and error in our kitchen. So we just kept working at it and working at it. And I spoke to roasters, roast masters, coffee roasters, malting people in the malting industry, I spoke to large roast manufacturer companies out of France. Yeah, all over the US I phoned trying to find some–I even looked like popcorn, like kettle corn. You know, people like kettle corn–
Denise Atkinson 21:35
We tried everything!
Marc H. Bohémier 21:37
At the local exhibition, like I looked at kettle corn make–I looked at, you name it, I looked at everything. But we have a proprietary process so we can't even tell exactly what we do. But all that trial and error, all those conversations, meeting the right people, we figured out how to do it. But we can only do it in small batches. And that's been our challenge. It still is our challenge, to figure out how to do it, but it was that, and what we saw coming, you know, through our hard work was that we can do this, you know.
Denise Atkinson 22:09
And it was really interesting and no one else in the world was doing it with wild rice.
Marc H. Bohémier 22:13
Yeah so to say this is a unique tea blending product is actually an understatement because no one in the wild rice industry is doing what we're doing with wild rice. And no one in the tea industry is doing what we're doing with wild rice. And we have to be very clear in stating that we are an Indigenous-owned and woman-led–
Majority because of Denise, you know, so yeah that's another really important aspect of it is, that because of Denise’s heritage, we are an Aboriginal company.
Denise Atkinson 22:45
And we want to honour my heritage. Like and that's, even with the name of our tea, ManoominCha™, because it's a fusion of the east and the west the cultures, manoomin being wild rice, cha being tea, we thought wow, that would be a great name, ManoominCha™.
Marika de Vienne 23:02
I love that because well, A we can say, I mean we can say who we were talking about. We're talking about Camellia Sinensis teahouse because they have a tea studio in India and I've also had that Kukicha. It's a really lovely tea. And genmaicha being your tea of choice, Denise I am on board. I love genmaicha, was kind of, not the inspiration but almost like a spark, It sounds really like a spark, where you were able to see yourself in this foreign product and say, well, we could do something really interesting with something that I grew up with and something that I love, and you're really merging two worlds together. And the wild rice just from, I've been drinking wild rice since we started recording. It has a lovely body, it gives a great body to the tea that you don't find just with the Camellia sinensis leaves. And so it’s so alluring!
Marc H. Bohémier 24:01
And further to that, like we had you know, we're tea enthusiasts, not tea experts, you know, but we learned over the years like, you know, Korea, different Asian countries and Japan like they'll create bori-cha like roasted barley tea. So that, we want to honour that idea so when we've been to a few tea shows, Korean people, different people from Japan where they drink bori-cha, you know, people from different parts of Asia. Taiwanese will have millet tea. So when they drank our wild rice tea, they said this is like back home. This reminds me of bori-cha, this reminds me of you know, where I'm from. And they're living in Canada now. And you know, that was the whole idea from the inception of our business was, you know, our logo. You know, if you ever looked at our logo or like it's about, you know, it's diamond shaped so it's about the four cardinal directions in around the world and, you know, east and west and the fact that the Camellia sinensis leaf has been all over the world. And wherever it touches, you know, there are people who live there. And maybe they will blend it with their indigenous ingredient. And the other really amazing thing–We met amazing people at the Toronto Tea Festival in 2018. It was we met Kevin Gascoyne, we met Jeff Fuchs, you know, tea explore extraordinare. We learned about pu’erh and we learned about the Indigenous people who are the caretakers of these great tea forests in Yunnan. And the Tea Horse Road, and that was the inspiration for why we call our business Tea Horse.
Denise Atkinson 25:34
As well as the fact that I like horses and I’m a horse owner.
Marc H. Bohémier 25:40
And you love horses as well, and I love horses. So it was this, it was this, really finding out about the all these Indigenous people from all over the world, whether it’s rooibos, whether it's, you know, the Camellia sinensis plant, whether it's you know, roots, whether it's grains, where they're from, you know what we're finding as a common denominator, it's so much is based on the Indigenous people from those lands. And so much is based on the fact that they were always the stewards of their lands, and they were always the ones that were connected to the lands. And when you look at tea, and when we spoke to Jeff Fuchs, you know, and Kevin and people who have been to Asia, in the tea world. They said, You know, they have a whole dialect around tea, when you go to like Yunnan it's not just cha, it's every little nuanced word will describe every little nuance about their tea leaves, you know, and from their terroir. And when you come to Canada and you speak to the Anishnaabe, the Inuit, well they have that, those same types of words for their, like, their connections to the plants in their area, you know. And so Manoomin it does, it's not wild rice, it's “the good seed.”
The “good grain.”
The good grain, it came from, you know, the Creator. And when we say words like the creator in English, it doesn't translate, because just another very interesting thing to know, almost all the, or pretty much all the Indigenous languages in North America are all verb-based. They're action based, right? So there's no “it,” you know, really used. So it is this energy that comes from the earth and the terroir with wild rice is, is more than just la terre, the land. It is the water… It’s just like, you know, tea? Is it high mountain tea, is it low mountain tea? Is it on the north side, is it on the east side of the mountain? On the same lake, the same types of things applies, is it in the shaded area on the like, where the northern, you know, side of the lake doesn't get as much sun? Is it the southern side is, you know, so there's all these factors…
Denise Atkinson 27:46
Well even the currents of the water would make a difference.
Marc H. Bohémier 27:50
Yeah, you know, where did that water filter through, did it come through a slow moving river into a lake, did it filter through a marsh? So again, there's incredible difference in tastes and size of the grain. And you know, what, what you see, you know, in the store, a lot of times it's kind of uniformity. But in reality, as we were saying earlier, it's like, you know, when you pick a wild blueberry, well some years, they're great, one week they're okay, the next week they're amazing. Why? Because the temperature changed during that week or two. And wild rice is the same, maybe the first harvest, the grains are smaller, maybe the second harvest on that same like they're fuller, you know, maybe it got too hot and it shrunk and shriveled the next potential harvest. So then you couldn't harvest, right. So there's, there's so many things there's terroir and “aqua-oir” I guess you could say. If that's a word, it's not but you know, there's so many factors that will affect you know, the wild rice and the wild rice harvests aren't consistent out of every five years you might get two or three harvests maybe, or you might get none you know. And I think some of the other amazing things again, like we learned about you know, the tea forests in Yunnan, is you know, the trees just don't grow, the people take care of them, they know what they're dealing with this amazing plant, the leaves, the trees. They know how to keep care of them and wild rice it's no different. Indigenous people would plant wild rice and certainly historically and to this day, like they would put the wild rice mix it with like clay or mud balls and strategically toss it into the lakes that they wanted to harvest and wait and be ready for that, and the lake we harvested on I think it was five years of effort that these two people, one of them Indigenous, they took five years to get that lake ready.
And they kept inspecting and they only harvest first time after five years was this past fall.
We were there.
Yeah, in 2021. And again, it's something amazing and that's what makes the grain so amazing. That's why wild rice is so amazing. It's because it's a treasure. And it needs to be taken care of just like we need to take care of our forests and take care of our waterways, we need to take care of our marshlands. Because it's all part of this huge system, right? That we, you know, life is not black and white. It's complex. But anyway, yeah, so that's the whole idea. I think when you get involved with like, really authentic products, and that's what I will say about DAVIDsTEA, this tea, we created an amazing tea with natural products, Canadian products, non-Canadian products, we have, you know, maple in there and our wild rice and berries, and you know, it's it's, it's, you know, we did our best, you know, to create this really amazing, you know, tea blend, and it's really cool. And Camellia sinensis is in there too, black tea.
Marika de Vienne 31:03
Again, my brain is so…I'm slightly overwhelmed, honestly, because the amount of factors that it takes for this ingredient to come into its finish stage, into its, you know, product stage. It is so meticulous and so delicate. It's like I said, it's a whole ecosystem, what you're proposing here in this ingredient, it's a whole way of life. It's a whole history. It's steeped in tradition, but you're really bringing it into the modern age by promoting it in the way that you have, you know, through your proprietary roasting process, through combining it with Camellia sinensis, through preservation, I mean, what you're doing is a form of cultural and you know, ingredient preservation and I'm…I'm not generally at a loss for words. I mean, I'm not somebody who has a hard time conversing! But there's so many threads in everything that you've just explained that I want to pull on. Because it's part of your culture, because it's part of your history, because it's so rare and incredible, how has the reaction been within your community to it being transformed and mixed with tea? Or, you know, even with this collab with DAVIDsTEA? Has your family been able to try it? Have other people been able to try it? Like, what are their thoughts?
Denise Atkinson 32:31
I think people are just, you know, really surprised that we're using it in such a way. No one's really thought of using it like that, like when we market, when we make wild rice. You know, when you make rice, a lot of times you have extra water? Well, we never dumped it out, we drink it or add it to soup or, so I guess a lot of people just never thought of that. Like maybe–my grandmother has been long past–but possibly she did. She never wasted anything. So it's likely been done for generations that I just, we just didn't realise.
Marc H. Bohémier 33:09
Yes. And to answer your question about Denise’s family thinks, her uncle is a big part of helping us with, he translates Ojibwe into English. And he helps us with the words. Denise knows words, but so we rely on her uncle to help us with the words.
Denise Atkinson 33:27
Yeah, my elder uncle. And my mother was a language teacher and speaker!
Marc H. Bohémier 33:33
Yeah, so we rely on her family to help us with the nomenclature, with the words, to try to get them as close as we can. And you know, some of it doesn't really translate super easily, but we try.
Denise Atkinson 33:48
And people have been very supportive in you know, recognising that we're showcasing this beautiful grain, this Indigenous grain. Yeah, you know, it's not just tucked away in a pantry somewhere. It's like bringing it forward, bringing it to light. It's like, look, you can do this with it, you can do that, you can drink it, you can eat it! Like there, you know, there's…it's beautiful.
Marc H. Bohémier 34:11
Yeah we have a lot of ideas that we're working on as well.
Other products, other blends.
You know, other products that we're hoping… We’re still a micro business and it's a great opportunity to work with DAVIDsTEA. You know, it's like I've told people like the Dragon's Den in reverse, we're like what’s going on, you know, and it's pretty neat, you know, that we had this, we've got this great opportunity and it's really about showcasing Indigenous peoples. Denise is gonna hate this but you know, Denise is an Indigenous entrepreneur in Canada, a female, and you don't hear much about that.
No you do not.
Denise Atkinson 34:47
But you know when you think about it, my grandma was an entrepreneur. You know, she was a trapper, they sold the furs. When they picked blueberries, they’d pick a lot of blueberries, they would sell some in the town, you know. My mom, though, I mean, she went to university and she was a teacher, she was the first of her family to graduate from post-secondary, you know, so she was, she was a trailblazer, too. And I think, in a lot of ways, I'm a trailblazer.
Marika de Vienne 35:20
You are absolutely, no, absolutely a trailblazer! And even going back to what you were saying about how you weren't sure if your grandmother used the water from the rice or whatever, you know this through just generational knowledge, these things are maybe not passed on in a academic or systemic way, but the fact that you would even think to do that, maybe at the age of five, you saw it happen, you know?
Denise Atkinson 35:45
Yeah, likely. And my grandmother only spoke to me in Ojibwe. And I understood, you know, and I don't know that I spoke back to her, I probably did, because you know, once you start school, you just kind of take on the language that is there, which was English. But, you know, even now when my relatives are speaking, I can pick up, I know what they're saying, you know.
Marika de Vienne 36:10
For sure, I mean, my history is a little bit different, but my children never speak to me in French, no matter how hard I try! But I know that they understand what I'm saying. But I think, you know yeah, your grandmother was an entrepreneur, absolutely. Your mother in her own way, absolutely. These things get passed on, there's no denying that, you know, and the fact that you're continuing that mission is so beautiful and needs to be celebrated. You know, when you are a part of minority you have to speak up a little bit louder than everybody else to be heard. And it can be, you know, as a queer woman of colour, I'm with you on that, you have to sometimes be a little bit more obnoxious and a little bit louder and a little bit more prideful. But it's in order to give yourself pride in what you're doing, but also to lift others up. There are so many other creators and entrepreneurs and people who need to hear your voice and who need to know that you're out there innovating and changing, but not denying your traditions. You're bringing it in. So valuable and so important. And I know you said that you were like, reverse dragon Den-ing by collabing with DAVIDsTEA, you have no idea the excitement that has been in this office for the past year.
Oh that’s amazing.
For this project. I mean, we are, we work with ingredients all the time. We talk about ingredients all the time. But there was something special, we all knew that there was something special about this. And just from our side, when I started hearing about, we were going to start incorporating this ingredient. I was like, okay, where are we getting it from? It's so good. I don’t know, it’s so good!
It really is.
It really is! I mean, you know, we talk about our teas, like we love our teas, we have so many teas, they're all like our kids. Manoomin Maple has really really entered my day to day now. And I think it’s, not only is it just a really good cup, especially in the morning for me, that's when I like to drink it. But now knowing so much more about the ingredient, you feel something deeper about it, you feel a connection to it, and an appreciation to it. And I just, I cannot thank you enough for just immersing me, even just a little bit, I feel like this should be a three hour podcast. So much more to unpack here!
Marc H. Bohémier 38:43
Yeah, just like single-origin tea. You know, the manoomin you’re drinking now will taste different than the manoomin that you're going to get when we release it because it was a different harvest year. You know, so a harvest gear of Camellia sinensis might bring you the most exquisite flavour in certain, or certain tones or highlights that you'll go, oh I taste this I taste you know, burnt caramel or whatever, you might get out of that Camellia sinensis that year, but then the following year, you'll get a different tone. So we got our original manoomin from Northwestern Ontario. This is from Northern Manitoba. We know right away when we taste it, it has a very different flavour.
This terroir, you'll taste hopefully, what we taste is a little more green, a little more aquatic but clean, you know, clean but with a brothy finish. You know that’s kind of, you know, we don't want to put it in people's minds when they're going to be drinking, but this wild rice this year is is a bit more marshy. It's got a little different taste, but like I said, it's a different year and it's a different lake and it's a different province.
Denise Atkinson 39:51
And that's the beauty of wild products. It’s not going to be the same thing all the time.
Marc H. Bohémier 39:59
Yeah that is the beauty.
And you know, some people like that, but we know tea people are adventurous. And they like, you know, to see what's coming around the bend for next year. And you know, what's a, like, you know, first flush versus autumn harvest versus, you know, first harvest of a wild manoomin versus the third harvest of that year. So there's a lot of variability. So we're really excited about the product. But just to get back to that, what we're talking about the sort of business side of, you know, Indigenous people, I always need to remind people because I learned that too, like the original entrepreneurs of this Turtle Island, of these lands were the Indigenous peoples. We hear a lot about the fur trade, but it was the Indigenous people that you know, at the very heart and soul of knowing furs, knowing where to go, knowing how to be shrewd business people. And Denise is part of that continuous, emergent cycle of Indigenous peoples that are part of the chain of understanding these lands and dealing with great products. And hopefully, by bringing forward minoomin the way we are, it's just again showing not only versatility of that grain, but of Indigenous peoples, you know. Not only here, but all, you know, the fact that Indigenous peoples around the world are just a big part of so many things that we don't even realise. And hopefully it'll bring that to the fore. And to see here as an individual, because, you know, I'm just kind of spouting off, but I'm just gonna say it because it's really important to me as a non-Indigenous person, you know, to realise that so much…So many Native people live quietly in the margins. And, you know, just like wild rice seemed like, oh yeah it's mixed with some pilaf somewhere in a box on a shelf of a grocery store. But we're trying to bring the uniqueness and the versatility and the superfood-ish aspect of it to the mainstream. And that's how I think Denise plays the human side of this unique person who's an individual amongst the collective of people's right.
Marika de Vienne 42:09
Is it hard, Denise, to hear other people talking about you?
Marc H. Bohémier 42:13
I'm in trouble now.
Denise Atkinson 42:14
Yeah. I always say that, people don't need to know that! It's like, he's always you know, telling people how wonderful I am. And I'm like…
Yeah, please don't edit this part!
That’s just not–I think it's a cultural thing, though. We don't boast, we're just kind of like you just do your job quietly, get it done.
Marc H. Bohémier 42:33
Right, but I'm a white guy boasting.
Denise Atkinson 42:36
So its like ahh! So we kind of butt heads sometimes.
Marc H. Bohémier 42:39
Yeah so she gives me heck for telling people she’s a superstar!
Denise Atkinson 42:43
You don’t need to tell people anything. It's like, you know?
Yeah, she’s a superstar. Don’t edit this!
Marika de Vienne 42:46
I will not. I have no intention of editing it because I think you're right. I think you know, being boastful is seen as such a negative, you know, and it can alienate a lot of people. Marc I think you've been an excellent spokesperson for Denise's best qualities and heritage.
Thank you. Thank you, yeah.
And Denise, you keep doing you. Okay, we're not here to change you. You keep doing you. But I think you should know that you have two very big fans in your midst right now. And we will shout it to the rooftops, our pride and appreciation for everything that you've done so far.
Denise Atkinson 43:27
Miigwech. Means thank you in Ojibwe.
Marika de Vienne 43:30
Miigwech. Okay, see, I'm just–you guys, my brain is firing so fast right now I’m just like ahh! One of the things I like to ask people is like, what does tea mean to you? And what does manoomin mean to you in this case, but how do you think that tea brings people together? Because we're talking about community, we're talking about, you know, this ingredient, but we're also talking about, you know, sitting around and enjoying a cup of tea together.
Denise Atkinson 44:00
Well, for me, tea’s always been a huge part of my family. Like we would, you know whether it's on the land in the blueberry patch, with a big kettle of tea going on an open fire. Whether it was at my grandparents house sitting around the table, laughing, chatting. So tea is community, tea is family. Tea is like a hug. That's what it is to me.
Marc H. Bohémier 44:29
It's like it's about inclusivity and you know, I think hopefully what we've been able to impart to you and anyone who's listening is that you know, Denise came up with a great tagline for our business. It's “Think outside the tea pot.” Tea pot’s, not you know, afternoon tea, low tea, high tea or whatever people think of it, like with scones and jam. Tea is out in the bush, tea is in your backyard, tea is iced, it's hot, it's lukewarm. If you're, you know, cutting your grass, if you're running a tractor, whatever you're doing. If you're just going to the park, tea can be–or camping or canoeing or whatever you're doing, tea can be a big part of everything. Really, it is about bringing people together, it's about…I think a lot of the world's problems can be solved around tea and dried leaves and roots or fresh leaves and roots and mix some berries in there and, you know, throw a bit of hot water on there, cold infuse it, whatever you want to do. If you're leaning up against a tractor wheel or you know, setting with your scone and your jam, you know, tea can be a part of…
Tea is for everybody.
Tea can be whatever you want it to be, right? The Indigenous people gave the Europeans when they came to North America, cedar tea and conifer needle tea like balsam tea, because it's full of vitamin C. You know, we always think about oranges and the scurvy. Well, when the people came up here it was the Anishenaabe that gave them the cedar tea kept them going. You know, so much of like the history of Canada, once the Europeans came, was that the Indigenous people played a huge part, and tea or teas that they had here were the were the ones that sustained people, and kept them going and still keep people going. So you know, I think there's very complex, you know.
Denise Atkinson 46:29
It’s complex, yet simple. Take a pinch of leaf or root and pour water on it.
Marc H. Bohémier 46:37
It’s just hot water. And you're good.
Marika de Vienne 46:38
Oh you have both just taken so many of the words right out of my mouth, I could not agree more. I mean, I know that sounds like sycophantic. But it's not, it's just I really, I agree with so many of the points that you've just made. I cannot thank you enough. I know that if I don't put a pin in it for now, we're gonna keep going. So I’m gonna put a pin in! I'm going to keep drinking my Manoomin Maple. What have you been drinking this whole time?
Marc H. Bohémier 47:04
Denise Atkinson 47:06
ManoominCha™, our original blend with green tea and roasted wild rice.
Marc H. Bohémier 47:11
Yeah, that’s what gave us inspiration. And I want to do put a plug again, and we both want to put for DAVIDsTEA, and really don't edit this out, please.
It's been a great experience. You guys aren't the Dragons, just to say, just wonderful, the dragon that came to us is made up of great people. And, you know, just really from, we've been included in every aspect of creating this blend.
Denise Atkinson 47:39
And getting to know the people behind the brand has been amazing. You know, like I was saying it's diverse, it's inclusive, it’s everything. And friendly and down to earth! And you know, it's like talking to a friend whenever we have meetings, it's so, you know, it’s just amazing.
Marc H. Bohémier 47:59
And I think like I said earlier, the blend we've created, it's kind of like all the people that we met are kind of thrown in that bag with them, you know, with the tea.
A blend of all of us.
Came together, Canadian, Asian, you know, whoever you were, we're in there.
North American, wherever it came from, were all in there you know. There was vanilla oil, there’s maple sugar, there's a bunch of everything in there. So it's kind of a, you know, hopefully it's sort of a metaphor for our conversation, it brought in together a lot of different things from all over the place to create something very neat. Very unique, very soothing. And I think really like Denise said, like a big hug, where hopefully everyone's gonna have a big hug from it.
Marika de Vienne 48:43
Thank you so much. I mean, thank you so much! I mean, we've loved working with you guys. And I love working with you right now. But it's really nice to hear. So I, that's what I think of, you know, my colleagues, I just think it's a really inclusive, extremely diverse, I mean nobody is from the same country or region in this office, everybody's from somewhere else, and I've always really felt that way. And it's nice to know that you, that you felt that way too when you got to meet us a little bit more. So–I'm gonna cry so I'm going to stop. I’m tearing, so I’m going to stop! Alright, I'm going to keep drinking my tea. You keep drinking yours, and we'll be right back.
AD BREAK 49:26
Today's episode of Steeping Together is brought to you buy Manoomin Maple. This oh so cozy, oh so toasty wild rice blend was developed in partnership with Tea Horse and is our first tea created in collaboration with another tea company. With a hint of vanilla and a light maple sweetness, this comforting blend tastes just as good as the work it does. Seriously! Packed in a fully compostable bag, 10% of this tea’s proceeds will go towards the David Suzuki Institute to support Indigenous communities through the Reconciling Ways of Knowing program. Manoomin Maple: Start your day, the manoomin way.
Marika de Vienne 50:10
Welcome back. It's time to play “What Are You Drinking?” the quiz where we ask our guests three situational questions, some realistic, some completely out there, and they have to use all their experience and expertise to tell us what they would drink in any one of these given situations. Denise and Mark, are you ready to play “What Are You Drinking?”
Denise Atkinson + Marc 50:26
We are ready. Oh yeah!
Marika de Vienne 50:29
Question one. You're spending the day visiting your grandparents, you decide to brew up a pot of tea for everyone to share together while you catch up. What are you drinking?
Marc H. Bohémier 50:39
Man, I'm probably drinking the basic kind of Red Rose Salada with my grandparents. Sorry to say…
That would be in my house. Back home in Winnipeg would have been in their house, back when I was a kid. So that's what I'd probably be drinking.
It’s a part of our history!
Denise Atkinson 50:57
Very, very similar, but in the later years, it was always decaf Tetley tea bags. Not just Tet–but decaf Tetley. The flavour of the decaf Tetley is what we drank.
Marika de Vienne 51:15
You know, it's a part of our history as Canadians. We grew up with those teas. Those were our first teas. And for a very long time, it was the only tea that was available to us. And that nostalgia factor is undeniable. And you can come to it with a bunch of knowledge and information, but that's what you were drinking and I'm sure it made the moment special.
Denise Atkinson 51:41
Well, and I had, I told Marc, my earliest memory of drinking tea was when I was staying with my grandparents and my grandpa would always bring my grandma a cup of very sweet black, strong sweet black tea about 5:30 in the morning, and she drink it and I would get to try it and I was so excited. Back then it was probably Salada too. But in later years, it became the decaf Tetley because I've really switched to decaf.
Marc H. Bohémier 52:08
Yeah. And with us, and my mum would put milk and sugar and we drink it with that. And I will say a little extra. What I would drink with it sometimes as my when my grandma was alive. She'd make us homemade bread twice a week. So I would dip homemade fresh bread crusts in that sweet milky, Red Rose tea. And that was awesome.
Marika de Vienne 52:32
That is perfection.
Denise Atkinson 52:34
And for us it was arrowroot cookies.
Marika de Vienne 52:39
That is perfection. That is perfection! That fresh baked bread, those arrowroot cookies. Yeah, I am on board. That is a moment. That is an unforgettable moment. Well done on the first question! Question two: you've been hiking for hours and you're exhausted. Don't get it wrong. You love the outdoors, when your friend suggested this hike you were excited for it. But it is so much longer and more intense than you expected. You found a good stopping point to take a break and grab a drink. What are you drinking?
Marc H. Bohémier 53:12
Well, go ahead…
Denise Atkinson 53:13
Probably a cold-infused green tea. Yeah, we find in the summer we always have a pitcher of cold-infused tea leaves, whether it be green, but I think in this particular scenario, it would be a nice Japanese vegetal green tea.
Marc H. Bohémier 53:36
I really liked cold-infused bancha in the summer. Yeah, well we blend it with our wild rice, so you know we have a lot of it usually kicking around. But yeah, cold-infused bancha is really good.
Marika de Vienne 53:49
Yeah I agree. It's interesting that you've zeroed in on Japanese green teas for this particular situation. I think I know the answer as to why you've chosen it but I'm going to let you speak. Why did your mind go there first?
Denise Atkinson 54:06
I picture the rich green colour, the aesthetics of it, but just like I said the vegetal kind of fresh green grassy…
Yeah, I just find that's what I picture on a hot hiking day.
Marc H. Bohémier 54:24
A lot of them are not very stringent. Cold-infusion. Yeah, there's no astringency in the cold infusion. So it's a lot more quenching, and if you were to squirt a lemon in there, too, you're golden.
Marika de Vienne 54:37
That's what I, that's what I thought too. I thought like, you’re outdoors. It's very green, and it's just so thirst-quenching that well, well done. Gold star. Excellent! All right, ready for the final question? When you saw the ad, you simply didn't believe it would be possible but you just had to try it just in case. Sure enough, the tea you're drinking somehow tastes exactly like all your favourite flavours and smells. It's weird because you didn't think they would all taste good together, but like magic, it's the perfect balance of all the things you love. What are you drinking?
Denise Atkinson 55:24
Marc H. Bohémier 55:25
That is tough. Well, you know what, I can partially answer it by saying it depends on the time of year. Because at certain times of year I like certain teas. Like we were saying in the summer, these Japanese greens are great. But in the winter, a lot of times I'll like a pu’erh, you know, or a really dark oolong so I don't know it depends.
Denise Atkinson 55:50
I think for myself, it would be a masala chai. Yeah, like with all the spices and sometimes black pepper and you know, all these different rich, strong flavours. Yeah, and they all really go well together.
Marc H. Bohémier 56:10
Yeah, it would definitely have to be some kind of blend usually. Yeah, but like I said, I think the time of year is it has a lot of influence on what I drink. I don't like shou pu’erh in the summer. I like ‘em when it's really cold, and it was minus 33 this morning. So you know, I didn't have any today but I could have you know.
Marika de Vienne 56:30
I love both of your answers because yeah, this is honestly the hardest question I've asked so far. And very often when people, people ask me all the time, I'm sure they asked you all the time, what's your favourite tea? And I'm like what time of day is it? What time of year is it? Is it a Wednesday? Like I have too many! I don't have like a go to no matter what, there are too many factors involved, so Marc I like your answer because you're like, depends on the time of year like that, I'm gonna feel it, that favourite really works in that moment. And Denise the masala chai answer, very interesting because masala chai, I mean there are as many chais as there are people on the planet.
And so your favourite things, I've been surprised by chais a great many times. I'm not a huge fan of certain spices, but then in combination with others within the cup, it somehow magically works. Like, fennel, me and fennel have a long and sordid history. And so I don't always like, but if you have fennel, with cardamom, with mace, with black pepper, the fennel is a sweetness support the rest and isn't the thing that's gonna come out the most, so I like both of your answers because probably the answers that I would have given!
Marc H. Bohémier 57:50
Yeah, I've got two things to say: hot chocolate and eggnog, that means Christmas you know what I mean?
Hot chocolate, Christmas cold evenings you come outside and maybe you're playing boot hockey when you're young and hot cup of cocoa’s good. So to me, that's seasonal, eggnog seasonal.
Marika de Vienne 58:09
Wait, I'm sorry. I grew up in a city you guys, boot hockey? What’s boot hockey?
Marc H. Bohémier 58:14
You’re not wearing skates, you just run around on the street.
Street hockey, with the boots on you know, we call it boot hockey or street hockey.
Marika de Vienne 58:23
I'm calling it boot hockey from now on, done. I'm never going back to street hockey. That's my new word.
Marc H. Bohémier 58:30
_____ in skates, you got to run on the street. So we'd call it boot hockey.
Nice. I love it.
Same with tea, it's like the seasons change and so do the teas, man.
Marika de Vienne 58:46
This has been a joy. This has been a real joy for me and a real privilege. I thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your story. And I know there's so much more there and I can't wait to hear more and to learn more. If people want to find your website, find your tea, the ManoominCha™ they just go to teahorse.ca? I've got the right address? Okay! Yeah, so teahorse.ca to see your own North American fusion genmaicha of manoomin and green tea. We have Manoomin Maple that, you know, we've talked about. We're just so honoured and so proud that you've collabed with us and that we're able to get this ingredient out there and just human to human, thank you so much for the wonderful, wonderful conversation and wonderful time.
Denise Atkinson 59:41
Miigwech, it's been fabulous chatting with you.
We had a great time, yeah miigwech, thank you so much. Merci beaucoup.
Marika de Vienne 59:48
Miigwech. Ça fait plaisir! Thank you so much. And thank you for listening to today's episode. If you'd like to reach us with comments, questions or suggestions for the “What Are You Drinking?” game you can do so at email@example.com or through our website, davidstea.com. Have a great week and happy steeping everyone.
about the guest
Today we’re sitting down with Tea Horse, a woman-led, Indigenous-owned tea company, to help us get a better understanding of wild rice. Tea Horse was founded by Denise Atkinson, who is Anishinaabe ikwe (meaning Ojibwe woman) and her partner Marc Bohémier. Located on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe Peoples in Northwestern Ontario, Tea Horse focuses on bringing people together through high-quality teas featuring roasted manoomin (wild rice in Ojibwe). So, who better to teach us about this truly unique ancestral grain?
For our first ever collaboration with another tea company, Tea Horse and DAVIDsTEA came together to create Manoomin Maple. We’re proud to say that proceeds from this new blend directly support the David Suzuki Institute’s Reconciling Ways of Knowing program.