WELLNESS WEDNESDAY

TEA 101: Origination & Creation

{Blending & Flavour in the North American Tea Industry}

 

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”  

Arthur Conan Doyle ~ The Boscombe Valley Mystery {The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, #4}

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WARNING ⚠️: DISTURBING CONTENT

Have you ever wondered while reading the labels on your food, on your favourite treats or on your tea what the term "natural flavour" or "artificial flavour" meant? Have you ever wondered where these "ingredients" might have come from, how they were processed and why they are present in the product that you are ingesting into your body? You also might be wondering why there's a massive photo of a beaver in this post. For those of you who are fans of the larger tea company brands who’s teas are full of flavours, sparkles, sprinkles and sugar, we want you to understand where these ingredients come from that you are consuming.

 

The food industry is full of hidden secrets, cut corners and ways of driving down the prince in order to increase profits. Many “natural” flavours are often derived from grotesque places such as beaver anal glands. Yup, you heard me right, beaver assholes. Not only is this absolutely cruel it is also unnecessary. I mean, who in their right mind discovered this in the first place and would then decide it would be okay to introduce this to our food industry?! A few years ago, we found an article titled, 18 Most Sickening Food Ingredients , which highlights the ingredient Castoreum, which is the ingredient disguised as "natural" vanilla, strawberry and raspberry flavours which are some of the major culprits for being sourced in this fashion.

 

Castoreum

What it is: Brace yourself—this food flavoring is extracted from the castor sac scent glands of the male or female beaver, which are located near the anus. According to Milkowski, the substance is pretty expensive (think about what it probably takes to obtain it) and is more common in perfume than in actual foods. 

Where you’ll find it: While it sounds downright disgusting, the FDA says it’s GRAS, meaning it’s “generally recognized as safe.” You won’t see this one on the food label because it’s generally listed as “natural flavoring.” It’s natural all right—naturally icky.

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At Shisso Tea we have zero tolerance for ingredients that do not positively benefit the body or are sourced unethically and inhumanely. We focus mainly on single origin teas which have been lovingly and ethically sourced. Any teas which have been scented are only ever done so with pure ingredients, essential oils or are naturally scented with ingredients during the processing.

Our  Midnight Jasmine Tea for instance has been naturally scented with the jasmine flowers through a ancient process which is hundreds of years old. Tao Tea Leaf displays this process beautifully in an article called Tradition Jasmine Green Tea Scenting Process.  "Jasmine tea is a precious species of scented tea. It is has a history dating over 700 years old. Some say that you can smell the freshness of springtime in quality jasmine tea. Its taste is mellow and refreshing. It has a durable and fresh fragrance."

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We are passionate about providing the best quality tea, the most ethically sourced ingredients and sharing the tradition and culture from this 5000 year old industry with you.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions and input with us!

With a jasmine scented heart,

Vanessa Chislett
Founder of Shisso Tea

M I X O L O G Y & M I X E D T A P E M O N D A Y S

IN MEMORY OF MY FATHER REGINALD
BAND [MAN] ON THE RUN {PAUL MCCARTNEY}

 

"If I ever get out of her,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get outta here
If we ever get outta of here"
 

Smells like: Patchouli Scented Skin, Sweet Irish Cream Pipe Tobacco and Old Spice.

Looks like: Midnight Tobogganing at Prairie Winds, Toy Guns till Summers Twilight with Every Kid on the Block & Many Empty Promises.

Tastes like: A Palo Santo smoked glass, Crown Royal Black, Kola Nut & Patchouli Bitters, Milky Black Oolong, Spritz of Vanilla Dry Soda & Squeeze of Fresh Lime.

Sounds like: Slow Soothing Percussion, Dreamy Electric Guitar, Harmonious Vocals and An Adventure on the Road.

Feels like: Euphoric Infinite Child-Like Play, Bitter Hurt of Unresolved Trauma & Sadness like a Electric Alberta Summer Storm

 

A few weeks ago I was informed of my father's passing. It's been a few weeks of reflection, of healing and of recalibration. Death has a really interesting way of bringing things to the surface and cultivating the space for us to look at what is within us that we need to look at. I just wanted to say thank you for your patience during this time as I've been off social media much more recently.

M I N D F U L M O N D A Y
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“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” 
― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

From the young age of 10 years old, I was given the humbling and transformational opportunity to volunteer my time, travel to a different city and see life from the perspective of a demographic of people who had been through more than I could imagine. This experience would open up many more experiences similar for me to serve and volunteer both globally and locally. Though I was born and raised in Calgary, a city with so much opportunity, I connected with those who came from a socioeconomic status of those I was serving. I came from a broken home, a mother who raised 5 kids all on her own and with the conditioning that there was never enough, money, food, time etc. With each opportunity to serve those who had even less than myself, I was not only able to develop a deep compassion for the poor, but I also understood what it was to be grateful for everything I had. One of the most beautiful things I took away from so many that I served was that they often had the most joyous and grateful hearts with anything we were able to do to help. 

One of my fondest memories was from a volunteer trip I was on to Haiti. We were travelling down with a group and leading up to my departure for this trip, I got a very intense flu that would not let up no matter how much I fought the sickness back. The night before my flight, I was sitting on my bedroom floor, bawling, snotting, coughing and wondering what the hell I was going to do, if I should cancel, if I should throw in the white flag. I chose to go anyway.

Side story; I had also went against my team leaders instruction to get all the shots necessary for a country with malaria and many other diseases foreign to us in Canada. My naturopath send me with herbal supplements which were to help me heal while on my trip. I will later explain how this is one of my miraculous testimony's of how incredible plant medicine in and that this earth has everything that we require to heal ourselves.

After, one of the most excruciating 2 days of travelling (airplanes when you have a head cold turn even the strongest person into a blubbering child!) having met up with my team in Ontario, missing our flights due to missing passports in scanners an hour from the airport and travelling into a country that looked nothing like my home, I was exhausted. On our second day, after staying in a hostel in Port Au Prince, we had one more flight to catch in a mini 4 seat plane, over the mountains, landing in a grass field on the other side. I was elated, by the rawness of every sensation as the plane took off and landed, the thrill of death being a higher possibility and the birds eye view of this incredibly diverse island. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't I who had to reach for the barf bag in the seats in front of me, rather it was my teammate next to me. We were in the wild. Rural Haiti, no concrete roads, old Landrovers with no suspension and our guides speaking to us in broken English with the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen, they were beaming. 

It was upon arrival to this camp where we would be staying for the next week that I was humbled beyond the expression of words. The sun had already set, the cool light from the remaining day made silhouettes of the trees and buildings as we walked to dirt path with our bags to the 4 room house where we were to stay. As we walked pasted this building structure which was the kitchen and dinning hall, I saw this woman crouched over this massive bowl like pan which contained the skull of one of their livestock which they had butchered as an offering to us as their guests. Tears well up in me even now as I am writing this out, remembering how beautifully generous our hosts were in spite of the purpose of our trip to be serving them. Later that evening, one of the ladies had heard that I wasn't feeling well and they brought me fresh ginger root tea and honey they had harvested and brought me in a little baby food jar. I can't even express how loved, cared for and blessed I feel to this day to have been able to experience that kind of kindness.

I took away more than just a deep gratitude for the kindness I was shown, that moment was a seed which was planted in my heart that would burst forth into a fire of passion for philanthropy, for generosity and for social entrepreneurship. These people, who were living with far less than myself gave all that they had, shared with us everything in their hearts to care for us as they would have other care for them. I know that this causes me to strive to take a page out of their book, to remember that no matter what I do or do not have, there is always ways we can care for those around us. It isn't about WHAT we have, but that we are willing. To first look and see what our fellow neighbours need, to care for the needs of others beyond our own gain, without an expectation of return. Generosity does not always have to look like a million dollar check to a not-for-profit of whom has no accountability for it's donations. It can look like a warm smile or simply making a cup of tea for someone who isn't feeling well.

What are some ways you'd like to incorporate generosity into your daily life?

 

With gratitude and sticky Haitian ginger honey fingers, 

Vanessa Chislett

Founder & Owner

Tea 101: Origination

Part 2 - Chinese Genealogy of Tea

 

“A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.” 
― Mary Lou HeissThe Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide

 

The Camellia Sinensis Tea plant is indigenous of East Asia, evidence suggests that tea drinking likely originated in the boarderlands of north Burma (Myanmar) and southwest China. The earliest written records of tea come from China. 

 

China

Shang Dynasty (1600 - 1046 BC)

Tea drinking may have begun in the Yunnan region during the Shang Dynasty in China, when it was used for medicinal purposes. It is also believed that in Sichuan, "people began to boil tea leaves for consumption into a concentrated liquid without the addition of other leaves or herbs, thereby using tea as a bitter yet stimulating drink, rather than as a medicinal concoction."
 

Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 256 BC)

The earliest reference to tea was the word tu 荼 which appeared in Shijing and other ancient texts to signify a kind of "bitter vegetable" (苦菜), and it is possible that it referred to a number of different plants, such as sowthistle, chicory, or smartweed, including tea.
In the Chronicles of Huayang, it was recorded that the Ba people in Sichuan presented tu to the Zhou king.

Laozi, the classical Chinese philosopher, was said to describe tea as "the froth of the liquid jade" and named it an indispensable ingredient to the elixir of life. Legend has it that master Lao was saddened by society's moral decay and, sensing that the end of the dynasty was near, he journeyed westward to the unsettled territories, never to be seen again. While passing along the nation's border, he encountered and was offered tea by a customs inspector named Yin Hsi. Yin Hsi encouraged him to compile his teachings into a single book so that future generations might benefit from his wisdom. This then became known as the Dao De Jing, a collection of Laozi's sayings.


Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 BC)

The state of Ba and its neighbour Shu were later conquered by the Qin, and according to the 17th century scholar Gu Yanwu who wrote in Ri Zhi Lu (日知錄): "It was after the Qin had taken Shu that they learned how to drink tea." Another possible early reference to tea is found in a letter written by the Qin Dynasty general Liu Kun who requested that some "real tea" to be sent to him.

During this Dynasty, in ancient China, various emperors sought the fabled elixir with varying results. Qin Shi Huangsent Taoist alchemist Xu Fu with 500 young men and 500 young women to the eastern seas to find the elixir, but he never came back (legend has it that he found Japan instead). When Shi Huang Di visited, he brought 3000 young girls and boys, but none of them ever returned.


Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD)

The earliest known physical evidence of tea was discovered in 2016 in the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han in Xi'an, indicating that tea from the genus Camellia was drunk by Han Dynasty emperors as early as the 2nd century BC. 
The Han dynasty work "The Contract for a Youth", written by Wang Bao in 59 BC, contains the first known reference to boiling tea. Among the tasks listed to be undertaken by the youth, the contract states that "he shall boil tea and fill the utensils" and "he shall buy tea at Wuyang".


The first record of tea cultivation is also dated to this period (the reign of Emperor Xuan of Han), during which tea was cultivated on Meng Mountain (蒙山) near Chengdu.
Another early credible record of tea drinking dates to the third century AD, in a medical text by Hua Tuo, who stated, "to drink bitter t'u constantly makes one think better.
However, before the mid-8th century Tang dynasty, tea-drinking was primarily a southern Chinese practice.


Sui Dynasty (589 - 618 AD)

During the Sui Dynasty tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks.


Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD)

Before the mid-8th century Tang dynasty, tea-drinking was primarily a southern Chinese practice. It became widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, when it was spread to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. 

Tea became a more popular pastime – became a source of artistic inspiration – painters, potters and poets created a sophisticated universe around tea filled with symbolism.
The Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu's Cha Jing (The Classic of Tea) is an early work on the subject. According to Cha Jing tea drinking was widespread. The book describes how tea plants were grown, the leaves processed, and tea prepared as a beverage. It also describes how tea was evaluated. The book also discusses where the best tea leaves were produced. Teas produced in this period were mainly tea bricks which were often used as currency, especially further from the centre of the empire where coins lost their value. In this period, tea leaves were steamed, then pounded and shaped into cake or brick forms.


Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD)

During the Song Dynasty, production and preparation of all tea changed. The tea of Song included many loose-leaf styles (to preserve the delicate character favoured by court society), and it is the origin of today's loose teas and the practice of brewed tea. A new powdered form of tea also emerged. Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea. After the transition from compressed tea to the powdered form, the production of tea for trade and distribution changed once again.
 

Yuan & Ming Dynasties (1271 - 1644 AD)

The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-13th century. Tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled rather than steamed. By the Yuan and Ming dynasties, unfermented tea leaves were first pan-fried, then rolled and dried. This stops the oxidation process which turns the leaves dark and allows tea to remain green. In the 15th century, Oolong tea, where the tea leaves were allowed to partially ferment before pan-frying, was developed. Western taste, however, preferred the fully oxidized black tea, and the leaves were allowed to ferment further. Yellow tea was an accidental discovery in the production of green tea during the Ming dynasty, when apparently sloppy practices allowed the leaves to turn yellow, but yielded a different flavour as a result.

In 1391, the Ming court issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a "tribute". As a result, loose tea production increased and processing techniques advanced. Soon, most tea was distributed in full-leaf, loose form and steeped in earthenware vessels.

Vanessa ChislettComment
Sustainability Saturdays Volume 1
"We are all connected; to each other biologically. To the earth chemically. To the rest of the universe, atomically." 
-Neil Degrasse Tyson

Maybe its getting louder, or maybe we're finally starting to pay attention. Either way, you know what I'm talking about, don't you? Natural resource depletion, blanched biodiversity, opportunistic exploitation, carcinogens leaking into our air and seeping under our skin. The Earth and her people are getting sick. Its almost enough to overwhelm a girl, to sink her into smallness, relegate her to corner in resolute resignation and perpetual mourning. But what good are our bleeding hearts, if we only rally them in service of sadness? What use it is to stumble around mumbling about the inevitability of our demise, if we don't do anything to prevent it?

Now, I know you're not gonna let me get away with the burnt out dictum: all corporations are evil. That's too easy, isn't it? Offloading our frustration onto faceless companies we hypocritically fuel with our purchasing power, because we're busy and tired and not sure what else to do.

That's the question, isn't it. How do we move towards more environmentally and socially responsible futures for the globe, while still managing our personal day-to-days?

As I was researching ways to bring more sustainable practices to the tea industry, I stumbled across this article, Climate Change Sparks Tension in India's Tea Gardens, which stories this dilemma really poignantly:

Usha Ghatowar smiles wryly when asked about the pay she earns picking leaves at a colonial-era tea garden in Assam.
"Do you think 3,000 rupees are enough when your monthly expenses can be double that?" she mumbles, as she puts on her "jaapi" hat of woven bamboo and palm leaves and takes a sip of tea from a steel mug.
As the women workers around Ghatowar nod in agreement the heavens open - it has started raining heavily in recent days after three largely dry months.
Unrest is brewing among Assam's so-called Tea Tribes, whose forefathers were brought here by British planters from neighbouring Bihar and Odisha more than a century ago, as changing weather patterns upset the economics of the industry.

While I'm not gonna scapegoat faceless corporate greed, I'm also not gonna tell you that more corporate social responsibility is gonna fix this. At some point, you and I need to start owning our choices. At some point, you and I need to get honest about where our food, clothing, cosmetics, technology and energy are coming from. And I mean it when I say I'm counting myself in this amorphous mess, as I type away on my MacBook from the comfort of my suburban rental suite. 

Depressing right? I know you're frustrated. I know you want a better world. I know you want to feel good about what you buy and where it comes from. So here's what I can bring to that. 

I can offer you a more flushed-out story about what is really going on with the tea industry. Piece by piece, post by post. Knowledge is power my friends. If you're here and reading this, I know you're already weary from trying to live better, trying to change the world from your own spheres and soapboxes. So here is what you can count on me to add to your efforts. Sustainability Saturdays is a series devoted to crafting an image of the global tea industry. I want you to be able to visualize the beast, give it shape and name, understand it so you can imagine new ways to get at its underbelly. None of the solutions are simple, and I don't have all the answers on my own, but I can give you some insider's knowledge, and I can provide the framework for re-imagining a new way forward for our favourite beverage. 

Thank you for journeying with me. Thank you for believing in my company to make a fist-sized dent in an incredibly exploitive industry, and investing your time here. 

Know that I am working hard to build a brand which can support environmentally and nutritionally pure tea, while advocating for the importance of reconnecting with our food. 

See you on the message boards in the coming weeks as we move through Sustainability Saturdays! 

With rain-soaked hair and chai filled air,

Vanessa 

Vanessa ChislettComment
Tea 101: Origination

Part 1 - The Legends

 

"Tea has a long and turbulent history, filled with intrigue, adventure, fortune gained and lost, embargoes, drugs, taxation, smugglers, war, revolution, religious aestheticism, artistic expression, and social change."   Mary Lou & Robert J. Heiss (The Story of Tea)

 

The history of tea is slippery. Its origin stories are street-wise and nimble; nailing down a single tale feels a bit like unravelling knotted necklace chains, coiled together at the bottom of your suitcase. The rich history of tea is multi-storied, but I've sifted out two to get us started.

In the beginning...

The Legend of ShenNong (2737 BC)

Once upon a (prehistoric) time, in a land far far away (unless you are in China) lived the  legendary deity, Shennong. Shennong was a mythical sage ruler, and the mastermind behind Chinese agriculture and medicine. One windy day, he was drinking a bowl of boiled water (all the subjects of the land cleansed their water by boiling it first) and a few leaves blew into the cup, changing the colour. The emperor took a sip of the brew, and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour. Some tell a variant of the legend, in which Shennong tested the medicinal properties of teas on himself, and found them to soothe ailments and work as an antidote to poisonous herbs. (For more on this legend and others, check out Lu Yu's famous early work on the subject, The Classic of Tea.)

 

The Legend of Bodhidarma (Tang Dynasty 618 - 907AD)

*sometimes, another version of the story is told with Gautama Buddha in place of Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China. According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery, which led to the creation of Shaolin kungfu. In Japan, he is known as Daruma. The rather gruesome legend dates back to the Tang Dynasty. In the traditional folklore, Bodhidharma accidentally fell asleep after meditating in front of a wall for nine years. He woke up in such disgust at his weakness, that he cut off his own eyelids. They fell to the ground and took root, growing into tea bushes. This myth expresses the sentiment that tea is the drink of woke-folks: open eyes as a metaphor for staying present, engaged, and aware in the world.

So there you have it, the first two pieces of a tea leaf puzzle. Origin stories shape our collective consciousness, and function as a container for growing.  Share below if you know another version of the tale!

Much love and tea-stained fingertips, 

Vanessa

 

Tea 101: Series Introduction

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

Hello fellow tea lovers,

If you're reading this, welcome to the journey: finally and officially! Our blog is up and running and I cannot wait to share with you what I know, and invite you into an exploration of what I'm learning. (On that note: your voice—as a member of the ethical tea tribe— is highly prized! Please feel invited to contribute questions/comments to the mix as we journey together, tea-sipping travellers.)

To give you a bit of an idea where we are headed, posts in the Tea 101 Series are designed to inform you of the Origination, Foundation, Evolution, Tradition, Circulation and Revolution of tea. These topics might not mean much to you now, but as we unpack each one you'll understand tea in it's entirety. From history, to genetic makeup, to growth and harvest, to the cultures and ceremonies surrounding tea, and finally to the global supply chain. The purpose of this series is to cultivate an appreciation for the drink you love, and learn how to make a significant impact both globally and locally with your purchasing dollar.

So thanks for strapping in folks, I look forward to putting on some miles together! I am so grateful to have you along on this journey, and am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on each of the topics we dive into.

Much love and a matcha grin, 

Vanessa