Yaupon is America’s Indigenous Caffeine

Yaupon is North America’s indigenous caffeine source and brings antioxidants without the bitterness of tea while being carbon neutral. Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co., Asi Tea Co. and Wild South Tea are bringing yaupon to the consumer and believe the plant can be “America’s Camellia sinensis.”

Yaupon, a species of holly plant, is native to the American Southeast, from Texas to Virginia, and grows mostly near the coastline. Originally, Native Americans used roasted and brewed yaupon leaves and stems as a primary ingredient in asi or “black drink,” which was used in exclusively male rituals. Spanish settlers later brewed the plant into a beverage called cassina.

In addition to caffeine, yaupon contains theobromine, a stimulant that gives a long, steady alertness. It is also tannin free, so it has no astringency like tea but still contains antioxidants.

Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co.

Photo credit: YauponBrothers.com

“Yaupon could be a game changer in agribusiness in the United States,” said Bryon White, co-owner of Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co. “It grows in the Southeast with very little alteration of the soil or of the growing conditions, without pesticides, without fertilizer and without irrigation. We don’t have to import our caffeine buzz, we can grow it right here.”

Bryon and Kyle White founded their Central Florida-based business in 2012. “We were the first entity that was offering a larger-scale commercial distribution of yaupon in a very long time, ever since before the Civil War,” said White. The brothers own a 12-acre farm in Alachua County, Florida, and manage an additional 500 acres of land where they harvest wild yaupon. They have another organic growing operation in the Florida panhandle. The majority of their yaupon, 85 percent to 90 percent, is wild crafted. “We want to do what’s best for the environment and I think that ultimately what’s best for the environment is to pretty much leave it alone,” said White.

Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co.’s yaupon is sold in loose leaf and tea bag formats.

Asi Tea Co.

Photo credit: YauponTea.com

Asi Tea Co. founder Lou Thomann discovered yaupon while on a nature walk on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia. Ossabaw means “land of yaupon.” After tasting it and liking its effects, he decided to become a yaupon purveyor. “Healthwise, I think this stacks up with any herbal drink on the planet,” Thomann said.

“A lot of the native wisdom surrounding the plant has been lost,” said Thomann. “The more I learned the more I realized it’s just an amazing story and a forgotten plant.” Bringing the plant to modern-day consumers became Thomann’s mission and he founded his company in Savannah in 2010. He also wanted to support indigenous plants and pay homage to the wisdom of the native people who knew and understood the plant. He coined the phrase “ancient wisdom, modern science” to describe yaupon’s characteristics.

Thomann has a yaupon farm consisting of wild-propagated plants and also harvests wild yaupon from maritime forests.

Wild South Tea

Photo credit: WildSouthTea.com

Nick Panzarella founded Wild South Tea in Houston in 2015. He provides yaupon in loose leaf and six bottled flavors. He harvests yaupon from a wild area of his uncle’s farm located north of Houston in New Caney. “Our real energy is focused on the bottled product.”

“Not only does cassina have a long history here, but it’s something totally new for the consumer,” saidPanzarella. “Retailers need to recognize that cassina does have a place in the American market. It’s going to be big in the future—as big as China tea. It’s going to end up having multiple different varieties: roasted, fermented, powdered… I think a lot of people are missing out on this awesome American product.”