The leaves have turned their bright autumn hue and are now beginning to fall. Soon, the sun will show itself less and less, and the wind will begin making its cool presence known.
It's officially tea season.
It was timely, then, that I was able to catch up with the folks over at Boreal Wildcraft Tea Company as we settle into the season of steaming kettles and hands cupped around favourite mugs.
While the faces behind Boreal Wildcraft are not newcomers to local hot beverage circles, what they're doing with this new offering of inspired and nourishing tea blends is markedly different, and long overdue.
Read on to learn the Boreal Wildcraft story.
1. First off, tell us a little bit about Boreal Wildcraft.
Boreal Wildcraft was initiated as an idea around developing a Canadian tea brand. Even though Indigenous Canadians realized the benefits of drinking tea made from herbal ingredients many years ago, our colonial past and immigrant backgrounds have resulted in our tea habits coming from elsewhere for most Canadians. For example, we serve mostly black tea from the UK and Green tea from Asia. So, the mandate of the company was to establish a broader presence of what Canada has to offer but moreso to encourage our Indigenous people to share their knowledge on what is available while sharing with all Canadians their relationship with the Boreal forest. Since Boreal herbs are not cultivated, they are wildcrafted and dependent on Mother Earth for their bounty and their benefit. That ties in with Indigenous culture where appreciation for what has been granted to everyone who depends on nature to provide.
2. How was Boreal Wildcraft born?
That goes back about 15 years when we began a venture called Cornelia Bean Ltd started in Winnipeg as a specialty tea and coffee shop on Academy Road. Our mandate was to be different, focusing on fresh tea directly from blenders overseas and outside the regular tea bag offering in grocery stores and coffee shops that carried tea as a secondary product. Tea was Orange Pekoe and it was either Tetley or Liptons or Red Rose — only in Canada, eh? Same with coffee — we chose to deal only in fresh beans and ground to order so that the flavour only came out when the bean got cracked. We spent all our days looking for better ways to brew tea and coffee from loose leaf and freshly roasted beans and then tried to convince Manitobans that fresh was best. We chose local suppliers for coffee but tea still came from Germany for flavoured teas and Asia and African for greens and herbals.
Then after doing that for 12 years, we started hearing stories about contaminated teas from heavy lead pollution, contaminated water spraying and other stories about poor quality on both coffee and tea plantations. Fair Trade became a protective mechanism for the consumer in coffee and thus specialty producers were encouraged to grow organic and unique cultivars. This began to happen with green and black teas as well as prices were sinking due to oversupply and sourcing was beginning to become suspect. Boreal Wildcraft was born out of this concern to bring tea closer to Canadians by exploring what our tea culture was and how could it become a global opportunity for Canada in place of importing.
3. How exactly does the cooperative element of your brand work? What is your vision for this?
Cooperation is key to the Boreal brand as we will depend on the ability of our northern [harvesters] to not only source quality product, but also to sustainably harvest herbs and berries in a way that not only speaks to their culture and appreciation of what is available from the Boreal forest, but also to bring forward a cultural strength that has always been part of Indigenous harvesters — and that is the teaching of medicinal culture from elder to young person within northern culture. We depend on northern harvesters for the herbs and berries, but also their skills in harvesting sustainably while protecting the sustainability of the forest canopy. From a financial perspective, Indigenous involvement in the company not only pertains to supplying herbs and berries, but training for processing blends on site in the community as well as joint ownership of the Boreal Wildcraft Tea Company if interested and also participation in the marketing of the brand around the world. This venture will also dovetail into tourism opportunities whereby herbs and berries indigenous to northern communities can become regional specialties for foreign travellers to enjoy.
4. What are some of the defining characteristics of your tea?
Unique blends, unique taste profiles and unique stories about the past, the present and the future of ownership in Canadian culture and the character of its people. All our teas are and will be loose leaf and will carry the Boreal Seal* to signify that the herbs and berries used in our blends meet the criteria of our sustainability protocol and harvesters have been trained and supported by Boreal Wildcraft Tea Company. Our blends will generally have no caffeine and no tannic acid as they are herbs and berry based. Boreal Wildcraft Teas will be the cleanest tea product in the world as there will be no pesticides, no herbicides or fertilizers used in the growth of our herbal components. And our blends will change with the seasons and with availability of components from year to year. There will always be surprises in our featured products.
5. Favourite product?
It has to be THE WALL*, a hand blown 100% borosilicate glass cup made exclusively for Boreal Wildcraft Tea Company who originated the design ... it has a built in glass screen to keep the tea steeping continuously in the cup while you enjoy the flavour and the benefits of drinking Canada’s finest from Canada’s best suppliers — Indigenous Canadians.
6. Favourite tea for fall?
My favourite tea right now is wild black tea picked in the trees that are over 150 years old. And still producing a fine cup without bitterness.
7. How can wildcrafters, foragers, or other interested parties get involved in the movement?
Getting people into foraging comes with knowledge of the value of plants and animals that already do that daily. Making yourself aware of the interrelationship of plants, animals and the environment means that you care for what happens in your neighbourhood. That is where it starts — at home. If you can eat and drink from your yard, we are a short distance to becoming sustainable.