THUNDER BAY, ONT. — What happens when you combine tea and wild rice? You get a tea blend with deep Indigenous roots and a collaboration opportunity with DavidsTea.
Add a little maple syrup and you have the northern-Canadian Manoomin Maple tea brewed in the heart of Thunder Bay and marketed nationally through DavidsTea.
Denise Atkinson and Marc Bohemier, co-founders of Tea Horse, a woman-led, Indigenous-owned artisanal tea and wild rice company, developed a proprietary way to roast wild rice and began to blend it with their teas.
“There’s a Japanese tea called Genmaicha, where they roast regular rice with Japanese green tea,” Bohemier said. “That was our inspiration.”
The pair attended tea festivals and used social media to share their manoomin-based teas and DavidsTea took notice. Manoomin means wild rice in Ojibwa.
“The word is getting out about what we’re doing,” Atkinson said. “We were the first in the tea industry to do this and the first in the wild rice industry to take wild rice and do something a little bit different.”
In May of 2021, DavidsTea reached out to Tea Horse and inquired about co-creating a tea blend.
The two companies collaborated together for the next nine months to select the ingredients, flavour profiles, packaging design and agreed on the name Manoomin Maple.
According to a news release to The Chronicle-Journal from DavidsTea, this is the first time DavidsTea has collaborated with another tea company to co-brand a blend and it was a fairly quick process.
It stated that typically, tea blends can take up to two years from inception to reach the store shelf, but this project was fast-tracked and the flavourful tea saw virtual store shelves in less than a year.
Also through the partnership, 10 per cent of proceeds from Manoomin Maple sales will go towards the David Suzuki Institute to support Indigenous communities through the Reconciling Ways of Knowing program.
“It was like the Dragon’s Den in reverse,” Atkinson said. “Instead, the dragons came to us because they were interested in what we were doing.”
The pair operated a tea shop selling premium tea on Bay Street about two years ago. The shop provided opportunities to learn different things and meet many people in the tea industry.
“We became like tea sommeliers,” Bohemier said. “We were pretty aware of what’s going on in the tea world, but it was really after we closed our shop that we had a sample of tea that came from India that looked a bit like wild rice.”
He said Atkinson suggested incorporating wild rice into their teas and they eventually developed techniques to roast it. From there, it has been a gradual progression. Bohemier called their process proprietary like the secret Colonel Sanders chicken recipe.
The pair like to educate their clients about “what wild rice is and what wild rice isn’t.”
“It’s not rice,” said Atkinson, who is Ojibwa/Anishnaabe. “Wild rice is a marsh grass grain.”
It has been in her ancestry and around the region for thousands of years and has been used throughout her family history.
Tea Horse’s three original blends include ManoominCha Tea, ManoominCha Dark Tea and Manoominaaboo Herbal Tisane. A fourth manoomin tea is in the works.
You can find their teas and wild rice locally at the Cheese Encounter and Sister Bear Designs or online at www.teahorse.ca
The Manoomin Maple is available at any DavidsTea shop or by visiting their website.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal