Yaupon Brothers American Tea are bringing back an almost forgotten native beverage

Source: E. Crawford

For more than 100 years, brewing and benefiting from the health aspects of Yaupon Holly -- a lightly caffeinated and antioxidant packed plant native to the US -- was nearly forgotten, but now it is coming back and ready to go mainstream thanks to the co-founders of Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co.

Nearly eight years ago when real life brothers Bryon and Kyle White first discovered how “delicious and stimulating the Yaupon was when prepared as an herbal tea,” they were chagrined to not find it available in retail, according to company’s website.

“We decided to change that by becoming the first company to bring Yaupon to market in the US,” Bryon White told FoodNavigator-USA at SOHO Expo in Florida in early December.

But doing so meant creating both supply and demand of a new product at the same time.

Starting with supply, in 2013 the company -- then known as Yaupon Asi Tea -- became the first handler, processor and grower of USDA Organic Certified Yaupon.

For the next year, the brothers built partnerships with Florida farmers to culture Yaupon on more than 50 acres of land. And in July 2016, the duo purchased a 12-acre farm in Volusia County, Fla., to further expand production using only sustainable techniques, including not using fertilizer or pesticides, which White said “you just don’t need to grow Yaupon in Florida.”

He added that the plant is ideal in the Florida climate because it is drought and heat resistant.

Building consumer interest

As the brothers developed production, they also greased the skids for consumer demand by marketing the plant as a premium, unique and local tea.

In January 2016, the company rebranded and updated its packaging to better appeal to consumers.

Under its current name, Yaupon Brothers, the company launched in May 2016 four flavors of the tea sold in 16-count large canisters made of fully compostable and recyclable materials. The canisters feature a historic engraving of native Americans brewing Yaupon in a cauldron over an open fire.

They also are color-coded to help consumers quickly recognize the flavors. The Fire Roasted Yaupon Holly Tea comes in a warm orange, the Lavender Coconut is in a lighter pink tube, the Seminole Chai is in a deep green container and the Traditional Green is in a brighter green tube.

While White admits the canisters are a bit taller than some retailers prefer for tea, he said the redesign and point of differentiation is a success because the canisters are so eye-catching.

“We are trying to teach people about something new, but you have to get that initial captivation and this packaging is unique, so people pick it up, look at it and once they buy it they like it,” he said.

Leveraging heritage

Beyond the packaging, health benefits and on-trend flavors, the brothers are marketing the tea based on its heritage -- a strategy that ties in well to the ongoing trend of ancient wisdom and the idea that what is old is new again.

White explained that Yaupon Holly has been consumed as a herbal tea in the US for nearly 10,000 years, but for the past 100 was virtually unknown.

“Originally, it was a pre-war beverage. Tribal elders of Native American tribes in Florida would drink it for energy before going to battle,” he said.

The beverage had a “small recurrence during the Civil War when the South used it as a coffee replacement,” he added.

But after the war, the drink faded again, he said, noting that he and his brother want to bring it back.

And so far, he added, “people have been really receptive to it” -- a response that he hopes and expects will continue to grow in the coming years.

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