In the past decade, Yaupon Holly tea has gained popularity among consumers, especially those who care about sustainable, locally grown products. There’s more to Yaupon than meets the eye. This tea is truly unique and special - from its great taste, Indigenous origins, American roots, and unparalleled health benefits, this is everything you need to know!
How to Pronounce “Yaupon”
Starting with the basics, the most common pronunciation of Yaupon Holly among producers is “YO - pawn.” One of Rise Yaupon’s founders, Mark, generally relies on his Rocky Balboa impersonation (Yo, Adrienne!!) to describe the correct pronunciation. Instead of Adrienne, it’s “YO! pawn”. If you see him at a farmers market, ask for a demo.
What does Yaupon Holly Tea taste like?
Rise Yaupon’s America’s Classic Blend is a great way to try the taste of pure yaupon holly. The taste of Yaupon is smooth and light with slightly grassy notes, similar to a traditional green tea (without the bitterness).
Nutritional and Chemical Composition
Yaupon was used medicinally for thousands of years. Here is an overview of the chemical components found in Yaupon Holly tea:
- Naturally caffeinated, about 40-60 mg of caffeine per cup
- Antioxidant superfoods, including polyphenols and flavonoids (antioxidants linked to cancer prevention)
- It is never bitter due to the lack of tannin, which makes it easier on the stomach. Diabetics and dieters like no tannins because it can be enjoyed without the need for sugar or sweetener.
- Good for gut flora
- Natural anti-inflammatory
- A high ratio of theobromine (the pleasure molecule also found in chocolate) to caffeine
Health Benefits and Research
Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug, with over 85% of adults consuming it daily. Moderate caffeine intake can enhance focus, improve mood, and bolster metabolism. What’s unique about Yaupon Holly tea is that it has roughly ⅓ of the caffeine content as coffee but is high in theobromine. Theobromine acts as a vasodilator, amplifying caffeine’s effects, giving the same alertness and awareness without the crash or jitters. Theobromine is the “pleasure” molecule found in chocolate - a natural antidepressant and heart stimulant.
Different people respond differently to caffeine intake, and caffeine mixed with medications can cause adverse side effects. Consult with your doctor or health care professional to develop the right routine for you.
The presence of polyphenols and flavonoids, two potent antioxidants, is also a tremendous health benefit of Yaupon tea. These antioxidants have been linked to anti-cancer properties and have been shown to aid in preventing and combating cancer, especially colon cancer. Texas A&M University pioneered this study, which can be found here.
Don’t just take our word for it; the National Institute of Health published the benefits of yaupon here.
How is Yaupon Tea Different From Other Teas?
- “Tea” is used to describe leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant that have been processed and brewed. Black tea, green tea, Oolong tea, etc., all come from this plant. Yaupon Holly is an entirely different plant species.
- Yaupon Holly leaves are tougher than Camellia sinensis leaves. This means Yaupon likes boiling water when preparing tea.
- Yaupon Holly has little to no tannin, which causes a bitter taste, upset stomach, and brown teeth. Tannin is common in other teas, coffee, and wines. The lack of tannin means Yaupon Holly tea can be steeped multiple times.
- Yaupon Holly has a significantly reduced carbon footprint - it is grown in the US and not imported. Coffee beans and other teas are grown abroad and transported to American consumers.
- Yaupon Holly has the highest ratio of theobromine to caffeine compared to other beverages. Theobromine is known as the “pleasure” molecule found in chocolate.
- Yaupon Holly lacks oxalates found in other teas and is especially a trademark of black tea. Large consumption of oxalates has been linked to the formation of kidney stones.
- Yaupon Holly tea has been consumed approximately 3 thousand years longer than traditional teas from China.
Yaupon vs. Yerba Mate
Yaupon Holly and Yerba Mate both come from the same scientific family, Ilex. In essence, they are cousins. Yaupon Holly is endemic to North America, whereas Yerba Mate is endemic to South America.
Both are naturally caffeinated and antioxidant-rich, but Yerba Mate has tannin, and Yaupon Holly does not and can not be over-steeped. Yerba Mate has maintained its cultural importance and presence in modern-day consumer behavior. In contrast, Yaupon suffered from a successful smear campaign that took it out of the marketplace for 300+ years. You can read more about the fate of Yaupon here.
Yaupon is a tougher leaf than other (Camellia sinensis) teas and, as such, needs boiling water to steep. Due to yaupon’s lack of tannins, you can’t over-steep in time or temperature, making yaupon a very easy (and foolproof) tea to brew!
Hot teas (one serving)
- Add boiling water to your favorite cup with one teabag
- Let steep for 3-5 minutes or until cool enough to drink
- Keep your teabag in your cup, and repeat. One teabag should yield multiple cups of tea
- Our motto is “steep it and keep it!”
Iced Tea (1 gallon)
- Boil approximately 5 cups of water
- In a metal mixing bowl, combine boiling water and 5 teabags. Let sit until room temperature.
- Move to a gallon pitcher (keeping teabags in) and fill it with cold water
- Enjoy over ice
- Refrigerate the remaining tea. Recommend removing teabags if storing longer than 2-3 days.
Is Yaupon Holly Really Tea?
For most consumers, yes. Yaupon Holly leaves are dried, blended, put into teabags, and steeped in hot water. For tea enthusiasts, tea is only used in reference to leaves coming from a different plant species, Camellia sinensis. In that regard, Yaupon is categorized as a caffeinated, herbal tisane. Whether you refer to it as tea or tisane, yaupon holly brings a uniqueness unlike any other tea.
Yaupon Holly today is seen as little more than a landscaping shrub, but for over eight thousand years, Yaupon tea was at the center of aboriginal American life:
In religion, Yaupon was a gift from the god of purity and could cleanse your soul of all transgressions. It was used in various religious ceremonies, with a pre-battle ceremony originating in what the Spanish explorers dubbed “the black drink.”
In commerce: Yaupon was carried in elaborate trade routes, sometimes for hundreds of miles. There is evidence of Yaupon in Cahokia, near modern-day St. Louis, MO.
In medicine, Yaupon was an aid to digestion and, as a natural anti-inflammatory, was widely used for various ailments.
In social structure, Yaupon tea was a traditional gesture of greeting and goodwill, a signal of reconciliation after battle, and a unifying ritual when a group had to make essential plans or decisions.
In daily life, Yaupon was the drink of choice for starting the day.
What Happened to Yaupon Tea Over the Years?
A series of events contributed to the decline of Yaupon Holly in the 1700’s:
1. Carl Linnaeus made a mistake. The father of binomial nomenclature, Linnaeus, categorized Yaupon Holly as Ilex cassine (cassine being one of the Indigenous names of the plant). However, he also categorized Yaupon’s cousin, Dahoon Holly, as Ilex cassine (thinking they were the same).
2. Yaupon was starting to be imported into Europe by the French and Spanish, gaining momentum, which threatened the British tea monopoly.
3. Britain lost the Revolutionary War and was not keen on supporting American imports, especially since the British East India Tea Company provided King George with ~10% of England’s GDP. Yaupon threatened their monopoly on tea and sugar (and, by extension, enslaved people to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean).
4. Though collusion and nefarious intent can’t be proven, the British Royal Gardener for King George, William Aiton, uncovered Linnaeus’ mistake and decided to “correct” it by renaming Yaupon ilex vomitoria. Yaupon has no emetic properties, and this nomenclature was unprecedented - even truly emetic plants don't have such a grotesque naming…
5. An intensive smear campaign followed. It did not help that Native Americans were depicted as “savages,” their culture was rejected, including the world’s best tea.
Yaupon tea largely fell off consumers' radar until the American Civil War. By then, caffeine was a vital part of daily life, and when Confederate troops were cut off from imported coffee and teas due to the Northern blockade, they turned to yaupon as an alternative.
Fast forward to the 1930s, and we see an uptick in Yaupon tea consumption, mainly among people experiencing poverty. Yaupon tea became associated with extreme poverty and wasn’t commercially available.
In the early 2000s, an anthropologist, Charles Hudson, published a book called “The Black Drink” and detailed the cultural significance of Yaupon Holly Tea for early Indigenous People. In the mid-2010s, we started seeing modern Yaupon Holly tea producers begin to emerge, and a revitalized American Yaupon Industry started to. Rise Yaupon was founded in 2023, but our co-founders, Mark and Mary Steele, were some of the pioneers of Yaupon’s modern commercialization.
Where to Get Yaupon Holly
The best place to get Rise Yaupon tea is online at riseyaupon.com
If you are local to Florida, we are participating in several events; see us at:
- Port Orange Farmers Market at the Port Orange Pavilion (weekly on Saturday)
- VegFest Lake Nona - September 30th
- McIntosh 1890’s Festival - October 14th
- Tampa OctoberFest Arts and Craft Show - October 28th & 29th
- Central Florida VegFest - October 28th
- Market for Makers - Jacksonville - November 4th & 5th
- Flamingo Follies New Smyrna Beach - November 11th & 12th
- Great Day in the Country - Oviedo - November 11th
- South Daytona Bluegrass and BBQ Festival - November 18th
- Flagler Beach Arts and Craft Festival - November 25th & 26th
Rise Yaupon isn’t the only Yaupon producer. These other companies also have yaupon tea products:
- Catspring Yaupon
- Lost Pines Yaupon
- Yaupon Teahouse and Apothecary
- Yaupon Brothers
How to Store Yaupon Holly?
Like other teas, Yaupon should be stored in a cool, dry place like a pantry or cupboard. Keeping your Rise Yaupon blends in the original packaging works excellent; just use the tin tie to secure the opening.
Why Rise Yaupon?
- We are committed to bettering our community and donate a portion of every unit sold to local charities (FBH Community) feeding impoverished kids.
- Our tea leaves are sustainably harvested and grown without herbicides or pesticides. Our tea is the most environmentally perfect drink available.
- We are a values-based business, and it matters that we not only make great teas but also do it responsibly, intentionally, and positively.
- We are local and produce everything in-house. American tea means American jobs.
- Our harvesters are second-chance employees earning a living wage for Rise Yaupon.
- We are a predominantly women-owned business.
- We are a family tea company led by daughter Shelly (President) and parents Mark and Mary.
- Our tea leaves are naturally air-dried, maintaining the unique, pure flavor of Yaupon Holly.
- A board-certified physician specifically developed our Healthy Kick Tea for its antioxidant properties.
- Our blends have been carefully selected to bring diverse flavors - there is something for everyone.
- We are also in the process of applying for B-Corp status to formalize our commitment to our employees and the community.
Yaupon Holly Plants: For Fellow Plant Lovers
Yaupon Holly is endemic to the Southeastern United States - meaning it is native to this region and is the only place globally where it grows.
There are both male and female trees found in the wild. Females will get red berries in the winter, but both will produce small white flowers in the spring. A viable seed does need pollination from a male and female tree, but most trees will propagate via their root system, putting out shoots if the plant is happy and healthy. Seeds need a few days of freeze to germinate, so it is rare to find wild yaupon south of Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Wild yaupon thrive in maritime hammock ecosystems and are commonly found at the base of oak trees. Yaupon in the wild can become a true understory tree, reaching heights of 30’ or more. The natural growing region of Yaupon is Florida to Virginia (predominantly on the coast) and around the Gulf of Mexico from Florida into Texas.
Yaupon can grow up to the salt dunes along the coast in any soil or light condition. Full sun exposure results in smaller leaf size, but all leaves will contain caffeine, the plant’s natural pest repellent. This makes Yaupon a great choice for landscaping, especially in the South.
The University of Florida has developed several Yaupon Holly cultivars - selectively breeding Yaupon trees for different growing characteristics:
- Schilling Yaupon (Dwarf): these are male yaupon with characteristically small leaves and short branches. These are common as hedges in landscaping.
- Pendula Yaupon (Weeping): these female yaupon plants have branches that grow downward, similar to a weeping willow tree. Typically, they produce a lot of berries, which attract migrating birds. Pendula’s generally are the slowest growing cultivars, but they have the most caffeine in their leaves.
- Will Fleming Yaupon (Sky Pencil): This female yaupon doesn’t produce as many berries as a Pendula. Branches grow upward, like a pencil.
Critical things for identifying Yaupon Holly - what to look for:
- Yaupon Holly leaves are serrated but do not have any sharp/pokey edges.
- A Yaupon Holly’s branches are gray and grow long and straight.
- Leaves will grow in a stair-step pattern along the branch
- Female trees have berries that mature in winter (turning red). Immature berries are green. Berries are mildly toxic to humans but are the #1 food source for migratory birds.
Tea can be made from the leaves of Yaupon Holly (including all the cultivars), irrespective of the plant’s gender. Just be mindful of harvesting from a female tree to avoid berries in your tea. At Rise Yaupon, we have a special stage in our leaf processing to remove berries from our hand-picked leaf supply.
Tips for growing Yaupon
Trying to grow your own Yaupon Holly? We’ve got you covered!
Planting in the Ground
Yaupon Holly will flourish in agricultural growing zones 7 through 10. It can survive in full sun, partial sun, or full shade. The more shade a yaupon grows in, the larger the leaves will tend to be. Any soil condition is ok, but make sure your yaupon has good drainage, as yaupon doesn’t like “wet feet.” If planting in colder zones (7-8), ensure your yaupon has mulch at its base during winter, especially if there is a freeze. Happy, healthy yaupon will put out suckers, so be mindful when selecting the place for your new tree. Yaupon can be trimmed into a hedge but left alone, it will grow into a substantial tree (up to 30’). It is a quick grower; you should expect a spring flush and a fall flush of leaves and, in warmer zones, also a summer flush. Newly planted yaupon should be watered every 2-3 days until the root system is established, after which natural rain should be sufficient. If you see any leaves turning brown, your yaupon likely needs water.
Planting in a Pot
Yaupon Holly will also flourish if planted in a pot or planter. Keep repotting as the tree grows so that roots are not rootbound. Your planter should have good drainage so that roots are not sitting in stagnant water. Yaupon in a pot is good indoors in any agricultural grow zone. It can live outside in a pot in the summer but move indoors when temperatures drop. Recommend Schilling Yaupon if keeping indoors, as these will always remain small. Other varieties should be trimmed so that the tree is a manageable size.
Modern Innovations - Yaupon as a Sustainable Crop
As the Yaupon industry flourishes, we see more farmers incorporate Yaupon as a sustainable crop. The advantages of yaupon for farmers include:
- Yaupon is a native plant and requires fewer inputs - it’s adapted to grow in the Southeastern United States, allowing farmers to plant without the need for herbicides and pesticides, and it requires minimal water for trees to flourish.
- Yaupon Holly is an evergreen plant, meaning that farmers have flexibility in harvesting.
- Yaupon needs about 2 years to mature from planting to harvest, which is significantly less than fruit crops. Yaupon trees live 50-100 years, so farmers can establish generational wealth without replanting.
- Yaupon Holly will flush (put out new growth) several times a year so farmers can take advantage of multiple harvests on the same tree.
- Yaupon is a great cover crop; other crops can be planted underneath, allowing the farmer to maximize yield.
DIY: Making Yaupon Tea at Home
Making Yaupon tea at home is relatively easy, but here are some tips and tricks to know:
It goes without saying, but if you’re harvesting from the wild, MAKE SURE IT’S YAUPON. If there is a question, you can always contact us; we’ll be happy to help. You can harvest from any Yaupon cultivar; there isn’t a difference in taste.
Tip: if harvesting from a female tree, do not harvest any berries. They are mildly toxic and should NOT be used in your tea.
Strip a branch of its leaves and clip the branch. This will indicate to the plant to start regenerating that branch. Do not take over 50% of a tree’s height or width with any harvest.
Two rounded handfuls of leaves should be enough for a nice cup of tea.
Wash your leaves. We recommend air drying - it will take 1-3 days. Put leaves in a single layer on a drying rack or pizza pan (if it has holes, it will dry faster) to dry. Turn every day. Leaves will crunch when completely dry. For quicker drying, place on a baking sheet in a convection oven at the lowest temperature for 10ish minutes or until leaves crunch when bent. Heat will change the flavor slightly (not bad, just different).
Grind your dried leaves. A food processor works great; aim for small leaf pieces (5-8mm). At this point, you’re ready to make some tea! Add your loose-leaf tea into a tea infuser and steep in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Enjoy!
(We recommend about 1T of loose-leaf tea per cup, but it depends on how strongly you like it.)
Store any unused tea in an air-tight, cool, dry place.
The Future of Yaupon Tea
At Rise Yaupon, we believe the modern Yaupon tea industry is just getting started. The industry began commercially around 10 years ago, and we are only seeing a steady growth of Yaupon Holly Tea consumers, attracting more Yaupon farmers and producers.
We are biased, but we think Yaupon Holly is the world’s best tea and can’t wait to re-introduce it to modern consumers globally.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Is Yaupon Tea Safe for Everyone?
A: Yaupon Holly tea has similar nutritional benefits as green tea. According to Web M.D., drinking green tea in moderate amounts (about 8 cups daily) is likely safe for most people. Yaupon lacks tannins and oxalates in other teas, so consuming them may be easier. Any questions about your specific health concerns should be addressed with your doctor.
Q: How Does Yaupon Tea Taste Compared to Other Teas?
A: In general, Yaupon tea is milder and smoother in taste compared to other teas. It has slight grassy notes similar to green tea but lacks bitterness, making it taste cleaner and lighter.
Q: Can I Use Yaupon Tea for Cooking and Baking?
A: Yes, absolutely. For recipes you’d like to boost with antioxidants and caffeine, yaupon is a great addition. Experiment with different forms of yaupon - a concentrated brew is good in cocktails, marinades, and stocks or leaves pulverized into a powder form is an excellent addition for baked goods, smoothies, or custards.
Q: What's the Best Time to Drink Yaupon Tea?
A: We think all the time! You should know that Rise Yaupon teas are naturally caffeinated, so if you are looking for a nighttime or decaffeinated option, we recommend preparing a cup of tea, tossing it out (or saving it for later), and using the same teabag and preparing a second cup of tea. Due to no tannin, you can’t oversteep your teabag, but 90-95% of the caffeine content will be released in your first cup, making your second (or third cup) a decaf option.
Q: Are There Any Side Effects of Drinking Yaupon Tea?
A: Drinking large amounts of yaupon tea at one time may cause side effects due to the caffeine content. The caffeine content is about the equivalent of a green tea (40-60mg/cup). Like other caffeinated drinks, excessive caffeine intake can lead to heart irregularities or headaches. Consult your doctor with any concerns about caffeine consumption.
The Ultimate Guide to Yaupon Tea: Conclusion
There’s more to a cup of Yaupon Tea than most people realize. The incredible journey that Yaupon tea has gone through, from being the center of civilization for thousands of years to the victim of a smear campaign for being a threat to British Tea, to providing modern farmers a sustainable crop option to today’s consumers wanting a locally-grown caffeine alternative to coffee that tastes great and offers tremendous health benefits. We are incredibly proud to be a part of this re-emerging industry that has the opportunity to do so much good.
At Rise Yaupon, we offer a variety of Yaupon Holly-based blends that support American jobs and local farmers, and every purchase supports non-profit organizations in our community.