It wasn't too long ago that yaupon tea was one of the most consumed teas in the United States. In fact, it was competitive on a global scale.
Yaupon, indigenous to the Southeastern United States - and found from Maryland to Texas, contains just as much caffeine as that of Asian tea, but in a form that causes no "jitters." This "jitterless" delivery makes it a favorite with "in-the-know" academics and astute tea drinkers.
In the early days of the United States, yaupon tea was heavily consumed across the whole of the Southeast on a daily basis. The popularity of yaupon tea was to such an extent that traders sought to market it to Europe, specifically England (the ipso facto tea capital of the world) and France.
Today, corporate marketing has effectively ignored yaupon as a tea source despite the many benefits of the leaf when consumed as a tea.
According to an article in the Gainesville Sun by Francis E. 'Jack' Putz, Professor of Botany at the University of Florida, UF researchers have concluded that "yaupon leaves have the anti-oxidation potential of blueberries. The leaves are chock full of various isomers of chlorogenic acid, coumaric acid, and a cocktail of flavonoids." The research also revealed high concentrations of caffeine and theobromine.
Of course, the Timucuan and Seminole Native Americans understood the health benefits of yaupon, as did the early Europeans who came to Florida. The Spaniards who first came to the Southeastern US found the Native Americans to not only be almost a foot taller but in much better health. This noticeable difference was due to a much healthier diet and the consumption of the antioxidant-filled yaupon tea that was part of their dietary makeup.
So, why did yaupon's popularity wane? Yaupon lovers can thank one person in particular for demeaning - unnecessarily - the plant's tea appeal.
In the late 1700s, Scottish botanist William Aiton – who the knowledgeable believe was a clandestine employee of Ceylon tea merchants, disingenuously gave the plant the scientific (read: Latin) name Ilex vomitoria. He did so because of the cleansing ritual he witnessed the Native Americans perform. During this ritual, Native American warriors would consume incredible amounts of yaupon tea and engage in strenuous activity until they purged. As Professor Putz notes, "Kool-Aid would have had the same effect."
Extensive research has proven that yaupon has no emetic compounds, i.e., it does not promote a purge of any kind.
Yaupon's bad reputation is not only wholly unwarranted; it flies in the face of taste tests. When taste-tested at the University of Florida against its highly marketed South American cousin, yerba mate, people overwhelming preferred the taste of yaupon tea.
Today, there are just a few small businesses that offer excellent tasting yaupon tea. Among those, only a scant few produce a wild harvested and hand processed product; a product akin to precisely what the Seminoles and Timucuan Native Americans prepared centuries ago, and what Americans consumed daily across the Southeast until one Scottish botanist ruined it for everyone.
In the end, Yaupon tea is good for you, better tasting, and a little bit of tradition in every cup.
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