What Yaupon Tea Is, Its Benefits, and How to Brew It

The yaupon holly considered by many as a weed in the South is actually an energizing tea that's been around for centuries.

It's a rarity to start my morning with anything other than a steaming cup of French press coffee. But when it comes to gut health, the acid from drinking multiple cups of coffee isn't always a smart choice for me. Enter: yaupon tea, an energizing beverage brewed from the leaves of a native tree grown right here in America. Indigenous people figured this out long ago, eventually gaining traction with early colonizers. Yaupon tea lost traction for nearly 200 years, getting overshadowed by coffee and other imported teas. Today, it's making a comeback as a daily brew thanks to harvesting in Southern states (Texas and Florida) where the native plant grows. Read on for all the delicious, healthy details of drinking yaupon tea.

yaupon tree
Courtesy of CatSpring Yaupon

What Is Yaupon?

Yaupon (pronounced like yo-pon) comes from the plant known as Ilex vomitoria, a relative to the holly family. It grows (abundantly like an annoying weed, for some) in warm Southern states and is the only caffeinated native plant grown in America that is turned into a drinkable tea. (Though there is another relative of the plant called Ilex cassine that may be caffeinated, yaupon is the only known native caffeinated plant consumed in North America.) The tree's leaves are harvested and can be brewed like you would traditional green or black teas (usually made from the plant family Camellia sinensis).

What Does Yaupon Tea Taste Like?

If you've ever had yerba mate tea, the two teas have a similar earthy flavor since they both come from the same holly plant family. The difference with yaupon is the flavor variations from preparation methods (i.e. fermenting, oxidizing, drying, roasting). For example, the wild yaupon harvests at CatSpring Youpon in Texas are turned into three different varieties: green, medium, and dark roast. According to one coffee-loving reviewer turned yaupon tea fan on Amazon, the dark roast "is quite mild and just a little smoky."

Yaupon Tea Benefits

According to Abianne Falla, co-founder of CatSpring Yaupon, the tea has a unique combination of caffeine and theobromine (linked to having antioxidant properties). Combined with some bonus anti-inflammatory properties, she says "it really makes you feel good." Another reason to love yaupon tea is that it doesn't contain tannins (a chemical compound that gives off a bitter taste in some teas), so you can re-steep the tea multiple times without worrying the flavor will change. And if you're trying to be more sustainable with your consumption, Falla points out choosing yaupon leaves a smaller carbon footprint since it's sourced right here in America rather than imported.

loose yaupon tea on spoons
Courtesy of CatSpring Tea

How to Brew Yaupon Tea

How you brew your tea might vary depending on the type, but CatSpring Yaupon recommends 1 teaspoon of loose tea or (one tea pouch) per 14-ounce cup. You don't want to burn the tea leaves, so make sure the water is at 160ºF to 180ºF, which is a little less than the boiling point (212ºF). And there's no need to get a thermometer, just let your water kettle ($23, Amazon) rest off the boil 30 to 45 seconds. Steep for four to six minutes and enjoy! Feel free to re-steep a few more times (remember no tannins mean no bitter aftertaste!). Just add a few more minutes each time to extract the most flavor.

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  1. Gan, Ren-You et al. "Health Benefits of Bioactive Compounds from the Genus Ilex, a Source of Traditional Caffeinated Beverages." Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 11, 2018, MDIP, doi:10.3390/nu10111682

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