Tea made from Florida’s yaupon a wonderful discovery

Tea made from Florida’s yaupon a wonderful discovery

From The News-Herald's Paris Wolfe:

I buy local and support small, independent businesses when possible, even when I travel. Unfortunately, my tea addiction hasn’t allowed that, at least until recently.

In a small café in St. Augustine, Florida, I was served tea made from yaupon, a caffeine-containing holly shrub that grows wild in Florida. The infusion made from its dried young leaves tastes like black tea without tannic bitterness and has the pep power of the traditional caffeinated beverages. Its high-antioxidant content is a bonus.

Yaupon tea was popular with indigenous people until colonists replaced it with imported Asian teas made from Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis, with little exception, has proved nearly impossible to grow in the New World. Legend has it British colonists were so intent on preserving their control of the tea trade — and its fortunes — that the native yaupon tea was given the distasteful Latin name Ilex vomitoria, thus creating a marketing nightmare.

Growers and distributors such as Yaupon Brothers in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, are working to bring the American native tea back to the table and, in the process, grabbing a share, however small, of the $13 billion U.S. tea market.

Bryon White, co-founder of Yaupon Brothers and self-described “plant nerd,” stumbled on a thick hedge of yaupon in 2011.

“I was working in the garden and came across yaupon,” he said. “I had read old books about native and indigenous peoples consuming it and thought it was cool.”

Bryon and brother Kyle White teamed up to rekindle the yaupon tea market. They started selling yaupon in 2012. A year later, they received their USDA Organic certification. Today, they wildcraft the tea from 12 acres in Volusia County, Florida.

Yaupon Brothers’ four products — fire-roasted, green, chai and lavender coconut — are available in 20 states, Canada and the United Kingdom, in more than 180 retail locations or at yauponbrothers.com. In Ohio, it can be purchased at Mott’s Old Mill Bulk Foods, in Louisville.

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