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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

What makes good tea good?

BY Sonny Orr Oct 8, 2021

After finishing another conference via video and thanking all the gods for our relatively safety due to the remoteness of our community, I head off to our little camp to fetch some water. Is there a boil water advisory by any chance? No, it’s just an excuse to get out on the land and get some chlorine-free water to steep our tea in, including the Labrador teas, which naturally sweeten out tastebuds and smooth out the hard tannins of the East Indian teas we drink daily.

Yes, we are tea freaks with a mission. We love the waters of the lands and the different flavours that each water source provides. If we lived in the past, the waters would be treated with great care and respect. One water source for a camp would be used for the life spans of generations and the waters of that spring would never touch the human hand or anything else other than the aging tin cup used to ladle the crisp cold waters into a teapot. 

Water is a precious part of life and so is the need to steep our teas in the ways passed on from one generation to the next. Today, the convenient K-Cup tea is the latest rage – even coffee shops are starting to offer evening sips of steeped teas to calm your inner caffeine freak. 

Yes, tea is popular, but water is an even more critical component of our need to stay hydrated without gulping imported bottled water, which, is more expensive than gasoline. Yet water is everywhere around us, so why aren’t we the water barons of the North?

As I sink my water container in a deep spot in the rapids, painfully bending over while balancing myself on a few damp rocks that protrude from the rushing waters, I wonder if all this is worth the effort. Didn’t we just install a new high-tech water system that pumps out water with extreme clarity and such convenience? Or is it really the added chlorine to kill any bacteria and save us from stomach cramps, sicknesses and possibly a few parasites, that is making our water very safe to drink? 

None of the above – it’s the tea’s level of darkness. If the Labrador tea and regular tea come out dark, then the water is not good for making it. Only water that can sustain a light amber colour after being steeped and boiled for good measure and taste can be called good water. 

Meanwhile, the coffee drinker still rages within me this morning – should I have another cup of java and fire somebody today or sip some tasty tea and delay the inevitable for another day? The coffee wins and the jagged withdrawal of caffeine pangs dissipate but return just before lunch.

Tea comes in handy during the full moon, as nothing then will stop pulling an all-nighter wide-eyed and filled with thoughts of anything weird. So, does tea win our debate about what makes a good tea a good? It’s the water, and the argument ends there as I toss the last five gallons of water and head home to save the day with a full pot of tea. My back will not forgive me this time, but my cranky family will thank me for keeping the peace once again.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.