Where Does Yaupon Grow? An Inside Look of Yaupon's Natural Range

Bryon White

     While Yaupon's cousin, the Yerba Mate, grows throughout Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina, Yaupon is a North American species. In fact, Yaupon is endemic to the Southeastern United States, meaning that it naturally grows nowhere else. A disjunct population has been reported from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, but the observations are scant, and we doubt that Yaupon is growing there naturally.

 

     Yaupon is North America's only native caffeinated plant species, and it has been consumed by Native American tribes for at least 10,000 years. Traditionally, the natural range of Yaupon extends from East Texas in the west, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in the east. It does not normally occur north of the "fall line", which is the point where the alluvial plain transitions to the "piedmont", or foot hills. Cities along the fall line include Macon and Augusta in Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina. In Florida, Yaupon grows down to Palm Beach County on the east coast, and to Sarasota County on the west coast. By archaeological accounts, Florida is the historic center of Yaupon production. Today, all of Yaupon Brothers teas originate from the east coast of Florida.

 

     Although Yaupon may occur inland, it prefers coastal environments. Especially forests known in Florida as "maritime hammocks." In Texas, Yaupon has become especially plentiful in between Austin and Houston, and it is treated as somewhat as a nuisance in those areas because it's extremely flammable and cattle will not usually eat it. Without a canopy overhead, Yaupon in Texas has become widespread. Along the east coast of the US, Yaupon continues to grow as it always has; as an understory shrub or small tree. Yaupon is a slow-growing, but long-lived species. It is also extremely hardy, and able to withstand extreme temperatures, salt spray, and a wide range of soil types and growing conditions. Yaupon survives in sun or shade, but it's growing habits will adapt to the level of sunlight it receives. Here at Yaupon Brothers, we find that shade-grown Yaupon produces larger leaves which have a better taste and aroma.

   Have any questions about Yaupon? Feel free to use the contact form and ask away!

 

   Bryon White

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Yaupon Brothers Processing Plant - Inside Look

Bryon White

Yaupon Brothers is now working with our friends Jen & Steve Lorch of Table Rock Tea, Co., in Pickens County, South Carolina. Steve & Jen will be lovingly processing our Yaupon just as if it were their own tea. Speaking of, Table Rock Tea is one of only a handful of tea plantations in the United States. Jen & Steve have over 11,000 seedlings of Camellia Sinensis in their state-of-the-art greenhouse. That's impressive! We'll keep you updated on our adventures with Table Rock Tea!

Steve spreading some Florida Yaupon on the withering table.

The Yaupon Bros in the processing area at Table Rock Tea!

 

Check out Table Rock Tea here: http://www.tablerocktea.com/

 

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Yaupon Featured in Nutritional Outlook Magazine

Bryon White

Yaupon, the Only Caffeine Source Native to the U.S., Has Potential to Explode

From a glance at the U.S. caffeine market, it might seem like all the great energy ingredients come from other parts of the world. Coffee is thought to originate in the Middle East, tea comes from Asia, and even alternative energy ingredients like guarana, guayusa, and yerba mate hail from South America.

There is, however, one local contender looking to break onto the scene. Yaupon holly, the only naturally occurring caffeine-containing plant in the United States, has the potential to become the next hyped alternative to coffee. Celebrated for its combination of homegrown appeal, pleasant taste, and possible health benefits, yaupon tea has plenty going for it. But will consumers be put off by its unflattering history?

 

The “American Yerba Mate”

“If you’re looking at trends in caffeinated beverages, the thing I think that is the most interesting right now, and the one that’s got the potential bullet for market expansion, is yaupon,” says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director, American Botanical Council (Austin, TX).

With the popularity of yerba mate and guayusa teas in the United States, it’s no stretch to imagine the success of their close relative, yaupon. A member of the same Ilex genus as its South American cousins, yaupon is native to southeastern states from East Texas to Georgia. The plant’s leaves contain around 1% caffeine, says Blumenthal, similar to the caffeine content of yerba mate. But the taste may be even better.

“It tends to have, especially when it’s roasted, in my opinion, a sweeter or more pleasant taste than mate, which is a positive,” says Blumenthal.

Recent research seems to back up Blumenthal’s opinion. In a study1 of 75 individuals aged 18 and older, participants sampled unidentified tea infusions of yaupon holly and yerba mate, then rated their favorability of the taste. On a scale from 1 to 9, 41% of participants scored yaupon a rating of 4 or higher, compared to only 19% who gave yerba mate the same rating. The researchers suggested the preference might be due to the fact that yaupon is less bitter than mate.

Yaupon tea has been drunk in pockets across the American South for hundreds of years and was used medicinally by Native Americans, says Blumenthal, but modern commercialization of yaupon has only begun in the last few years. However, among the few companies who are marketing yaupon teas, there is definite agreement that the market is quickly growing.

 “We put our first product out in 2012, and we have grown exponentially since then,” says Bryon White, president and CEO, Yaupon Asi Tea (New Smyrna Beach, FL). Fellow yaupon purveyors Texas Yaupon Tea (Bastrop County, TX) and Cat Spring Tea (Cat Spring, TX) have also seen a big increase in interest since launching in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

“At the time, it was extremely rare for anyone to have heard of yaupon tea, and now more and more people say they’ve read about or heard about it,” says Maridel Martinez, founder and owner, Texas Yaupon Tea. “Most people around here are familiar with the plant but have no idea it is caffeinated or that you can make a tea from it. They are always pleasantly surprised when they sample it.”

Early research into the potential health benefits of yaupon have also been promising, with an in vitro study2 from Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) suggesting that a yaupon extract may have anti-inflammatory properties and a high concentration of antioxidants.

But if this all-American caffeine source is so great, why is it only being commercialized now?

 

A History to Reckon With

Which brings us to yaupon’s cultural history and rather unfortunate scientific name, Ilex vomitoria. The plant was named in 1789 by William Aiton, a Scottish botanist, as a reference to its use in a Native American ceremony during which men would drink huge amounts of the yaupon-filled “black drink” in order to induce vomiting and gain energy.3

The purification ritual often preceded wars or marriages, with yaupon holding an important place in the culture of Timucuan Native Americans and later Seminoles, according to Francis Putz, professor of biology and forestry, University of Florida (Gainesville, FL). Indeed, even the name of the famous Seminole leader Osceola is an Anglicized version of “Asi Yahola,” meaning “black drink singer,” says Putz.

Yet in spite of its name, several studies4 have shown no such emetic effect in yaupon leaves. It may have been that the “black drink” contained other ingredients that induced vomiting or it was simply the massive amount the men consumed that made them purge.

There is also another, more sinister theory behind Ilex vomitoria’s name, says Putz. It’s possible that Aiton was bribed by Ceylon tea merchants working in England to give yaupon its unattractive name as a way to shut down competition. Although this early case of corporate espionage lacks proof, Putz believes it to be true.

But regardless of how the name originated, it may well have undermined earlier attempts at commercializing yaupon. In the same study1 where participants rated the taste of yaupon compared to yerba mate, they also completed a survey on how likely they were to purchase a yaupon beverage. While 12 of the 75 participants said they would be interested in purchasing “a caffeine-containing tea made from a shrub native to North America that was consumed by Amerindians and early European colonists,” only 7 continued to hold that belief after learning yaupon’s scientific name and ritualistic history.

For companies like ASI Tea (Savannah, GA), which launched the first ready-to-drink (RTD) yaupon tea a little over six months ago, that history may still be working against them. Lou Thomann, founder, says that yaupon’s legacy is the company’s “biggest challenge.”

“Anyone trying to commercialize this is going to have to deal with that story,” says Thomann, adding that his philosophy is “don’t hide it, celebrate it. It’s an amazing story. If anyone wants to root for the underdog, this thing has been the underdog.”

 

Building from the Ground Up

Yaupon’s distinctly American heritage is a big part of the appeal, but it can also make things more difficult for suppliers. For one, labor costs are considerably higher in the United States than in developing countries where many other caffeine ingredients originate.

“There is the financial challenge of American labor rates throughout harvesting and processing, in contrast to lower internationally sourced coffee and tea production costs, which means yaupon tea will be a more expensive specialty,” says Abianne Miller Falla, cofounder, Cat Spring Tea. Cat Spring Tea currently wild-picks its yaupon leaves.

Yaupon’s relative newcomer status as a commercial ingredient also means there are no established methods or supply chains to tap into, but Falla says this has given Cat Spring Tea the freedom to experiment with a variety of techniques in improving its treatment of the yaupon leaf.

Although several companies have plans for RTD yaupon teas in the future (and one yaupon moonshine), ASI Tea is the first company to offer a line of RTD yaupon teas, which debuted in late 2014. Other native Southern ingredients, such as muscadine grapes, aronia berries, local wild mints, and wild yaupon honey, are combined with yaupon in the RTD teas, says Thomann, which each contain around 30 mg of caffeine.

“We’re selling a really healthy, native, local, wild-picked American treasure,” says Thomann.

After hundreds of years of obscurity and undeserved stigma, yaupon’s time on the commercial caffeine market may have finally arrived.

 

Also read:

What Actions Could FDA Possibly Take on Caffeine This Year?

Guayusa Is More Than Caffeine

Energy Drinks: Consumers Seek Healthy Ingredients

 

 

References

  1. Wainwright AE et al. “A misleading name reduces marketability of a healthful and stimulating natural product: a comparative taste test of infusions of a native Florida holly (Ilex vomitoria) and yerba mate (I. paraguariensis).” Economic Botany, vol. 68, no. 3 (September 2014): 350-354
  2. Noratto GD et al. “Flavonol-rich fractions of yaupon holly leaves (Ilex vomitoria, Aquifoliaceae) induce microRNA-146a and have anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects in intestinal myofibroblast CCD-18Co cells.” Fitoterapia, vol. 82, no. 4 (June 2011): 557-569
  3. Putz FD. “Yaupon redeemed.” The Palmetto, vol. 31, no. 3 (2014): 9-11
  4. Palumbo MJ et al. “Ilex vomitoriaait. (yaupon): a native North American source of a caffeinated and antioxidant rich tea.” Economic Botany, vol. 63, no. 2 (June 2009): 130-137

 

- See more at: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/sports-energy/yaupon-only-caffeine-source-native-us-has-potential-explode#sthash.mqPACTEv.dpuf

From a glance at the U.S. caffeine market, it might seem like all the great energy ingredients come from other parts of the world. Coffee is thought to originate in the Middle East, tea comes from Asia, and even alternative energy ingredients like guarana, guayusa, and yerba mate hail from South America.

There is, however, one local contender looking to break onto the scene. Yaupon holly, the only naturally occurring caffeine-containing plant in the United States, has the potential to become the next hyped alternative to coffee. Celebrated for its combination of homegrown appeal, pleasant taste, and possible health benefits, yaupon tea has plenty going for it. But will consumers be put off by its unflattering history?

 

The “American Yerba Mate”

“If you’re looking at trends in caffeinated beverages, the thing I think that is the most interesting right now, and the one that’s got the potential bullet for market expansion, is yaupon,” says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director, American Botanical Council (Austin, TX).

With the popularity of yerba mate and guayusa teas in the United States, it’s no stretch to imagine the success of their close relative, yaupon. A member of the same Ilex genus as its South American cousins, yaupon is native to southeastern states from East Texas to Georgia. The plant’s leaves contain around 1% caffeine, says Blumenthal, similar to the caffeine content of yerba mate. But the taste may be even better.

“It tends to have, especially when it’s roasted, in my opinion, a sweeter or more pleasant taste than mate, which is a positive,” says Blumenthal.

Recent research seems to back up Blumenthal’s opinion. In a study1 of 75 individuals aged 18 and older, participants sampled unidentified tea infusions of yaupon holly and yerba mate, then rated their favorability of the taste. On a scale from 1 to 9, 41% of participants scored yaupon a rating of 4 or higher, compared to only 19% who gave yerba mate the same rating. The researchers suggested the preference might be due to the fact that yaupon is less bitter than mate.

Yaupon tea has been drunk in pockets across the American South for hundreds of years and was used medicinally by Native Americans, says Blumenthal, but modern commercialization of yaupon has only begun in the last few years. However, among the few companies who are marketing yaupon teas, there is definite agreement that the market is quickly growing.

 “We put our first product out in 2012, and we have grown exponentially since then,” says Bryon White, president and CEO, Yaupon Asi Tea (New Smyrna Beach, FL). Fellow yaupon purveyors Texas Yaupon Tea (Bastrop County, TX) and Cat Spring Tea (Cat Spring, TX) have also seen a big increase in interest since launching in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

“At the time, it was extremely rare for anyone to have heard of yaupon tea, and now more and more people say they’ve read about or heard about it,” says Maridel Martinez, founder and owner, Texas Yaupon Tea. “Most people around here are familiar with the plant but have no idea it is caffeinated or that you can make a tea from it. They are always pleasantly surprised when they sample it.”

Early research into the potential health benefits of yaupon have also been promising, with an in vitro study2 from Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) suggesting that a yaupon extract may have anti-inflammatory properties and a high concentration of antioxidants.

But if this all-American caffeine source is so great, why is it only being commercialized now?

 

A History to Reckon With

Which brings us to yaupon’s cultural history and rather unfortunate scientific name, Ilex vomitoria. The plant was named in 1789 by William Aiton, a Scottish botanist, as a reference to its use in a Native American ceremony during which men would drink huge amounts of the yaupon-filled “black drink” in order to induce vomiting and gain energy.3

The purification ritual often preceded wars or marriages, with yaupon holding an important place in the culture of Timucuan Native Americans and later Seminoles, according to Francis Putz, professor of biology and forestry, University of Florida (Gainesville, FL). Indeed, even the name of the famous Seminole leader Osceola is an Anglicized version of “Asi Yahola,” meaning “black drink singer,” says Putz.

Yet in spite of its name, several studies4 have shown no such emetic effect in yaupon leaves. It may have been that the “black drink” contained other ingredients that induced vomiting or it was simply the massive amount the men consumed that made them purge.

There is also another, more sinister theory behind Ilex vomitoria’s name, says Putz. It’s possible that Aiton was bribed by Ceylon tea merchants working in England to give yaupon its unattractive name as a way to shut down competition. Although this early case of corporate espionage lacks proof, Putz believes it to be true.

But regardless of how the name originated, it may well have undermined earlier attempts at commercializing yaupon. In the same study1 where participants rated the taste of yaupon compared to yerba mate, they also completed a survey on how likely they were to purchase a yaupon beverage. While 12 of the 75 participants said they would be interested in purchasing “a caffeine-containing tea made from a shrub native to North America that was consumed by Amerindians and early European colonists,” only 7 continued to hold that belief after learning yaupon’s scientific name and ritualistic history.

For companies like ASI Tea (Savannah, GA), which launched the first ready-to-drink (RTD) yaupon tea a little over six months ago, that history may still be working against them. Lou Thomann, founder, says that yaupon’s legacy is the company’s “biggest challenge.”

“Anyone trying to commercialize this is going to have to deal with that story,” says Thomann, adding that his philosophy is “don’t hide it, celebrate it. It’s an amazing story. If anyone wants to root for the underdog, this thing has been the underdog.”

 

Building from the Ground Up

Yaupon’s distinctly American heritage is a big part of the appeal, but it can also make things more difficult for suppliers. For one, labor costs are considerably higher in the United States than in developing countries where many other caffeine ingredients originate.

“There is the financial challenge of American labor rates throughout harvesting and processing, in contrast to lower internationally sourced coffee and tea production costs, which means yaupon tea will be a more expensive specialty,” says Abianne Miller Falla, cofounder, Cat Spring Tea. Cat Spring Tea currently wild-picks its yaupon leaves.

Yaupon’s relative newcomer status as a commercial ingredient also means there are no established methods or supply chains to tap into, but Falla says this has given Cat Spring Tea the freedom to experiment with a variety of techniques in improving its treatment of the yaupon leaf.

Although several companies have plans for RTD yaupon teas in the future (and one yaupon moonshine), ASI Tea is the first company to offer a line of RTD yaupon teas, which debuted in late 2014. Other native Southern ingredients, such as muscadine grapes, aronia berries, local wild mints, and wild yaupon honey, are combined with yaupon in the RTD teas, says Thomann, which each contain around 30 mg of caffeine.

“We’re selling a really healthy, native, local, wild-picked American treasure,” says Thomann.

After hundreds of years of obscurity and undeserved stigma, yaupon’s time on the commercial caffeine market may have finally arrived.

 

Also read:

What Actions Could FDA Possibly Take on Caffeine This Year?

Guayusa Is More Than Caffeine

Energy Drinks: Consumers Seek Healthy Ingredients

 

 

References

  1. Wainwright AE et al. “A misleading name reduces marketability of a healthful and stimulating natural product: a comparative taste test of infusions of a native Florida holly (Ilex vomitoria) and yerba mate (I. paraguariensis).” Economic Botany, vol. 68, no. 3 (September 2014): 350-354
  2. Noratto GD et al. “Flavonol-rich fractions of yaupon holly leaves (Ilex vomitoria, Aquifoliaceae) induce microRNA-146a and have anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects in intestinal myofibroblast CCD-18Co cells.” Fitoterapia, vol. 82, no. 4 (June 2011): 557-569
  3. Putz FD. “Yaupon redeemed.” The Palmetto, vol. 31, no. 3 (2014): 9-11
  4. Palumbo MJ et al. “Ilex vomitoriaait. (yaupon): a native North American source of a caffeinated and antioxidant rich tea.” Economic Botany, vol. 63, no. 2 (June 2009): 130-137

 

- See more at: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/sports-energy/yaupon-only-caffeine-source-native-us-has-potential-explode#sthash.mqPACTEv.dpuf

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Daytona Beach News-Journal: Yaupon Tea Founder Addresses Forum

Bryon White

Yaupon Asi Tea founder to address forum


Published: Monday, January 12, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 12, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH — The founder of an Edgewater business that produces a line of teas made from yaupon holly shrubs that grow wild throughout the Southeastern United States will address an entrepreneurs forum here Wednesday morning.

The 1 Million Cups event featuring the presentation by Bryon White, owner of Yaupon Asi Tea, will be from 9 to 10 a.m. at Sweet Marlays’ Coffee at 214 S. Beach St. in downtown Daytona Beach.

White’s company, at 100 N. Ridgewood Avenue in Edgewater, employs five people.

“I’m going to talk about the emerging Yaupon (tea) industry in Central Florida and how it helps society as a whole,” White said.

White said his company’s tea products are now carried in more than 80 specialty grocery stores throughout the Southeast, including Whole Foods Market, Lucky’s Market and Earth Fare stores.

The 1 Million Cups event, held every Wednesday morning at Sweet Marlays’ Coffee, is free and open to the public. The purpose of the forum is to provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to gather and exchange ideas. For details, visit http://1mcdb.com/ on the Web.

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NPR: Here's The Buzz On America's Forgotten Native 'Tea' Plant

Bryon White

Yaupon growing in the wild in east Texas. This evergreen holly was once valuable to Native American tribes in the Southeastern U.S., which made a brew from its caffeinated leaves.

Murray Carpenter for NPR

During a severe drought in 2011, JennaDee Detro noticed that many trees on the family cattle ranch in Cat Spring, Texas, withered, but a certain evergreen holly appeared vigorous. It's called a yaupon.

"The best we can tell is that they enjoy suffering," Detro says with a laugh. "So this kind of extreme weather in Texas — and the extreme soil conditions — are perfect for the yaupon."

Detro began researching yaupon — a tree abundant in its native range, from coastal North Carolina to East Texas — and discovered that the plant contains caffeine and has a remarkable history.

A thousand years ago, Native American traders dried, packed and shipped the leaves all the way to Cahokia, the ancient mound city near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Native Americans sometimes used it in purification rituals involving purging (this led to its Latin name, Ilex vomitoria — a misnomer, because yaupon is not an emetic). Traveling through North Carolina in 1775, the naturalist William Bartram said Cherokees called yaupon "the beloved tree." Early settlers even exported yaupon to Europe.

But yaupon was eventually elbowed aside by what purists call true tea — made from the leaves of the Asian shrub Camellia sinensis. (Technically, yaupon is an herbal infusion.) Because of yaupon's recent obscurity, Detro had to learn how to dry and prepare the leaves on her own.

"There is a lost art of preparing yaupon tea," says Detro, "because there are so many years between the Native American use of yaupon tea and our modern use of yaupon tea."

(Left) A box of Cat Spring Yaupon Tea, produced by JennaDee Detro and her sister, Abianne Falla. (Right) A glass of iced yaupon tea as served at Odd Duck, a farm-to-table restaurant in Austin, Texas.

Murray Carpenter for NPR

After Detro learned how to process the leaves, she told her sister, Abianne Falla, about her plans to sell the product at a farmers market or two. "At first, when she was telling me about it, I kind of had the same mentality of everyone around here, 'Well, let me taste it first,' " says Falla. "And as soon as I did, it was like, 'We might be onto something. I think we should make a run of it.' "

The sisters started selling their Cat Spring Yaupon Tea online two years ago, both a green tea and a roasted black tea. And Falla began getting the tea onto store shelves and into restaurants. Now the tea is being served at Austin restaurants like Dai Due and Odd Duck that focus on locally sourced food.

Odd Duck manager Jason James said he was surprised to learn about the tea. But he was pleased to find the taste familiar. "The flavor profile of it, I don't think it's too far off from a black tea," he says. "The tannin structures are a little bit different."

James says the lack of tannins can be a benefit, because it is harder to oversteep the tea. He recently started serving yaupon in lieu of black tea, and now the lunch crowd drinks 4 or 5 gallons daily. "Being that we had that ethic of sourcing local, and being sustainable, this just fit the bill," James says.

Detro and Falla have had some guidance along the way from Steve Talcott, a professor of food chemistry at Texas A&M University. Talcott says that yaupon, like coffee and tea, is rich in the antioxidants known as polyphenols. And it's the only native North American plant he knows of that contains caffeine. He says the caffeine levels in yaupon vary, but are roughly comparable to green or black tea.

Talcott says he loves to watch people's reactions when he tells them that this common outdoor tree can be turned into a tasty, and buzz-delivering, brew.

JennaDee Detro harvests yaupon. After it is harvested, she takes it to a drying barn. Only the dried leaves are used to make yaupon tea.

Murray Carpenter for NPR

"I'll walk out and pick some leaves off a plant and go, 'This is the only plant we know in North America that contains caffeine. I can make a wonderful tea out of this.' And they are just like, 'No, no way,' " says Talcott. "It's just amazing, until they actually try the tea. Until you try it for the first time, you'd just be blown away that it's an edible food."

Drinking iced tea at the corner store in Cat Spring in the heat of the day, construction worker David Avery is a bit skeptical. He says he has spent many hours on a bulldozer, tearing up yaupon, which encroaches on hay fields and pastures.

"Ahhh, yaupon. Shoot, if you're from around here, you just want to get rid of it," Avery says. "Most of the people, we don't do anything with it. First that I've heard that they're making tea."

But Avery says he'd like to try it. And he's not alone. Detro and Falla have sold enough yaupon to brew more than 100,000 cups of tea, to customers in 36 states. With other companies in Georgia and Florida now selling yaupon, it may be poised for a comeback that's long overdue.


Tea Tuesdays is an occasional series exploring the science, history, culture and economics of this ancient brewed beverage.

Murray Carpenter is a journalist and author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts And Hooks Us.

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