We’re one month into 2023, and this year’s top drink trends seem to be punctuated by premiumization and digital drinking. According to Whole Foods, there’s one more ingredient on the rise: Yaupon tea.
Originally known as Cassina by the Timucua tribe, “Carolina tea” in England and “black drink” in Spain, Yaupon is a tea made from holly bushes grown throughout the Southern United States.
While increasingly popular, Yaupon is not a new concept, not at all — the plant has been brewed and served by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. When the red berried plant is harvested, left to dry or roasted, and turned into tea, it has mild, earthy flavors and a high amount of caffeine. But as time went on, yaupon fell out of knowledge. It was left to wild, inhabiting only unfarmed lands or deserted properties.
Now, new producers are starting to lean into the overlooked resource, bringing yaupon back into the spotlight.
“We were really excited when Whole Foods decided to spotlight taupon because so few people know about this amazing plant,” says Jeff Trucksess, COO of Rambler Sparkling Water, a producer of a yaupon-accented energy drink. “It was a treasure being lost in the modern globalized world.”
In Austin, yaupon appears on cocktail menus (in an iced tea at both Suerte and Dai Due), while Treaty Oak Distilling offers a yaupon-infused gin. According to the American Yaupon Association (AYA) more than 10,000 pounds of yaupon are now distributed yearly. The broader tea category is expected to become an $81.6 billion global industry by 2026, according to research by Allied Market Research.
When Trucksess and the Rambler team first toyed with the idea of creating an energizing drink, they wanted to stray away from the Red Bull and other amped-up energy drink that dominated the market. We set out to build a new energy drink that incorporates the best forms of natural caffeine, organic flavors, nootropics, and low sugar to lead the next healthier evolution in the market,” says Trucksess.
First, they considered yerba maté. But yerba isn’t local. “It had its own transportation-related issues since it is not grown in the US,” says Trucksess. They continued searching. What they stumbled upon was yaupon, North America’s only (known) caffeinated plant native to North America. “That connection to a locally produced crop with environmental benefits, and a long history really resonated with our desire to create a sense of provenance and connection with our products whether it’s limestone watering holes or regeneratively grown yaupon from the neighboring town of Cat Springs,” he notes.
The product launched in October, and “the reception has been fantastic,” says Trucksess. Each can offers 120 mg of caffeine (equivalent to roughly a large cup of coffee), along with all sorts of health benefits: yaupon contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants. “It helps that the product lacks some of the bitterness common in many black teas, and people are really intrigued by the history of the plant.”
“With this attention, we hope yaupon will become the next boom.”
Outside of Rambler, Texas has become a hub for the holly bush-based tea. CatSpring — Rambler sources their yaupon from — has been around since 2011, dedicated to turn what was once known as a pesky weed into a highly palatable tea.
Lost Pines Yaupon makes tea from yaupon plants, working with local landowners to clear yaupon off their land at no cost. Local Leaf makes yaupon in a matcha powder to be sipped in smoothies.
With more consumers opening their minds to yaupon, and as more brands bring the plant into new applications, it’s poised to be yaupon’s big year.