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Meet America's Only Native 'Tea' Plant, the Yaupon

As a people, we love caffeine. Coffee, green tea, yerba mate, whichever form you choose there is something to be said about a morning ritual of waking up to a warm mug of a caffeinated beverage. Have you stopped to think though about where your beverage is coming from? The one caffeinated beverage you're probably not drinking, but should be, is the lesser known yaupon tea. Originating in the Southeastern U.S., yaupon tea comes from the only caffeinated plant that is native to North America.

Coffee, green tea, and yerba mate, these are all native to other countries. Most coffee is imported to the United States from South America, green tea is native to China, and yerba mate is native to the subtropical forests of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. Yaupon tea, derived from the shrub yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) and sometimes referred to as cassina, thrives from Southern Virginia down to Florida and west towards Central Texas.

This evergreen shrub can grow up to six feet tall and produces leaves that contain one percent caffeine, which is similar to that of yerba mate - in fact it's a close cousin of yerba mate. It's not all about the caffeine, though. Yaupon tea is similar to yerba mate in health benefits and is high in antioxidants, fights inflammation, and contains the same happy stimulant found in chocolate, theobromine. In comparison to flavor, it's sweeter than yerba mate and more robust like coffee.

While this tea has started to turn heads in the past few years, it has long been a part of American history. Native American tribes used it for purification ceremonies as it would induce vomiting and hallucinations if consumed in highly concentrated forms. According to naturalist William Bartram, the Cherokee referred to it as "the beloved tree". It replaced coffee during the Civil War and was known to Europeans as the "black drink" due to it's color.

Commercially, Texas is blowing up the yaupon tea scene. Yaupon thrives in the extreme soil there and Texans are taking note. If you're in the area or are looking to purchase yaupon, here are four Texas companies bringing this tea to market.

1. Lost Pines Yaupon Tea

Founded in 2015 by three friends, Lost Pines Yaupon Tea uses the harvesting, curing, and roasting methods that first sparked founder Jason Ellis's interest in producing the tea. The company offers two roasts, a light and dark. The light roast has a hint of caramel with a nutty and grassy flavor. The dark on the other hand can be caramel-y when brewed light or nutty and smoky when brewed strong. Both can be purchased on their website.

2. Wimberley Tea Company

Wimberley Tea Company is what happens when a group of like-minded friends from all different professions come together over one beautiful product in the Texas Hill Country. They offer a one and two ounce loose-leaf tea pouch with free shipping.

3. CatSpring Yaupon

One of the more popular yaupon tea companies, CatSpring has gained a lot of attention. The sister owned company with the slogan "It's Texan, for tea" offers a couple different roasts both as loose-leaf and tea bags, as well as a holiday blend. Their farming methods are completely free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and synthetic weed control. Checkout their product here.

5. Texana Tea

Texana Tea produces ethically wildharvested yaupon tea. They offer four different blends to suit your mood. The Illumination is infused with organic pink rose petals, the Bee's Cave Brew is their version of a wild Texas sweet tea, Marfa Lite is medium brewed pure yaupon, and Self Care Ritual is infused with organic nettles, hawthorn berry, oat straw, and mint. Contact them for more information on where you can find their product.

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